Four Rules for Living, #3, Tell the Truth

The anthropologist and spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien is credited with these 4 rules for living:  Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the outcome.


Tell the truth…  that’s something we were taught as children, wasn’t it?  I know I was.  I remember vividly one of the first times I did not tell the truth – to my mother – as a child.  I was playing with neighbor kids, far enough to be as independent as I could be at that age – about 5 – and close enough for Mom to keep a watchful eye out the front screen door that led onto the porch on our upper flat.  At some point, I slapped a little girl in the group.  I don’t know if it is a memory trick, or if it happened this way, but I saw my mother at that moment, checking to see that I was safe on the street.

When I got home that day, Mom asked me whether I had hit one of my playmates.  I said no, that it must have been another little girl who looked just like me.  Mom  must have been stunned – at my creativity and at my sense of being right – because I saw – and vividly remember – a look of enjoyment and understanding cross her face.  Nothing more was said.

We assert our independence as children by not following the rules our parents taught us, and if we are on the path to grow into conscious adults, we continue to assert our independence from our parents, over the course of our lives.  And as we assert our independence, hopefully, carefully, and with great discernment, we discover what is true, for us, for who we are, separate from our parents and what was true for them.

Telling the truth is not easy.  First of all, it means that one has come to know that we often do NOT tell the truth.  We remember and speak what was true for others.  We hide our feelings.  We ignore feelings we do not want to feel – are in the habit of not feeling – and so we cannot tell the truth of what we feel, in this moment, now.

Sometimes, if we are on a journey, and for awhile, we say someone else’s truth, because we do not yet know our own.  “I have to be positive,” we say to ourselves, and so we ignore what is true for ourselves and instead say what would go over well with our latest self-help guru.  Or we quote scripture, without having questioned its meaning, without having considered how and if it might apply to me in my own circumstances.  It’s easy to get stuck here, to not grow any more, because we think we have found “truth.”  All along, we still do not know what is true for ourselves.

In my own life, I remember coming to the place where I began to know and to feel – as if for the first time – my own feelings in response to something that happened.  I remember learning that I had to trust what I knew in my body as much – perhaps even more – than what my roiling thoughts were telling me.  I remember that when I first began to truly know what was true for me, I often could not say that truth without raising my voice.

Sometimes, I’m like that now.  Maybe I have to speak loudly enough so that I can hear!

But sometimes now, I speak truth that is truth to me, in this moment, in this circumstance, with this person, in this particular situation.  What is true is not some long-remembered “rule” from my childhood, or my religion, or someone I admire.  What is true is what is true for me.  I have learned that I can speak what is true quietly – very quietly – because what is true is what is meant for me, only.

And when I speak my truth, I can walk away without caring about how the other person responded.   Telling my truth is not about changing someone else’s mind.  When I “tell the truth,” I am complete.  I am not concerned about changing someone else’s mind – they have their own journey to the truth for themselves, after all, and I cannot know what that journey may be for them.  I am complete simply because I have honored truth, my truth, I have spoken it well, and I am complete.  When I speak my own truth, I respect myself, and I respect the other.  In fact, if I have honored my own truth, I can listen more fully to someone else’s truth.  I can listen for the deeper truth beneath the words, as I have done for myself.


I love these 4 rules for living.  I know it is not easy to live these rules.  Sometimes in life, I come across some idea or some short thought that fits.  I like to say that one could live their whole life, turning that thought over and over again, trying it on, seeing when it fits and when it does not fit.  These 4 rules are like that for me.  This is not the only truth I have held inside, turning over inside myself like one turns a stone over in the palm of one’s hand; one favorite for me, that I have returned to many times is this:  “give thanks in all circumstances.”

But these 4 rules for living are good, solid rules.  I like them because they are not easy.  They are not easily won, as if they can be honored without questioning our own thoughts and our own lives, as if they can be lived without hard work.  But they are good rules.

Next, “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”  (oh, noooooo!)