Pinocchio. George Washington and the cherry tree. The boy who cried wolf. Many stories exist to tell of the perils of lying and the beautiful purity of truth. These tales tend to present Truth as a fairly simple duality—right over wrong, good conquering evil—but as we age, the complexities and conditional aspects of this realm make themselves...Read More
The following piece was written by Brianna Goodman, copy and features editor for MindBodyBrew. Brianna teaches yoga with The Perri Institute for Mind and Body in New York City. She currently attends Fordham University, where she is pursuing a degree in English and Creative Writing, with a minor in Communications. Catch her class Sunday and Wednesday mornings at Steps on Broadway.
I’ve often found that reading, more than any other activity, implores the task of self-reflection. Lately, I seem to be reading book after book that demands readers to be more honest. This pattern has forced me to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth—I’m not always so great at being honest.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly dishonest person. I avoid embellishing resumes, I don’t round up when calculating my roommate’s half of the groceries; I told my Mom about the dent in her car the day I acquired it (although, scout’s honor, I am still convinced that this dent was the result of a hit and run, and not from the pile of snow that I bumped into). I do, however, often employ the ‘little white lie.’ I do it in situations that are arguably harmless, and I do it in order to make people feel—or at least what I believe will make them feel—comfortable. I am a people pleaser who will stop at almost nothing to avoid confrontation. It’s why I tend to apologize to strangers on the street when they’ve hit me with their bags, or why I tell friends it’s no problem that they’re perpetually late even though it makes me anxious. The other day I caught myself reassuring a friend that I, too, cannot refrain from consuming an entire bag of chips in one sitting… what? Cookies maybe, but definitely not chips. (Even that was a lie. One or two cookies is really enough.)
These are small instances that hardly seem to matter. But the more I catch myself tossing out little white lies, the more I realize that the compulsion to ‘put people at ease’ is kind of problematic. I lie because I choose comfort over truth, and not only does this violate the non-duality principle of Buddhist philosophy that I know and admire, but it also doesn’t make for a particularly productive existence. Telling these little untruths presumes the haughty assumption that those I’m speaking to require me to put them at ease—I’d certainly be upset if others thought the same of me. It also assumes that there is a fundamental essence to comfort, and that this essence is inherently good. As a yoga teacher, I implore students weekly not to place value judgments on their practices, or on themselves. I encourage them to embrace that concept of non-duality, and to observe and acknowledge the present moment without labeling it as good or bad, as success or failure. And yet here I go, clinging to comfort and running from discomfort, unwilling to acknowledge that embracing the discomfort that the truth can bring is sometimes exactly what is needed. Discomfort is a tool that lets us know when something deserves our attention. It’s an incredibly important tool that should not be avoided.
As I look closer at the conditions under which I lie, I’m discovering that it’s about more than just me trying to make people feel good. It’s a lot about me wanting other people to feel good about me. I apologize to the bag-bearing strangers because I fear they’ll think I’m rude. I assure friends that their lateness is fine because I’m worried they’ll think I’m uptight. I agree that chips are impossible to put down because I don’t want people to think I’m judgmental, or a snob. It’s all about me, and my desire to be liked—even by people I’ll likely never see again, and who probably didn’t notice, let alone think about, me at all. But the authors, thinkers, and teachers whom I admire aren’t the ones suppressing their feelings to avoid discomfort; they’re the ones who speak their truths, whatever they may be, accepting that this might garner them a critic or two.
I recently finished Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and loved it for dozens of reasons I never expected to. It was compassionate, reflective, funny, and most importantly, honest. More than once, Poehler described her own self-check for ensuring the truth:
“You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true.”
This exercise is so simple, so direct, and yet it has kept me pondering for weeks. Sit back, place your hand on your heart, and ask yourself if what you’ve written—or in many cases, said—is true. How often do we breeze through conversations without pause for reflection? It’s nothing new to say that our culture favors the quick: quick typers, quick thinkers, quick food preparers, etc. But accomplishing the quick often comes at the expense of the truth. Media outlets are constantly retracting previous statements published hastily, apologizing for whatever untruth they’ve unwittingly presented. Text messages are sent to unintended recipients because we neglect to take the time to confirm our receiver. Insensitive tweets, inappropriate Instagrams, misspelled emails—the list of unlikeable byproducts of our faster! faster! nation is unending. Poehler’s simple exercise, I believe, has the power to be revolutionary. How much more effective could we be, both individually and collectively, if we paused and gave ourselves the space to confirm our honesty?
