Radical Sabbatical: Truth

“Tell the truth.”  I’ve been told since I was a little girl.  “Tell the truth.”  As a kid, it seemed straightforward:  you either ate the cookie or you didn’t, you either got home by 10 or not.  “Tell the truth.”  Simple enough.  Not that I always did it, but the concept always seemed clear.  As I’ve gotten older, I find that truth-telling has lots of subtleties and nuances.  It’s not as simple as I used to think.

In the past few weeks, I feel like the Universe is telling me something about the telling the truth.  I’ve gotten three big messages about truth telling:  discovering the hidden lies I tell myself, telling the truth about my imperfections and owning my mistakes.  All three have the potential to deepen my connection to myself and others, so I’m doing my best to pay attention and … tell the truth.


The first message from the Universe about truth telling was during my re-take of the Nia Blue Belt training in June.   The focus of the Blue Belt is on Communication, Relationship, and Intimacy with a particular highlight on impeccability of the word.  On the first day of the training, we talked about the Five Levels of Truth Telling:

The Five Levels of Truth Telling:

To tell the truth to…

  1. Myself about myself
  2. Myself about another
  3. Another about myself
  4. That other about another
  5. Everyone about anything

I’ve taken the Blue Belt before.  I’ve been practicing Nia for 12 years.  Although I am familiar with the Five Levels, there was something new for me to learn particularly about Level 1:  Telling the truth to myself about myself.

During my sabbatical, especially the first four weeks, I discovered a bunch of things that I was lying to myself about.  I told myself that I wasn’t doing Nia “right.”  I told myself that I wasn’t all that good at it.  I told myself that I had to teach every day.  I told myself that I could be mindful without meditating.  I told myself that I didn’t need to spend time in Nature to feel good.  Lies.  Every one.

There is a distinction between these lies that I was uncovering and the harsh declarations of my (extremely vocal and strong-willed) inner critic.  Oh sure, I’m familiar with her opinions on me.  They usually sound something like:  “Your butt looks bad in those pants,” and “That was mean and you shouldn’t have said that,” and “You know better.”  Delightful stuff.  I have a whole protocol to deal with the proclamations of what I like to call my “Pointy Girl.”  Pointy Girl and her trash talk are one thing (and perhaps fodder for a future post), but the lies I discovered early in my sabbatical were different.

On sabbatical, having some space outside the rush and rumble of my teaching schedule helped me hear my thoughts and beliefs more clearly.  For example, while harvesting kale and lettuce out of the garden one morning, I heard myself say to myself, “If I’m really going to be a Nia teacher, I have to teach at least 6 times a week.”  I sat back in the lettuce bed and thought, “Hmph.  Is that really true?  I wonder where that came from?”  My guess is that if I’d been scrambling to get a playlist ready for class, preparing for a meeting and putting together a grocery list, I wouldn’t have heard that voice and if I had, I wouldn’t have questioned it.

For me, Level 1 of the Five Levels of Truth is about really listening not just to how I talk to myself but to how I think and what I believe.  The inspirational teacher, Byron Katie, encourages us to ask (among other things), “Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” (Click here for more information about Byron Katie and The Work.)  They can be insidious, these beliefs that we have somehow subsumed into our consciousness as “truth” or “reality” when, in fact, they are just manifestations of the mind.


In May, through a whole series of synchronicities, coincidences and kindnesses, I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one coaching session with one of my heroes, Jamie Catto.  He was incredibly generous to offer me his guidance, experience and insights.  I’ve been following his work since he created the two 1GiantLeap CDs, and it was a thrill and honor to work with him directly.  Much to my delight, shortly after our session together, he started posting more frequently on his blog.  Little coaching sessions delivered right to my email box!  Nice.  Just a couple of weeks ago, he posted this one on the Intimacy of Imperfection.

In it, he suggests that if we really want to be close to others, we need to openly share our insecurities, our craziness, our obsessions.  For real intimacy, we have to reveal those sides of ourselves that we usually hide.  Scary, but true.  What happens if I actually say out loud that sometimes I am agitated by our teenager, and that often I feel irrationally irritated by someone leaving a dirty dish in the sink?  What if I owned my anxiety, my judgments, my depression?  What if I admitted that I am terrified of being criticized?

As I’ve tiptoed out onto the thin ice of this idea of revealing imperfections, I have found that the ice really isn’t so thin.  There is first a sense of relief in sharing these hidden bits.  Then, more often than not, after I’ve revealed what is true for me, someone approaches me and says, “We’ve been in family therapy for years, too” or “I have anxiety, too.”  Reveal the imperfection and find a deeper connection.


The third message from the Universe about truth telling came from a book called Real Love by Dr. Greg Baer.  Two of my closest friends have been telling me about this book for years.  For whatever reason (coincidence?  perhaps.), I was ready to read it now.

