September is the start of the new year. At least, that’s what it feels like for some of my friends, parents, who have way more work to prepare when the new school year starts than at the beginning of the calendar year.
We were reflecting on this with a couple of friends, chatting away in the turquoise loveliness of the Aegean sea, a parenthesis, before flying home back to reality. One of us suggested we consider approaching September like others do January, more purposefully, with resolutions etc.
I paused. Could that apply to me too, I wondered?
After a couple of moments of reflection, I decided that somehow, it felt like it did. The summer break is generally more significant than the winter one. I also personally feel the weight, the expectations of these holidays just as much, perhaps even more than the Christmas break: to work or not to work, read emails or not, how much time to take off, where to go, COVID management, who to go away with (for others not always a choice, also a source of pressure).
And this sense that whatever I end up doing 'needs to be great' otherwise I may have failed at having a successful time off.
We are putting pressure on ourselves precisely when we need to decompress, which is gorgeously counterproductive: in other words, so human. Aren't we just so predictable?
Back to school, the new start coincides with the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah celebrations started this past Monday, the same day I started writing this piece. Timely.
I’ve never been big on resolutions. Generally, I’m pretty clear on my objectives for the year ahead, keeping them in peripheral vision throughout the year so as not to get sidetracked by, you know, life. Plus, once I commit to something, I have a strong tendency to show up (whether that’s the gym or other, such as writing this blog). Lastly, I have a giant vision board, AND I use my Bento which helps set my priorities every Sunday.
But I decided to indulge and play ‘September Resolutions’.
Let's say that September is a time of renewal and that we should work on some aspirations, make a list of the things we want to do more of, less of, or quit altogether.
Are you going to play along with me? You only need a couple of minutes. Get yourself a pen and paper, let your conscious mind recede for a moment and free-write around the following questions:
What change should I make in my life?
What should I focus on?
What do I need more of?
How can work be better?
What do we need to quit?
My fingers typed answers in what felt like a single breath. My subconscious was keeping a list, and I wasn’t aware.
- No lying until the end of the year! Not even a white lie - more on this further down
- Have important conversations, earlier - i.e. don't hide
- Remember the three B’s (a coaching concept)
- Learn to listen to my energy levels (also more on it later)
- Play more often (piano, tennis, card games, bring more playfulness in my life)
- Dance (as per the above)
- Have meaningful breaks (aka more decompressing)
- Seek the sun (with SPF - always)
Once I had downloaded the list from my brain onto the screen, the flow stopped. That's it. Not one more, nor one less. It even feels like it's a package deal. All these things need to happen. Maybe not in the order they came through. But I can tell that the first one is a must.
No more lies.
Do you think it's crazy? I wonder what that brings up for you. Can anyone go through four months without a single lie? Even the smallest, whitest of little half-truths?
Yes, I think we can, and more importantly, I think we should.
You should know that I don’t consider myself someone who lies, though I've discovered recently that omitting things is also considered a form of lying. Okay, so I am not as good as I thought I was.
The first time that I explored the idea of non-lying was after a study session and reflection during my yoga teacher training on the Yamas and Niyamas. Think 10 commandments but for yogis: moral and ethical codes for right living.
The Yamas are like the 'don't do' list involving self-restraint, while the Niyamas are the complements, the 'to do' part, and together they form the first of the 8-fold path of yogic philosophy and practices offered in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (though they are also explored in other Vedic texts like the Upanishads).
The 5 Yamas are:
Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence
Satya (सत्य): Truthfulness (Not lying)
Asteya (अस्तेय): Not stealing
Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): Chastity, marital fidelity, sexual restraint
Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): Non-avarice, non-possessiveness
Satya is the second of the Yamas (describe) and stands for Truthfulness. Sat, in Sanskrit, means which that is. Unchangeable. “To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.”
Swami Satchidananda, who wrote the highly respected translation and interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, understood Satya as truthfulness and shared how, in establishing an honest mind, “the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realise the Truth in its own original nature”.
I was entirely on board with truthfulness and the state of fearlessness that could derive from it, the opportunity to lead an open life, the text said, before offering: ‘First follow truth and truth will follow you.’
But I was equally appalled after our lesson when I let it sink in that socially accepted white lies were unacceptable unless our honesty could cause trouble, difficulty or harm to someone else.
In that case, Satchidananda suggests we stay quiet, abiding by the first of the Yamas, Ahimsa, which stands for non-violence, or non-harming.
Fearlessness and an open life.
Following that reflection, I took it upon myself not to lie. When turning down an opportunity, a social hangout, or otherwise, I learned (with difficulty) to decline, without the semi-safety offered by the layer of false excuses. Basically, I was learning to say no, sans lying.
It’s important to point out though, that I was out of the corporate realm at the time, making the no-lie life far easier. I could bring my whole self to the table (or the conference room or the Zoom meeting) and figure out how to speak honestly while remaining well-meaning, benevolent. Because being truthful doesn’t mean one will need to be unkind. Benevolence is an attribute we could all cultivate a little more intentionally.
WHY THIS NOW?
This summer, you may have come across my earlier explorations as to how we break, build or rebuild trust. In researching the subject, I learned from various reputable sources that we humans can literally sniff out when someone’s not telling the truth.
So subsequently, we know that even the smallest of white lies will hint at someone’s inauthenticity. Yet we all do this, the white lie and the grey lie (think the grey lie of denial) So, what is the way forward?
We know when something's fishy, even if we don't listen to our instinct: discomfort will manifest on some level.
That is a fact. So why do it?
The subject, which I'd not approached directly since 2019, came back to me courtesy of coach Martha Beck and her new book, The Way of Integrity.
In this new volume, Martha tells the story of her own ‘year without lying’, a decision made on the spur of the moment, on New Year’s Eve, a few years ago. What followed, beyond the disapproval from the friends that were surrounding her, was the breakdown of concepts and relationships in her life. She refers to it as an integrity cleanse, a process that sounds as unpleasant as most other forms of cleansing I’ve tried.
Not lying, embracing honesty is one of the ways we embrace living in integrity. But how do we do this in society? At work? With family? How do we restrain this very socially accepted tool without too much difficulty (inner and outer)?
My own conundrum: what happens when we lie to ourselves? That dicey subject I’ll explore another time.
Being truthful means not making up a story on top of something true to make ourselves look better. I can safely say from personal experience that most of my white lies are related precisely to that: a little lie to look better so we can fit in, conform—societal pressure.
This brings me back to the top and the pressure of having a great holiday. I did have a wonderful time this holiday. Also, I feel some guilt around it because I am privileged to be vaccinated, relatively safe, and to be able to afford to take time off. And perhaps because of that, I felt some shame around the fact I was completely exhausted when I returned home.
So when I got back to my desk and on my first Zoom call, when the other friendly people in the squares on my screen asked: “Did you have a great summer?” What could I say? How dare I take lots of time off and not feel amazing after? Right? So l lied. That's what we do to make ourselves socially acceptable.
Especially for the sake of efficiency, productivity. Honesty, meanwhile, goes out the window.
For the next few days, I felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t figure out why, not until I got coached on this and came to this conclusion: I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to pretend either. I want the fearless, open life Patanjali was going on about. Doesn’t it sound better, almost epic?
What do you think? No more white lies, please.