In Ethan Nichtern’s wise and approachable book, The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path, a section on ‘Mindful Expression’ also implores practitioners to seek honesty:
“In the Buddhist teachings on appropriate speech, the first lesson is always to try to express ourselves truthfully, without twisting the meaning of what we are saying. This does not mean we have to disclose everything to everyone. When we choose to share things, the question is whether we can do so without changing or sugar-coating what we are saying. For me, the most important aspect of this piece of skillful speech is the willingness to be open and authentic.”
The phrase “when we choose to share things” is incredibly important here, because there is always a choice. We must be able to acknowledge the moments when we know we cannot—or should not—tell all, and recognize that it is perfectly okay to be quiet, and to listen. If my little white lies derive from the feeling that the truth would be unwelcome, then maybe it’s okay to be quiet, and support whoever is making their own confessions (so long as staying silent isn’t a cop out for a truth that is harmful, and at times immoral, to suppress). I also like the reminder to acknowledge when we’re twisting our truths, because these twists can signal to us that we’re avoiding the heart of the matter—perhaps because we’re afraid of how the real truth will be received. Maybe these fears are warranted, but often times I’d argue that they are not. We don’t give our friends and loved ones even half the credit they deserve; they can handle a little awkwardness. We all can.
As I finish Stephen King’s On Writing, I am once again confronted with the immediate need to speak the truth. In answer to the question, ‘What should I write?’ King is quite blunt:
“Anything you damn well want. Anything at all…as long as you tell the truth.”
For King, if it isn’t truthful, it’s basically worthless. If a writer isn’t truthful, then they aren’t serious about their craft:
“This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the morality Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it…If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t, or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”
That last sentence in particular struck a chord—how often have I rejected stories before I’ve even written them, for fear they might offend someone I know? I fear writing something too political, because I worry I’ll burn bridges. I fear the permanence of the Internet age, and worry that a published piece will later haunt me with its flaws. These fears and hesitations seem to me to be a less-obvious mode of hoarding—in this instance, a hoarding of the truth. But King writes frankly about books he’s written that he’s not too fond of—he doesn’t obsess or regret, just acknowledges and moves on. He has his critics, but they don’t devastate him. He doesn’t worry that he’ll crumble under the weight of one bad review, and I think many of us—certainly me—could take after his lead.
We can’t derive our satisfaction from the praise of others; it’s an unreliable, unproductive tactic for reassuring ourselves of our worth. We can’t silence our truths because someone might not like them. We can’t please everyone, and trying to do so only holds us back from the progress we can make, and the stories we can share. In the end, we have our ability to self-reflect, and our ability to know, for ourselves and ourselves alone, what is honest and authentic. That, and not the compliments of others, should be our driving force.
So before I press send, before I quickly blurt out an ‘innocent’ half-truth, before I discard a piece of writing because I fear criticism, I’ll take my lead from Amy, and these other truth-tellers:
I’ll place my hand on my heart, I’ll feel its beat, and I’ll determine if what I’m about to say feels true.
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
In beginning to pack up my home a few weeks ago, I came across Jean Tinder’s Creator Cards on a bookshelf, a deck of cards my mom had gifted me with years prior. Inspired by the thought that every human being is innately divine and serves as the creator of his or her own reality and experience, the Creator Cards are designed to help the bearer move towards clarity, discovering answers that reveal one’s Truth and can lead to choices that match the reality of such truths. Each day I’ve turned over another card and considered its message, as well as its corresponding, longer passage, and each day I’ve been mesmerized by the serendipitous relevance of the day’s reflections to my reality in that moment.
Earlier this week, my card read, ‘What would you choose if there were no rules inside you?' And so I began to really think, how do we control ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our expressions of ourselves? How many of those regulated choices are unconsciously made, rooted in previous conventions that were set by other people or current or outdated belief systems? The card’s passage suggested that there is another way for us to live--that instead of relegating ourselves to living an unconscious life, we can choose again, and again, and again, consciously.
