Starting the month of sincerity meant putting into practice what I had seen in the preceding three months about serenity, regularity and absence of vanity. It is not enough to have insights and understanding if the ideas do not become part of everyday life. If this training in the ITIES is to have any meaning, it definitely implies the sincerity to live according to a new understanding. Sincerity comes after absence of vanity, because sincerity is the hard work after lofty ideas.
But how to live sincerely? For me, it meant harmonizing thought, word and deed. To make thinking, speaking and acting one unity. The tool, the path is sincerity but the result also is sincerity. Sincerity is a constant effort to strive for and reach this unity of thought, word and deed, but once achieved, the resulting sensation and satisfaction is one of sincerity.
The mind looking for facility often encounters conflict. If thought, word and deed coincide and constitute one harmonious entity, then there is smoothness or flow. For instance, I want to write a letter and I do not do it because it is difficult or unpleasant. The result is uneasiness, conflict or even guilt. But if thought is followed by action, no matter what, without intervening thoughts, without prevarication, then there is no conflict, no waste of energy. Sincerity makes the action follow the preceding thought or word. Sincerity implies honesty because to think one thing and to do another is dishonest.
I became aware of the monkey mind, the image so often given in books on yoga or meditation. The mind is like a monkey jumping here and there. And while the mind jumps around, the gap between thought, word and deed grows. If the monkey mind were still, the letter would be written immediately. A synonym for sincerity is artlessness. The jumping of the mind is artful and crafty, but to harmonize thought, word and deed it takes 'only' a sincere will.
In order to stop the jumping mind and to unite thought, word and deed, it is necessary to know the thought, to control the word and to adapt the action. I saw that behind the thought there was a desire, and by using the SWAN theory, by writing down Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs, I could tell that the ambition was the desire behind each thought.
I also looked differently at the first sloka of Patanjali's i>Yoga Sutras - 'Yoga anushasanam'. I quote now from a talk by Swamiji on 'Mind and Mind Management' in Aix-les-Bains, France, 1997: "The word yoga means awareness of the inner personality which is manifesting in the outer world. Anu means subtle, shasanam means to rule, to govern, to be in control of. Therefore, according to Patanjali, yoga is a form or method of governing the inner nature. It is a method of directing the inner nature harmoniously so that it can manifest externally."
I found here all the ingredients of sincerity: the will to know the desire behind each thought, the will to choose the right word and the will to act in harmony. This is of course difficult; it requires absolute honesty and no fear in the face of unpleasantness, of personal weaknesses and shortcomings, of age-old behaviour patterns. While trying to live in all sincerity I felt I was getting to the question of the attractions and repulsions underlying behaviour.
The letter that needs to be written, but still remains in the head and not on paper, is just one of many examples. Pleasant/unpleasant, good/bad, these pairs are a hindrance, an obstacle to sincerity; they come in between thought, word and deed. Yoga offers, of course, all the necessary tools to avoid the pitfall of opposites. So do the four main points for a yogic lifestyle recommended by Swamiji: practise a minimum of half an hour's sadhana every morning and evening, commune with nature, vibrate positively, and be aware of the internal as well as the external environment.
The result of the month of sincerity was to write down everyday desires, with the following aim: To become aware of desires; putting the resulting thoughts into words, in order to accept them without judging them; to check which accepted desire/thought I acted upon, which desire reappeared day after day, or which desire disappeared; if a desire persisted and there was no action following then there was conflict, either inner conflict or conflict with others.
The coming and going of desires, the fleeting nature and very often futility of desires was strengthening the sankalpa in a wonderful way.
The month of sincerity was a difficult month. The beginning was so very clear - harmonize thought, word and deed and you will live sincerely. But I was surprised to find myself among the SWAN theory and Patanjali. I felt I had missed the meaning of this month and gone astray. For the first time, I felt the need to check with what Swami Sivananda had said, and found reassuring confirmation: "Let your words agree with your thoughts. Let your actions agree with your words. Let there be harmony among your thoughts, words and actions."
After the hard month of sincerity I was looking forward to an easy time with simplicity. In regard to the previous ITIES simplicity meant not to complicate or overdo the study and practice of the ITIES. Simplicity implies spontaneity.
Simplicity in regard to life itself meant a simple yogic lifestyle - I use italics as it is such a wide concept. I think I do lead a simple life, trying to do with the minimum of consumer goods required in Western Europe and by a teenage son.
I do consider myself a simple-minded person. My interaction with people is spontaneous and honest. If it gets complicated, I withdraw. So with this view of myself and the lifestyle I lead, I was very confident about the month of simplicity.
Yet, as I soon found out, the test was not to be simple, as comes easily to my nature, but the challenge was to live up to the reactions of others. Simplicity in our society is equal to stupidity. It takes great humility to accept the mockery and sneers with which simplicity is met in the world today. Scheming and doing things in a twisted way is the more accepted way of interacting. At work, I realized that simple, unpretentious interaction is considered as silly or even stupid behaviour. Gossip, behind-the-back plotting and manoeuvring are the tricks and methods that are accepted, highly regarded and rewarded.
