Secrets

As a kid I remember being asked and hearing others ask the question: what is your deepest, darkest secret? No one ever seemed to believe me, but for the longest time I had no answer to that question. I didn’t really have any secrets. It even struck me as odd that that question seemed to come up so often. Do regular people have terrible secrets that they’re hiding? I couldn’t imagine it. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I was pretty much an open book. Any secrets I may have had were rather by chance than by intention.

Throughout my college years I made a lot of very serious mistakes. Those were really my first secrets. Even so they were only things I hid from certain people. My boyfriend never knew I cheated on him, but it was common knowledge to my close friends, despite my shame. I suppose I also had secrets from my parents in my late teens and early twenties. These secrets seemed sensible though. I kept selectively silent in order to preserve the feelings of those I loved.

After years of living on my own, and particularly during last year’s quarantine, it feels like I’ve become more secretive than ever. These are much bigger secrets in my eyes. Maybe not as damning, but certainly more embarrassing. These secrets are ones I keep out of personal shame rather than courtesy. They are not selective events or things I conceal from only certain people. It feels like these things have crowded around me to form a separate, secret me. There are so many things about my day to day life and the inner workings of my mind that I would be mortified for anyone else to know. It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if anyone even truly knows me anymore.

That’s why I wanted to talk about secrets today. Secrets separate, secrets isolate. I’ve recently read about something called imposter syndrome. This is the experience of feeling like a fraud and/or undeserving of the things and people you have in life. I’d say that fits me, but I hesitate. Is it “imposter syndrome” if you really are an imposter to a certain degree? I don’t feel like this is some imagined perception. I truly believe that most of the people in my life would no longer like me if they knew more about me. Whether it’s true or not, this only encourages me to hide myself away. And the more I hide myself away, the bigger my secrets become.

I see only two ways to remedy this situation and rid myself of this ever-present shame. I could either come clean about all of my idiosyncrasies to everyone I know (no way would I ever do that), or I could change my behavior and live each moment of my life in a way I can be proud of. This second option is my goal. Everyone knows the phrase “dance like no one is watching,” well I want to live like everyone is watching. For the most part I agree with the saying that your true character is who you are when no one is watching. That’s why I feel fake most of the time. But I want to live a life that I don’t have to be ashamed of. I don’t want to keep feeling like a phony when I face the world.

Satya is one of the five Yamas (restraints) laid out in the yoga sutras of Patanjali. Satya means non-lying or truthfulness. I’ve tried a few times to adopt this way of living, but have always given up quite quickly. I really never realized how much I lied, even about little insignificant things, until I tried to be mindfully truthful. Most often these lies come in the form of excuses. I’m too anxious to go hangout with my friends, so instead I’ll say I have other plans. I also tell a lot of half-truths, purposely being vague or omitting certain details in order to stay on someone’s good side. When I really think about it, I guess I’ve been more concerned with other people’s opinions of me than my own self-respect.

After so many years of telling these little white lies, it has become second nature to me. But I’d like to start looking at truth as an act of self-love. Being honest is really a gift to myself and others. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel truly worthy of my loved ones unless I learn how to be honest with them and myself. It may be scary, but it’s something I’ve got to do. Happiness won’t be found in falsehoods.

Moderation

When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.

One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.

For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.

Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.

I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.

Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)

Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.

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