Satya – The Ever-Shining Light of Truth
Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth
Truth is a simple concept. Truth is that which is, that which actually exists. It is the factual reality. The word for truth in Sanskrit is satya which carries this sense of reality and existence. It means ‘true’, ‘real’, ‘actual’, ‘genuine’.
Satya is derived from the word sat which means ‘being’, ‘existing’, ‘happening’, ‘being present’. So again, the concept is simple. Truth is that which actually exists in the present. A chair is a chair, a flower is a flower, an idea floating through your mind is an idea, and a feeling in your heart is simply that, a feeling. All these things are true in the sense that they are actually there in the present moment. They are perceptible to our physical, mental or emotional instruments of observation.
The complications arise however, when we delve into the realm of our perception of truth; when we begin to examine the veils of illusion that can distort our perception of reality. Like a cloud that blots out the sun, these distortions can make us see things that aren’t there, and miss things that are.
Let’s take a traditional story to illustrate where the difficulties can lie.
You are in a field at dusk walking along a track. In the fading light you see a snake lying in your path. You are terrified. You can’t go forward towards the danger, and you are reluctant to turn and run, in case it slithers after you. Your heart races and your mind is frozen. Then you remember you have a flashlight. You slide it carefully out of your pocket and turn it on. You shine the beam on the snake. And you discover that it is just a piece of rope lying on the path. Now relief washes over you, your heart-rate settles, your mind clears and your body is able to move on.
What does this story tell us about the nature of truth and the distorting power of our faulty perception? Let’s change the story.
A different fellow, on that very same evening arrives home from a shopping expedition in town. He discovers that he has dropped the rope that he just purchased. He needs it to tie up a sagging fence post and he doesn’t want to go and buy more rope. He knows it must have fallen out somewhere on the path to home, so he sets out while there is still some daylight. He sees a coiled shape ahead of him and sighs with relief as he bends down and picks up his rope.
Two different people see the exact same object in the half light. They react in diametrically different ways.
Where does the truth lie? Where is satya, that which actually exists in reality?
The rope was always a rope. It was never a snake. But the man who, in the fading light, thought he saw a snake, whose senses brought him plausible information that he was in danger, reacted accordingly. If it had been a snake, his fight-flight-freeze response would have been appropriate. Shining a light on the path showed him his error and his reaction then changed, again quite appropriately. But before he thought of using his flashlight, it might have been hard to convince him that what he was seeing wasn’t true.
The other fellow experienced his own series of thoughts and feelings about that rope. Mild annoyance and then relief. But his were based on the actual reality of the situation. He was never under the illusory idea that the shape lying on the path was a snake. Lucky him.
There is a lot to unpack here.
Much of the trouble and strife and misunderstandings in the world, from the petty and the domestic, to the political and international sphere, comes from a lot of people seeing snakes in the half-light when all that lies in their path is a rope. And when someone insists there’s a snake that others can’t see, then a lot of discord is inevitable.
Here’s a simple example of how a little light can clear things up.
I coached a young woman who wanted guidance on a few issues. One of these issues was some trouble at her work. She was well-trained and hardworking and got on well with her colleagues, with one exception. There was a manager in the office who was unhelpful and cold to her. My client couldn’t fathom what she had done wrong, and it played on her mind. I suggested she find a suitable time in a neutral location and simply ask if there was something she needed to do or rectify. She followed my advice and the manager was surprised that this was the impression he had created. In fact, he thought the young woman’s work was exceptional and was considering her for a promotion. A little light shone on the situation, a little clarity, and one of life’s small snakes was revealed to be a piece of rope.
Of course, not all misunderstandings and misperceptions are so easily solved. And we certainly have little power over the clouds that block the sun in other people’s lives. We can’t reach into everyone else’s pocket, pull out the flashlight and turn their snakes into ropes. But we can take simple steps to do it for ourselves.
The easiest way to clear our perceptions is to practice coming into the present moment again and again, and simply looking at what is in front of us, hearing whatever sounds are arriving at our ears, smelling, tasting and touching. This exercise, so simple, so easy, and so effective has the power to transform our lives. It does this by dispelling ignorance and illusion.
Most of us have a lot of snakes in our lives – baseless fears, groundless jealousies, anger, hatred, and insecurities that are often woven into being through our negative self-talk. Coming into the present moment and focusing our physical senses, takes us out of our heads and gets us grounded in reality.
So try this three times every day:
Sit quietly and relax. Take a few deep breaths. Then connect with the sense of touch as you sit in your chair. Feel your clothes against your skin, and the air on your face and as it passes in and out of your body. Then see the colours and shapes of whatever is in your line of sight. Move gently on to taste and smell. Then let your hearing receive sounds. There might be a temptation to go out to them and to let the mind start to wander. Instead of that, stay in your chair in the room and let the sounds come to you.
Once you are resting happily in the present moment with the mind quiet, then you can let your awareness expand to take in the whole room, the house or building, the local area. You can allow your awareness to expand limitlessly. If the mind does wander off, then just come back to your body sitting in the chair.
This exercise takes just a few minutes. Try it two or three times every day and I can guarantee that after a few weeks you will feel very differently about things. In my experience, some of those ‘snakes’ in your life slither off on their own and you wake up to realise that a lot of the petty jealousies and annoyances and fears that used to loom so large have just disappeared. Others may require a bit more work, but now you’ll have the energy to apply reason or o ttake some other practical step. Flashlights come in all shapes and sizes.
For many of us, some of the most persistent illusory snakes are internal. We are not talking here of something someone says at the office. The snakes that can really do with some light are the ones that live inside our heads and hearts.
The negative self-talk that I mentioned above is responsible for a lot of this. Many of us have sentences that run in our heads like: “I am a failure”, “I don’t deserve to be loved”, “I am ugly, or hopeless, or stupid”. Sentences like these sap our confidence and our energy, they undermine our relationships with ourself and with others.
And they are snakes. Unexamined they lie in our path in the half-light freezing us with fear or depression or filling us with anger or envy. And these ideas and feelings are simply not true.
The wise tell us that the truth about ourselves, about who we really are, is that we are limitless beings with the power of pure consciousness, and we are full of universal energies of creativity, goodness and courage. If we examined our achievements in life dispassionately – our friends, our families, our academic and professional accomplishments – there is a lot on the plus side of the ledger. And doing this is a good start to banishing the snake of deceptive, negative self-talk.
But the best way of getting out the flashlight, shining it on the path and revealing the rope, is the practice I described above. Sit quietly for two or three minutes, two or three times a day and connect with the reality of the present moment. This will connect you to the truth of the vase of flowers in the room and the birdsong outside your window. And, gradually, it will also connect you with the truth of who you really are, an infinite universal being. That is a rope well-worth revealing.