Truthful and Compassionate Communication
Yoga Philosophy in Modern Life
with Heather Agnew, ERYT-500, Lead Trainer
Watch a 40-minute clip of a yoga philosophy discussion on practical strategies for bringing yoga philosophy into modern life with truthful and compassionate communication.
Follow the video, or read a few notes and strategies below.
Truthfulness and Compassion in Communication: Satya and Ahimsa
Yoga Philosophy in Everyday Life – Transcript Notes
In this week’s group coaching I thought we might talk about some practical strategies for kind, compassionate, truthful communications as we practice Satya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa (non-harming) in our lives.
This topic arises for me today as I was replying to a student’s (very insightful!) philosophy journal about how to put truthfulness into practice. It got me thinking about some of the strategies I’ve learned over the years that have helped in my communications and relationships, particularly in moments of conflict.
We’ve all been learning about yoga philosophy, which can be so enlightening, but putting these ideals into practice as we work, play, parent, communicate, move our bodies, meditate, travel, and navigate all the various challenges of a busy modern life.
Today we want to explore how we might practice the yoga philosophies we are learning in our everyday conduct, conversations, and conflicts?
I’m so keen to hear your insights and experiences and will also share a few strategies I’ve learned (some from you!) over the years, I’ve noted 5 of these, including:
• Listen, agree, ignore.
• I’m not your person for that.
• Don’t eat it if it doesn’t taste good.
• What is true for me may not be true for you.
• Take some space.
Firstly, a few notes:
What are the Yamas?
Yamas are the first limb of the 8 limbs of yoga, and offer guidelines for social conduct, how we treat others. While we may also look at how we treat ourselves as a foundation for how we treat others, the primary aim of the Yamas is for us to consider how we conduct ourselves in the spirit of yoga, with consciousness and compassion, as we inhabit spaces with and connect with others.
Ahimsa is our first Yama – non-harming, non-violence, a commitment that our thoughts, speech, and actions don’t harm others.
Satya is our second Yama – truthfulness, a commitment to tell our truth, and understand other’s truth’s, without harm.
I often think of the Yamas as teachings that help us to overcome our more primal or immature urges – like a toddler who has an urge to just take what they want, lie when it suits, to hit out when we are angry or frustrated. The Yamas are a chance for us to evolve, to more consciously move through the world, and consider our impact on others.
With this is mind, I’m often asked by students what practical strategies I might have to be more honest, to do less harm, to manage conflicts more gracefully and kindly, without avoiding conflict or just becoming a hippy, granola doormat, or worse, avoiding people all together.
Before we dig into the discussion, one more caveat. We are talking about the common conflicts and challenges we face in everyday life with our families, friends, colleagues, etc. We are talking about the issues that, while they may cause us concern and be distressing, are not dangerous, traumatizing, or illegal. If someone is causing you material harm, or you feel threatened or at risk of harm, this is not a time for any yoga philosophy except to call for help, get out of there, report.
What you’ll hear perhaps in my examples, this is more like the conflicts about who opened a package with the sewing scissors, whose turn it is to organize birthday cupcakes for a coworker, or how your in-laws criticize you, or how you criticize your in-laws.
One more thing, actually, before I begin:
I will first have to admit that I’m not that great socially. I don’t have strong social skills, and I’m still a beginner in many situations, particularly when it comes to conflict. My first impulse is to let myself down rather than another person and run and hide when there is a challenge. However, I have learned a few strategies over the years that have served me well that I thought I’d share.
First up is:
1) Listen, agree, ignore.
When faced with a challenging conversation where my impulse is to defend or argue, this is a strategy that has worked well for me. For instance, I had someone in my life who could be quite critical, and I would want to argue or lie about my real opinion to get her to back down. Instead, listen, agree ‘huh, that’s an interesting perspective’, and then move on. This is especially useful if you know that a discussion or dialog won’t change anyone’s perspective or position. The use of ‘interesting’ doesn’t actually mean you agree, but it does indicate you are listening, and that’s often all people are looking for.
2) I’m not your person for that.
I am a bit of a hermit and don’t want to attend most things I’m invited to (but I love to be invited!). Instead of making up white lies, which is my first impulse, I use this strategy to be honest when I decline. I might say, I’m not your person for going to a concert at 10pm, but would you like to take an afternoon walk this week with me? This shows the person that you do want to spend time together, but that concerts (or whatever event) is not comfortable for you. What I like about this strategy is that it can actually bring you closer in relationship – showing who you are as a person and maybe allowing you to create your own special events that you both enjoy.
3) Don’t eat it if it doesn’t taste good.
If someone says or does something that hurts or leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it’s better to speak up early and clearly rather than lie that you are okay with their behaviour. You can use language that is clear but doesn’t criticize, like ‘when you say that it makes me feel…’ or ‘I’m uncomfortable with that’. Think of this as Satya and Ahimsa together – helping someone not cause harm to you or others with behaviour that is unkind, and telling your truth with clarity and kindness which can help keep your future communication and relationship ‘sweet’.
4) What is true for me may not be true for you.
Understand that what is true for you, or how you see things from your perspective, experience, culture, belief system etc., may not be the same for others. You might use language like ‘in my opinion’, or ‘what is relevant for me’, or ‘how I see it from my perspective’ when sharing an opinion or belief with others. This can not only reduce conflict but can open up a dialog and allow all parties in a conversation to learn about each other and see things from multiple points of view.
Often, I pair this one with the listen, agree, ignore strategy. For example, I have a person in my life who quotes a lot of Facebook ‘research’, which doesn’t align with my truth. I don’t need to argue or criticize or reject this person, but I can practice listen, agree, ignore. This person often says, ‘well science said this, now it’s saying that; they are always changing their minds’. Yes, I agree, science isn’t always right, it’s a process, it’s about learning. Things might change with scientific inquiry, it doesn’t mean it was wrong, it meant it was learning. Just like we all are.
I want to reiterate that in these situations, I still have a little voice in my head that says, ‘that’s ridiculous!’, but it doesn’t help anyone to say that out loud. They might be wrong. I might be wrong. Most importantly, I might harm that relationship, and any chance of finding common ground or learning together.
5) Lastly, but most important, taking space.
In conflict situations it can feel like things have to be said or done or resolved in the moment, but often we can come to kinder and more reasoned decisions or responses with a bit of time. Taking some time and space with something like ‘well that’s a lot to consider or, I hear you, let me take some time with that and get back to you’, can give you some space to think without pressure, and perhaps even see all sides of an issue. Even if your final response will be ‘let’s agree to disagree on this’, you have had some time to reflect, and the other person in the conflict has also had some time and space to reflect and maybe better understand your perspective.
Finally, I wanted to talk about being honest about being a beginner in relationship. I found that when I acknowledged that I had a lot to learn about communicating and relating to other people, I stopped giving myself a hard time about my clumsiness in social situations, and I got curious and began to learn and develop some skills.
Like allowing yourself to be a beginner at yoga, or chess, or tennis, you can let yourself be a beginner at honesty and non-harming, and a beginner at friendships, love relationships, colleague relationships.
Acknowledging that you are learning can be a good first start to develop your own strategies and not just falling back on old habits or strategies that don’t reflect your yoga philosophy. Or, following your toddler impulses, to take, hit out, lie, or run away and hide. Let yourself learn and experiment with how to manage communications and conflict more consciously and compassionately. Just think of what you might discover along the way.