The test for me therefore was to keep on being simple, and above all to accept in all humility the judgement of others. Not wanting fortune or fame, or career or a smart car is an attitude that is considered by many as downright stupid. I got hurt, laughed at in many ways, taken advantage of without even noticing because I did not know the game that was being played, or if I did, I refused to play it.
So, the month of simplicity was anything but easy. It was the first time I had to defend quietly an ITY in the face of the social environment I live in. It was a painful experience and an incredible challenge to humility. I could see that for others a month of simplicity might be completely different, might imply giving up ambitions, cutting down on luxuries, relating more frankly with friends and colleagues.
For me it meant upholding an idea, an ITY, I believe in. Of course, this is based on the values and priorities I have set in my life. Simplicity is one of these values, and at the same time living simply gives me space and time to work on other values. Simplicity is an incredible energy-saving and stress-preventing ITY.
Veracity is to me like a result-ITY, namely the result of self-enquiry, the result of awareness, the result of knowing one's SWAN, the result of constantly remembering one's sankalpa and living for it. If all of this is done, only then is there veracity.
Veracity does not deal only with being honest with oneself - which is hard enough - but also with being honest, straightforward with others and expressing this honesty in an inoffensive way.
Western psychology emphasizes the responsibility of each individual for his/her thoughts, words and deeds. We should say: "I am angry" and not "You make me angry," "I am disappointed" and not "You let me down." Veracity represents the same attitude of responsibility and yoga offers the tools to achieve it. When one is able to act with this responsibility, then there is emotional detachment in interaction, clarity of mind, precision and respect for others, and our actions are no longer mere reactions.
In regard to the five preceding ITIES, veracity can act as a controlling force. Veracity can check if and how the other ITIES are being applied or not; it can be a reminder of the preceding ITIES and of the process that was necessary to live them. For instance, if I am sad, it takes the honesty to admit that I am not living serenity, and the honesty to remember the tricks to find serenity again. If I am proud of some achievement, it takes honesty to remind myself of absence of vanity, and the process of non-identification.
At the end of the six months I was made aware of different aspects:
1) Every month gave me a special opportunity to learn about the ITY concerned. The month of serenity started out very bleak and gloomy, but ended with a big laugh. Each month was a challenge to find out about the ITY, and the everyday situations demanded a response to the ITY involved. The month of veracity was relentlessly asking me what I really wanted to do, what I honestly thought of the actual situation and to act accordingly. The month of simplicity was asking me to stick to a simple way of living and thinking, in spite of social pressure. In this way, there was a constant exchange between the search for the meaning of an ITY and the daily life.
2) I had realized during these six months that there was meaning behind the sequence of the ITIES, it was not just a random enumeration - the order mattered.
To start working with the ITIES the most important thing is serenity, a certain lightness, humour and the intention of taking oneself not too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself is essential for any path of self-inquiry. Or as Swamiji said: "Don't only hear God laugh, laugh with him."
The second step is regularity, as no path leads anywhere without regularity. The path may be anything, yet regularity must be an inherent part of the path.
With the first achievements along the path comes pride. So absence of vanity will have to be integrated in order to humble oneself. Identification with our head, heart and hands leads to pride and vanity and we need to be reminded that we are not the doer, but instead we need to develop the capacity of the observer.
Simplicity is then the logical outcome, to keep actions, interactions with people, the thought process, feelings and the daily life simple. Simplicity does not mean looking for an easy life, but avoiding unnecessary and futile complications. Simplicity does not exclude sincerity, on the contrary, a simple focus does enhance a sincere approach, but thanks to the serenity, there is no danger of becoming serious.
To finish the first step (the first six ITIES) of personal discipline, one more attitude is required, the attitude of credibility and honesty or of veracity. At this point veracity is directed towards oneself - no cheating, no prevarication. If there is a feeling of gloom, a moment of pride, then one must acknowledge this and face it. It is very tempting to belittle or ignore a bit of conceit here and a bit of dissimulation there.
3) Veracity is like a transition ITY between the first six ITIES that involve only one person and the next set of six ITIES which involve interaction with other people as well.
With these first six ITIES well established and developed one is ready to work with the next six ITIES, which relate more to our interaction with the world: equanimity, fixity, non-irritability, adaptability, humility and tenacity.
4) I lived these first six ITIES as an open explorer, without any expectations or any interference. Whatever I saw or experienced was fine, yet I did not undertake anything to find out what a certain ITY was about. I slowly started to feel that this almost passive attitude was not enough, and for the next set of six ITIES I decided to add a personal diary. For the third set of ITIES, I knew I wanted to add yet another aspect and I decided to add a conscious deliberate daily act for the ITY of the month. In this way I want to include another dimension to each set of six ITIES.
5) The last thing I saw was that it is fine 'to do an ITY a month', the real challenge is 'to live all eighteen ITIES together - all the time' - this is the challenge of perfection.