Storytelling and the Ethic of Truthfulness
February 27, 2017“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
1 John 3:1
One of the ethical principles of right action in yoga is truthfulness or satya. Simple enough at face value. Truthfulness is one of the first virtues that we teach children. A wide-eyed toddler tells a story of the teddy bear that picked up a crayon and drew on the wall, prompting a suppressed smile from a care-giving adult during the telling. Undoubtedly a lesson will follow from the caregiver equating truth with reality, separating truth from fantasy. Eventually there will follow a moral lesson for the youngster, that truth is good and untruth, a lie, is bad.
The fact is we don’t stop telling stories when we get older—although they probably will become less fanciful. We are storytellers throughout our lives. We constantly tell each other and ourselves stories about who we are and who others are. Story telling is a favorite activity of our fragile ego that regularly suggests stories to rationalize our behavior, a part of the endless narrative that runs through our heads. One of my favorite stories that I tell myself is that I am an educated, church-going, yoga teacher and cancer-survivor, living a life of gratitude. My ego loves this story! I tell this story about myself often, as the ads on my social media accounts seem to confirm. My story is true enough, but is it truthful? Does it help me recognize the spiritual work that I need to do? Does it help bring me any closer to God?
Truth is sometimes beautiful and sometimes very hard. The story that I just related does not include any chapters that my friends, colleagues, or family might add: of my hair-trigger judgment of others, my tendency to be late for appointments, my struggle to listen deeply to a loved one speaking as my mind wanders off on its own tangents, or my default to being bossy when I’m in a hurry. And it does not include the chapter that an outsider might add to my story, that I’m a morally lazy westerner, comfortable with my life of privilege, not living up to my social responsibilities to care for the poor, sick, and disenfranchised as my faith instructs. With all these stories swirling around me, including the myriad stories that our culture assigns to women, how can I discern the truth of who I am and live a truthful life?
Jesus offers advice to help us uncover our truth: pray in secret. (Matthew 6:6) Set down your ego guard with its accompanying tangle of old family stories, identity politics, self-rationalizations, and media messaging. Get rid of the cover stories of your own making and limited understanding. For the only story of our lives that matters ultimately, is God’s story, lived in us and through us. And this story says simply and wonderfully that we are beloved by God, just as we are. This is our truth and our great gift. There is no need to make up any other stories.
Our faith-based yoga practice helps us drop our stories and realize our truth. We encourage our ego to rest by reminding ourselves to set aside from our practice judgment, expectation, and competition. We work with the reality of the body of the day, stay present, and let go of striving. We still our bodies, quiet our minds, and experience God’s deep love for us in the center of our being. Authenticated by this fundamental truth deep within, we may then take God’s love with us, off of our mat, to live our life truthfully with our neighbor.