The theme of honesty is showing up for me over and over lately. (It’s getting rather comical.) I’m reminded of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Her poem Wild Geese begins with these lines:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
I love this description of honesty: “to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Too often, we don’t let ourselves love what we love. We argue with it, shame it, deny it, criminalize it, or tell ourselves why we shouldn’t love it. Too often, we don’t give ourselves permission to be that soft animal – we tell that soft animal that it shouldn’t feel sad, or lonely, or tired or even hungry. Too often, we are very, very hard on ourselves – walking through the desert on our knees.
I think it’s because we feel ashamed about what we love, what we need, what we feel, how we are. Somewhere we got the message that our feelings (especially the mucky “negative” ones), needs, likes, dislikes, personality, and quirks are not okay.
Because we feel ashamed about the truth of our experience, we lie. We’re dishonest – either with ourselves or with others. We only allow the “acceptable” feelings, needs, likes and aspects of our personality (the parts that get praised by others) to show their face. The rest we hide with lies and half truths.
In my experience, there’s a direct correlation between dishonesty and overeating, bingeing, and emotional eating. When I’m dishonest, I often use food to voice how I really feel.
Here are some examples:
- When someone asks us how we’re feeling, we say, “Fine,” when we’re not fine.
- We put on the happy face when we’re not happy. (Then we care for our real feelings, the sadness, in secret with chocolate cake.)
- We eat when we’re actually angry. We pour our anger into chips and salsa rather than in feeling our anger and heeding its wisdom. (Anger is usually there to set healthy boundaries.)
- We don’t tell someone our preferences or limits, such as not eating sugar, and then when we go to their house for dinner we feel trapped to eat the homemade cheesecake that they spent 2 hours making.
- We say we like something when we don’t, just to get along.
Just reading this list makes my heart fill icky. Super, mucky, icky. It feels icky because it’s dishonest, and my heart recoils with a huge, bodily, “No. I do not want to live this way.”
Honesty is a boundary – letting yourself have your own experience, even if no one else approves of it or likes it. (I understand that this is much, much easier said than done.)
Honesty means letting go of our ideals (how we’d like to feel or be) and accepting what is: what we’re really feeling, needing, experiencing. It’s accepting life on it’s own terms.
Honesty means surrendering to how we’re made and not how we wish we were made. This one comes up for me a lot as a highly sensitive (and sugar sensitive) person. I need lots of care, rest, excellent nutrition and strong boundaries to thrive, and I can resent this. Then I’m dishonest, trying to find a work around. (This is also called denial.)
Honesty means accepting what is happening right now – oh, I’m tired – and recognizing that fighting against my experience (or clinging to it when it’s “good”) doesn’t help. Honesty is what allows the flow – to feel tired, and then energized, and then tired, and then energized – to move, to feel the full range of feelings and moods and more.
Honesty is letting go of control, because we often try to control our experience instead of honoring it.
That’s quite a list, I know.
So yesterday, I was in yoga class, and the instructor began class as she always does, by going around the room and asking each person how they’re feeling. When she got to me, I said, “Low energy. Tired. Sleepy.” This was after each person before me replied with answers like, “Great. Happy to be here. Wonderful,” or some version thereof.
I was tempted to lie and add my, “Great!” to everyone else’s. (There’s comfort in numbers, isn’t there?) But I went for truth. (Everyone after me said, “Great,” or “Fine” too, so I definitely felt like the odd man out.)
Surprisingly, it didn’t feel painful at all to be honest – it felt freeing. It’s freeing to tell the truth because it’s an exercise in letting go. Letting go is a release, a giant exhale. We feel less tense – which feels good! - because we soften the internal tension that comes from trying to pretend that we’re feeling one way (when we’re not) or from trying to manage our experience to feel different.
Throughout the class, I continued to practice truth telling – listening to my body and then responding honestly. I learned a lot about myself: Am I going for those extra 3 push ups because that’s what my body is truly needing, or am I pushing myself because I feel ashamed of feeling tired and I want to prove to myself that I’m not? Hmm….
I learned that if I’m honest – in both yoga and life – that I:
- Am not always happy but pressure myself to be.
- Often need more rest and ignore this.
- Tend to push myself past my limits instead of accepting the, “No.”
- Tend to care more about other people’s approval than being honest about how I feel, think or believe.
- Feel really, really good when I slow down, restore, give myself rest, and give myself permission to be less than 100%.
- Feel really, really good when I give myself permission to have my own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs, even if no one else shares them.
At the end of class, several students asked me if I was feeling better. I sensed an expectation from them for me to smile and say, “So much better!” and remembered #4, craving approval more than truth. But the truth was that I was still feeling tired, low and worn out. So I tried honesty again and said “I’m still feeling pretty low.” And I just let it be.
But here’s the radical, mystical wonder of growth: Because I had let it be, I was okay feeling what I was feeling. I was okay with needing rest, even if no one else thought that was cool. My own acceptance was all I really, truly needed. Honesty felt so much better than lies.
So I learned something: honesty is letting things be. Not working so hard to change, fix, alter; just letting things relax in whatever state they find themselves, trusting the flow, trusting my own capability: that my care for myself is not dependent on feeling any certain way. Trusting that in honesty, surprisingly – the world is full of such wonder! – I have what I need.
Letting it be, letting go, surrender, acceptance. That feels powerfully, beautifully kind.
Needing some hands-on help?
Are you wanting to explore honesty further?
- In my overeating program, Heal Overeating: Untangled, I explore honesty in greater detail in the first 2 sessions. (There are 12 lessons total.)
- Listen to this free sample of Untangled, an audio session on the beginner’s mind.