On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your capacity for telling the truth? Let’s say 1 is pathological liar, 5 is devoted practitioner of truthiness, and 10 is truth-serum-drinking maniac who struggles to function comfortably in society.
I attended a lecture this past weekend with author and Jungian analyst, Dr. James Hollis. He was talking about his book, “Hauntings,” which posits, among other things, that our lives are run by ghosts. Not the kind that go bump in the night, but the kind we are scarcely aware of in the form of parental/ancestral messages, childhood memories, and culture, to name but a few. This post is not a book review (though I can’t say enough about him and several of his books), but it is about telling the truth, especially to ourselves.
Hollis said the number one daily task we have, particularly in the second half of life, is discernment. It immediately rang true and got me thinking about the necessity of sifting and sorting, weighing costs and promises, and just how freakin’ hard that really is to do. And he wants me to do this every single day? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And it feels important.
If one of the paths to authentic and purposeful living is discernment, and I believe it is, how do we go about that task? Perhaps we start with a courageous conversation. And it may very well be one we have with ourselves. Neale Donald Walsch talks about the 5 levels of truth telling outlined in his talk/book “Relationships.”
I invite you on a quick spin down this path to evaluate how many levels of truth telling you are currently practicing. Because this is about awareness and not judgment, I encourage you to play along. Besides, no one is watching.
Level 1: tell the truth to yourself about yourself
This is a toughy. Sometimes we so want something to be true or have been so convinced something is true that we aren’t able to see the reality of ourselves, even as we look in the mirror each day. However, it’s usually around 3am for most of us that this truth comes gushing forth.
Level 2: tell the truth to yourself about another
Moving up the scale of difficulty, we are asked to level with ourselves about how things really are with that person, that job, or that decision. The gut ache that sometimes follows this is small in comparison to continuing to lie to ourselves about how things really are.
Level 3: tell the truth about yourself to another
Now comes the part where you have to bring someone else into the equation. Things get real here. You are speaking your truth to another person. They may or may not be the “issue” at hand, but the horse will now be out of the barn. (And the power of hearing yourself say something out loud is often more potent than expected.)
Level 4: tell the truth (your truth) about another to that other
Is your heart beating fast yet? This is the pinnacle of courageous conversations. This is when you tell the unvarnished truth, as you understand it, to the person at hand. This is not designed to be unkind or shaming, but chances are it will be uncomfortable for both you to speak and the other to hear.
Level 5: tell the truth about everything to everyone
This last level seems mostly aspirational in my mind. I think this is part of our life’s work – to continue to be more and more honest with ourselves and more and more truthful with others – and I think it’s a journey, not a destination.
Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.
Yowzer. Those are some serious marching orders.
Back to my favorite Jungian, James Hollis. He says that we must ask ourselves of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, every failure to commit the following question:
Does this path enlarge or diminish me?
Discern with care…and no truthiness allowed.