Curious about what ‘rules’ I may recognize and what ‘rules’ may not live so close to the surface of my consciousness, I attempted to make a list of ‘rules’ I have lived by and still largely live by. I found myself able to identify quite a few, some of which originated in childhood and others that arrived later in my life. Some were tinged with negativity, others with promise. And while it certainly was interesting to configure such a list, I soon found myself finding an alternate route into the exercise--I became much more intrigued by the consideration of what comfort zones and ‘rules’ I feel I currently am breaking out of. As I continue to ponder it all, this other entryway into the realm of rules and freedom seems to be lending itself to a more truthful and rich deciphering of how I have been and how and what I am becoming, consciously.
What are rules anyway? They would seem to be nothing more than invisible barriers that we set for ourselves, out of consideration for our moral, spiritual, and social values. I in no way mean to demean the setting of boundaries, for it can be within and from such clearly delineated lines that we grow. But as more years pass and I delve deeper into my yoga practice, the world seems to grow grayer each day, and amidst that gray emerges an opportunity to dissolve such barriers that bind us and to replace those obstructions with a more porous substance that makes space for tolerance and openness.
There’s such beauty in our ceaseless evolutions as human beings. That evolution is pronounced so vividly for many of us who practice yoga, on and off the mat. I believe too that growth unquestionably can be highlighted and prompted through artistic practices as well. Movement and contemplative practices alike draw out facets of ourselves that are present but less visible, and in learning of these diverse bits of ourselves, we learn how alike we all are; we recognize the ways others’ vulnerabilities are set beside their strengths, and in seeing such contrast in one being, we begin to realize the spectrum of a whole self. Yoga particularly has encouraged me to become more open--to see others, to really listen to them, and to interact on a visceral level based in the truths that showcase themselves. Only with such sensitivity to others’ ways and energy can we act from a more tolerant place and be lucky enough to witness others’ warring strengths and weaknesses.
This summer I have been blessed to be part of a community that is filled with ambitious and fearless men and women. The choices they make on stage and off have driven me to make bolder choices and actions daily; inspired by the way they move through life, I’ve endeavored to let hope guide me, which has, in turn, eclipsed the immense bursts of fear that can overwhelm my path. The courageousness I’ve witnessed in them has showcased how powerful the momentum and motivation of making daring choices that are right for you can be; while challenges often still arise, one truly can become bolstered by such progress.
In her MindBodyBrew Monday Mantra post entitled ‘Desire’, Brianna Goodman wrote:
[O]ften when we view the uncontrollable not as antagonists, but as welcomed events of our grander life story, we discover that our narrowed focus was actually not the ideal—that it prevented us from experiencing all that was at our disposal. A one-track mind is unable to recognize that what it thinks it wants might be nothing like what it actually needs. It seeks a reality that does not exist, a reality that tears our focus away from the reality we should be focusing on: the one that we’re living right now.
To live in the here and now requires, I believe, an incessant acceptance of permeable principles. If we are to meet our inevitably evolving selves, we must then recognize that our world’s ‘rules’ will change, and with that, hopefully, will come a broadening of our knowledge and acceptance of all that surrounds us. This is not to say that we should be doormats or that we should not hold opinions of our own, but is it not possible to affirm our common existence, to remove the feeling of separation and distance between our heart and another’s--as Oprah and Deepak Chopra note in their latest 21-Day Meditation Experience--in order to let abundance flow? Why must we limit ourselves with rules that no longer serve us? Why must we set rules in the first place? If we do set them for ourselves, what purpose do they hold, and how can they be established in such a way that allows for them to be revised in the future?
As human beings, we rise and we fall. We are vulnerable, exposed to natural and man-made aspects of our world that can support us and, likewise, can tear us down. Lately I have realized that in so many ways throughout my life I have lived from a place of fear. Such a way of life is exhausting and not nearly as productive as I’d imagined it could be. While pain is rarely a chosen lane, I am curious about how our lives can change if we choose to live with more abandon. Vulnerability will be ever-present. Uncertainty may reign. But if we choose to live a safe life, cozy inside the walls of our ‘rules’, is there really room for us to make our unique marks on this world? Mustn’t we break out of such barriers in order to learn who we are at our most primal states and from there, cast ourselves out into this unpredictable world we live in to live the fullest lives possible?
Another of my cards this week added a juicy turn to my ‘rules’ card. It read:
You cannot make a mistake, you cannot choose wrong. Every experience is simply another step along your path…when you see the divine imperfection in every choice and in every moment, you are truly free to create your world.