There are many principles that Dr. Baer covers in regards to Real (or Unconditional) Love, but one that stuck out for me is closely related to what Jamie Catto talks about.  Dr. Baer writes that the first step to giving and receiving Real Love, is telling the truth about myself – particularly my mistakes and faults.  On his Web site he writes:

“…tell the truth about yourself to other people—especially about your mistakes, flaws, and fears—they can finally see you as you really are. They can accept you and give you unconditional love, as indicated [simply here]:  Truth -> Seen -> Accepted -> Loved”

I’d never thought about it before, but I have spent much of my life hiding my mistakes or telling little lies of omission so I would fit in.  Although I’d never really paid attention to the habit, I recognized it immediately.  So I started to play with really, really telling the truth even about the things I’d messed up or hidden.

One day, I dragged a stool across the floor out of busy-ness and laziness and it scratched the floor.  Instead of hiding the scratches or not saying anything, I just told my husband what happened.  Wonder of wonders, he didn’t flip out or cast me into the street for my carelessness.  When a dinner conversation moved to others’ annoying water-wasting practices like leaving the faucet on while washing dishes, I was quiet – since that is exactly what I do.  Later, I realized the lie of omission and I admitted it to my friends in an email.  (They cracked me up by very seriously writing back that they loved me anyway.)  In both cases, it felt like a little letting go, a little relief to have told the truth, however small.

While these examples may seem trivial, there is something powerful about really showing up and saying what is so.  I figure that, like anything, it’s best to start small.  I am emboldened by the big sense of liberation and transparency that these small revelations offered.  It feels as if I’d been sucking in my stomach in for a long time and then taking a deep breath and letting my tummy go.

The truth may well be more complicated than it seems.  There are things we say, things we believe that might not actually be true.  There are things we hide and pretend aren’t true so we appear to be different than we are.  The things we say and do, and the things we don’t say and don’t do.  Lining up behind what is really true for me is challenging, scary and deeply rewarding.

This week, I encourage you to take a look at how you line up with your truth.  Do you tell it to yourself?  Do you tell it to others?  What do you hide or pretend isn’t so?  Start small, and see how it feels.  The cliché may well be right:  telling the truth will set you free.


RADICAL SABBATICAL UPDATE:  August 31, 2012 marks the end of my Radical Sabbatical.  Next week, I’m taking some time away with my family to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary (!!).  The next post you read will be about the Nia routine I’m creating called Radical Sabbatical.  It will describe the music and the story of myy experience.  And if you really want to experience it, please come and dance it with me on Thursday, Aug 23 at 630pm at ACAC Albemarle Square (the debut!) and during the first two weeks of September on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1045am at Albemarle Square and Thursdays at 9am Downtown.  Thank you for hanging out with me during my time off!  It was stupendous.


  1. Elisabeth Sloan said:

    Susan, I found your essay very powerful and honest. As the first born in my family, I connect with the strong desire to be The Good Girl. The Good Girl never makes a mistake and always tells the truth.But as you pointed out the truth is not always black and white. And everyone makes mistakes, or has accidents. Last night we watched “Bridget Jones Diary.” I love how her friends, and Mr. Darcy, love her just the way she is. This is where true love is found.

  2. Oooh, yes! First borns! We DO want to please like crazy-go-nuts. And thanks for the reminder about Bridget Jones…she is a great example of being herself and sharing the real love! Thanks, Elisabeth!

  3. Jen Lucas said:

    Oh, Sus! I had a huge leap with this last week at work. I really did have to tell myself the truth first in order to be able to say it to co-workers. Still experiencing it all… So wonderful to read your post.

    • Way to go, Jen. The first step is always telling the truth to ourselves. And it’s also helpful to remember that especially if that truth is difficult or painful, not to inflict further pain by letting Pointy Girl get into the action, “How in the world were you so silly to get it into your head that you have to teach a certain number of classes to be a REAL Nia teacher?? What nonsense!” If I can allow myself to reveal the truth to myself without the second sting of admonishment, then, as you say, I have that available to tell to others. Nice work, Jen.

  4. Laura said:

    This is very wise, something I’ve come to expect from you. A couple of weeks ago, I practiced telling the truth on facebook (an unhappy, unamusing, un-self-aggrandizing status! omg!). I wasn’t shunned. Instead, I got exactly what I needed.

    • Well, fancy that. An honest FB status! Not sure I’m familiar with those! 🙂 FB sometimes reminds me of either those Christmas letters people mail at the end of the year or conversation at the family holiday table. Either they are showing all the successful, happy, glowing parts of themselves (like those blasted letters which are filled with nothing but honey and light — as if anyone’s life is that way) or they are full of argument and posturing and can-you-believe-those-politicians-this-and-that (which tend to boil up both those in agreement and disagreement — seriously not good for digestion). I love some honest disclosure and discourse at the holidays and on FB! You rock, my Kitten.

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