Let’s start with a story.
It was 2015, I was within months of graduating with my PhD in nutrition, and I was already working on my wellness business on the side. Through some connections I had made, I was invited to go to Brazil to act as secretary at an international workplace wellness conference. There was the potential for amazing networking opportunities, and I was excited to return to Brazil, which I had loved when I visited the prior year.
There was just ONE issue: my advisor and dissertation committee would not be excited about me taking off for a week to do work for another job while I was supposed to be rushing to finish my dissertation.
I was in distress. I knew that going was important for my future, but I didn’t know how to explain this to my committee, especially since they weren’t that excited about my career aspirations. I was working up reasons and explanations and scripts so that I could say things the exact right way – strong and confident while being empathetic.
When I brought this conversation to my career coach….she questioned whether I needed the big explanation at all. Perhaps I was saying too much.
For someone that really prizes truthfulness and open communication, this felt counter to everything I believed in. Wouldn’t the kind thing be to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Here’s what I ended up telling my advisor: “I’ll be out of town May 15 through 20th. I’ll be accessible by email if you need anything.”
It went great. She said, “OK”, and we were able to move on. No explanations or questions or anger.
In yoga ethics, we follow the 10 yamas and niyamas, 10 moral disciplines and observances. The first yama is the mother of all the others: ahimsa, or non-violence. The second (and thus second in importance) is satya, or truthfulness. Often when we talk about ahimsa and satya, we discuss how the two can be at odds. The kind thing sometimes isn’t the truthful thing and vice versa.
But in my experience with my advisor and in what I’ve been discussing with many clients and friends recently, I find that if ahimsa and satya are at odds, if saying the truth feels like it’s unkind, then you likely haven’t reached the deepest Truth.
The truth you want to share is an egoic truth. A sense perception, an emotion, or a reaction. This is in contrast to a deep, capital-t Truth, which comes from a deeper understanding of yourself in relation to the world around you.
The deeper Truth is not in conflict with kindness.
I used to think that telling my advisor that I was leaving town (but not where I was going and why) was withholding truth. But in actuality, it was giving the essence of the Truth while withholding the ego- and conflict-filled reasons for my travel.
Here’s another way I like to think about it. In loving-kindness meditation, we first offer happiness and peace to ourselves, then to someone we love, then to a neutral party (for example, your bus driver), then to someone you’re in conflict with, and then finally to all beings.
At first, there can be a lot of resistance to sharing happiness and peace to someone you have conflict with. But take a step back – why not share happiness and peace with them? We’re not asking you to agree with their views or condone their actions. We’re not saying you’re wrong or bad for being in conflict. We’re simply offering these people peace and happiness because…it’s the kind thing to do.
Offering peace and happiness (this kindness as opposed to harming) is the deepest Truth. The egoic truth is “I don’t want them to get their way” or “they did this to me and I’m angry.”. The deepest Truth is “I hope they are happy and free.”
Recall a recent conversation where you felt conflict. Perhaps you were scared to say something or share your truth. But was that Truth or truth? Was Truth actually in conflict with kindness? Maybe it was only egoic truth that would have caused harm.
I get it – this can feel at odds, because we’ve been told that truthfulness is unkind. I invite you to look deeper, to see the Truth underneath the truth, and then to communicate with kindness and Truth to all.