I love the sense of ownership in that passage--the way in which it places our lives in our hands. Yes, there always will be obstacles that jump into our paths that we did not plan for or do not suit our overarching life schemes, but perhaps in recognizing the accountability that we innately possess, we can take greater hold of our daily choices and build our lives to be much more full and fulfilling. And while it would be wonderful to come across less bumps in our life roads, there’s something in the grit, in the exposed edges that exist outside of our ruled realms, that presents colors and flavors that only wrong turns and missteps could create. So here’s to messiness, in your life and mine.
- Liz Beres
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew's digital platform.
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
- Excerpt from William Martin’s "The Parent’s Tao Te Ching"
I am by no means a runner. But I do enjoy a brisk jog here and there, to brush off the residue of a tough week, or take hold of an extra dose of energy I may have woken up with. The freedom that comes with that tearing through space can, in the moment, rev one’s confidence; with my feet pounding the pavement, I feel invincible, capable of ditching whatever is plaguing me and barreling into a future of abundant potential. Running along the East River just a few days ago brought on this sense of power within me, and also a sense of awe--at the glory of the sun beating down and the salty water’s waves rushing along with the wind. Such beauty packed into one seemingly ordinary, simple moment.
How often do these kinds of moments appear out of nowhere, lasting for mere seconds and yet overwhelming us with gratitude and wonder? Thoughts, emotions, physical sensations of the past, present, and future crashing in like a river’s wave, spilling over your entire being, only to leave you, soaked from the experience yet already part of the next moment in time. These are magical instants, pure and potent in their form and insight. One might even refer to them as extraordinary.
The shaping of the word ‘extraordinary’ suggests that the extraordinary is based in the ordinary--that only from such a common, solid foundation can we reach beyond to whatever else may be possible. So I wonder, why is it that we don’t give the ordinary its due? Why does a stigma exist in relation to what is typical of the everyday? Why are our expectations so frequently tied into extraordinary feats?
I am not proposing that we become complacent, nor am I shaming the act of goal-setting and subsequent act of pursuing those goals. Lately, I just question our society’s tendency to set the extraordinary above the ordinary, as if the latter has no place or value.
In a world where knowledge can be gained in an instant, time spins faster and faster, until the surrounding environment inevitably blurs, and its colors, its sounds, its textures fade. Real presence requires a slower rate of travel, no? What are we speeding towards anyway? If I should hazard a guess, I’d venture to say many of us are racing towards a career that will bring us more prestige and a higher income; others of us are sprinting towards a future filled with more material possessions; and still others of us may be desperately diving towards a larger social network, with the hope that we will feel more supported and loved.
What we do with our time, energy, and resources is of course up to each one of us. Dealing with all that we must to survive in today’s world results in a complex web of decisions and actions. But I wonder if we could – with just as much innovation – do more with less if we recognized what is already right in front of us. I myself have been seeking simplicity as of late – less stuff, less waste, fewer commitments. I joke that I want to be a more ‘normal’ person, who has the time to cook dinner at home or spontaneously take a walk to the park. As I slowly attempt to simplify my day to day, I am recognizing how much of the world I have missed in these last few years. Waking up to a day free of obligations can be so delightful; preparing a meal can become a quieting meditation. My vision, my hearing, my sense of smell, and even my sense of touch are steadily reawakening to the subtleties of our world. The world that I’ve been rushing through always was vibrant; I’m just recognizing its beauty once more.
If there’s one thing my yoga and meditation practices have gifted me with, it’s the comprehension of awareness, and the lack thereof. Broadened awareness brings with it details that otherwise might have been missed. Awareness of how we are or how matters are can lead us to more mindful decisions and actions. Becoming aware of the world draws us back to reality, with all its beautiful and harsh truths. When we become aware of what is, we can dream of what could be. I feel as if a closer relationship to the ordinary, through awareness, actually could tie us more deeply to the past, which can be an expert guide towards our future travel, steering us along the same path or carving us over to another.
When I read the passage above, I became filled with hope that I could succeed at living an ordinary life by the time I have children. To see our routines as extraordinary may be a stretch; if, instead, we can meet more ‘normal’ moments with the freshest eyes we can muster, perhaps the power of what is can emanate more vividly and be shared and valued more widely. If we can experience each moment for what it is--joyous or gloomy, fascinating or boring, harrowing or arousing--how much more extraordinary will those magical moments of our existence become? Before we teach our children of this life, we must first interact with its rawness. Only from there can awareness and gratitude come.