On a winter’s sunset walk last night I saw a patch of pale, papery honesty growing in the hedgerow, the distinctive circular seed pods looming from the grass. I always notice the plant- but tonight it seemed to jump out at me for more reasons than one. Some say the name came because of the translucency of the silvery pods – but whether true or not, the name does always spark deeper thoughts for me.
The day before I had attended a small reading group with some friends. We’ve just started it, after many years of saying we will. Our aim is particularly to dive into the books of the bhakti tradition. We started modestly with a book called ‘Nectar of Instruction’ or ‘Shri Upadeshamrita’ written by the 16th century saint Srila Rupa Goswami. It’s small – just eleven Sanskrit verses, with an English commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In essence it is a summary of the proper behaviour and activities that a person should adopt on the path of bhakti yoga. We read the first verse together – which speaks about control of the mind, senses and urges of the body.
The discussion afterwards turned to how honesty is vital to physical and spiritual health – both honesty to oneself and with others. Every generation seems to learn the hard way that dishonesty only brings pain in the end. All of us that sat in the circle had grown up in spiritual communities where the keeping up of appearances can unfortunately seem to encourage dishonesty. We talked about how that cycle can lead to no progress being made at all, and ultimately unhappy, spiritually malnourished people.
The next day, in my kitchen I noticed the sachet of ‘Honest Earth’ instant mashed potatoes, and the fruit and nut ‘Kind’ bars. These aspirational types of names are pretty common these days – goodness – honest goodness – sells, because we all crave it. I normally think myself aloof to the effect of such marketing, but when I envisioned the products without labels for a moment I realised that just seeing those words on the packaging really did make me feel better about the contents, even though I already know the ingredients don’t match up to the image. Kind of like politicians…
There’s so much one can say about honesty in the current climate. Whether it’s instant mashed potatoes or Trump’s latest tweet – I feel more savvy (and more in control) if I expect to be cheated at every turn. That’s a bit sad, but it does seem realistic. What I do know is that even if the wider world may lead me to take dishonesty as the norm – and even facilitate, and reward it (think about it…), in my small world – in the day to day, I need honesty like I need fresh air.
In the bhakti tradition, honest revelation in confidence is an exchange of love. There’s definitely nothing like it to humble the heart and deepen friendship. But it can be tricky to navigate who to be honest with, and how much. Since Facebook galloped into my life like a crazed horse ten years ago, I have way too many people who I count as ‘friends’, and who know me, and quite a bit about my life. I’ve also travelled a lot, so the numbers of people continue to rise, even if I ignore the friend requests.
But away from the madding crowd, this year I’m realising the importance of making time for those few relationships where everything can be laid bare. To be truthful, sincere, honest – yes it is hard…it demands vulnerability, and that can be so daunting. In Ancient Roman times, marble sculptors sometimes used to use beeswax (cere) to fill small cracks or holes in inferior quality stone. Salesmen would use the word sincere, meaning ‘without wax’ to assure prospective buyers of the quality product. The example always sticks with me. Tempting as it is to disguise the cracks, it does no good to anyone.
Those little seedpods rising out of the dark brush the other night reminded me that transparency is freeing. Before I expect or demand it from anyone else, there is a lot of work to do on myself.