One word: Satya.
Loosely meaning “truth,” this Sanskrit word would have saved my sanity in 7th grade if its wisdom had been a part of my life.
It’s pretty common knowledge that 13-year-old girls are cruel. I’m pretty sure that every member of the female gender over the age of 13 has at least one mean girl story from their miserable middle school years. My go-to mean girl story involves my best friend in the entire world deciding one day that I annoyed her and then proceeding to create a code word for me so that she could discuss me with our friends in front of me. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I wasn’t even embarrassed. I was so devastated by this breach of friendship, and even worse, her complete indifference towards my feelings, that I didn’t care if everyone else knew about it. This devastation quickly mutated into fury, however, and I carried on, cutting her out of my life, creating new friends, and making them hate her as much as I did. Too bad two wrongs do make a right in 7th grade.
Enter Satya. Satya, just one of the ten Yamas and Niyamas (basically the 10 commandments of yoga) would have solved all of my 7th grade woes…that is, if any of our pubescent minds actually took any of it to heart. Truthfulness is a highly underrated value in our society. Little white lies saturate our day-to-day lives, and though these rarely hurt anyone, are they really necessary? The belief behind using “little” white lies – that they don’t, in fact, hurt - is the gateway for larger lies, the awful glue that binds 7th grade relationships with a malicious and terrifying grip: gossip.
We rely on clichés like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” to try to teach our kids that words can hurt just as much as physical pain, but we don’t teach them the positives of only speaking kind words. We don’t teach them that when you speak kindly and honestly, you destroy the walls built between hearts. We’ve somehow created a culture where if you say something about someone when they’re not present, it’s ok. The pervading “everyone does it” mentality behind gossip is such a difficult thought pattern to break, it feels like we’ve just given up. And the entire concept of the phrase, “no offense,” is so perverted that I can’t even get into it. (IF YOU DON’T WANT TO OFFEND, DON’T SAY IT.)
And, that’s where Satya could solve all our problems. As one of the five Yamas (rules serving to orient our relationship with the world around us), it’s implied that practicing Satya affects others. But, the difference between our society’s traditional techniques of teaching “don’t gossip, don’t lie, etc.” and Satya is the inherent benefit and effect that practicing Satya has on the practitioner as well. Simply put, Satya is about more than just not harming others; it’s also about benefiting yourself – which is entirely more understandable for the selfish 13-year-old mind to understand.
When you embody Satya, when you dedicate yourself to living, acting, and speaking truthfully, you feel better. You don’t have to think about whether or not you should say something – you know. This decision comes from what I learned as the 3 gatekeepers. When practicing Satya, these little guys live inside your mouth and basically do all the work for you, so you don’t have anything to stress about. The first asks the simplest question: is it true? If your words get past him, they meet the second gatekeeper, who asks his question: is it kind? If, hopefully, your words pass this test, they come to the third and final gatekeeper, who asks the last question: is it necessary? He looks away every now and then, so you don’t have to worry too much about him, but he does a good job getting rid of most of the trash.
True, kind, and necessary. These three simple guidelines to speech would have saved me from so much worry and pain during the battle years of middle school and high school. One of Patanjali’s yoga sutras says, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” There are many ways to understand this, but my favorite is to think about it as when what you think, say, feel, and do are all the same. Satya is just one step to achieving this, but when it is achieved, the only thing left is peace.
And who doesn’t want peace? Sure, when you’re 13, you probably care a lot more about being popular than being peaceful, but why not try anyway?