I remember the first time I bunked school to go watch a movie with friends. I lied to my parents and then later to my teachers and the whole time I was extremely nervous. Even though the risk of getting caught was low, the fear and the guilt kept me on edge all day. For the next few days whenever my mother called me to ‘discuss’ something, the thought of getting caught involuntarily came to mind.
Since we were kids, we’ve been taught to speak the truth and refrain from lying. And that day, I somewhat realised why. I eventually told my mother. I did get a talking to but it felt like a weight had been lifted.
Vedic culture gives supreme importance to truth. Satya is considered essential, because without it the Creation and reality would fall apart.
A few years after the above mentioned incident, when I came to Dhyan Foundation, I was reintroduced to the concept of truth and its importance. Truth is among the five yamas in AshtangYoga, a precursor to beginning one’s spiritual journey to attain reality.
In this article, however, I’m going to touch upon the physical effects of lying, what happens to our mind and body when we lie, since we are dwellers of the physical world, and even though physical is a reflection of the energy world, it is physical that we best relate to.
A recent incident at office probed me to delve into this topic of lying and truth-telling. A friend of mine wanted a few days off to relax and party outside the city. However, since we were short-staffed, there was little chance that the boss would grant her leave. So she lied about visiting her sick mom. When she came back from the boss’s cabin, her pulse had already quickened. At that time, she scoffed it off. But as time of her trip came near, her tension started building. She had to be careful to not let the news slip, lest the boss hears it. The day she was supposed to return, she got stuck in a massive jam and was extremely late to office. Throughout the return journey, my friend was on the edge of her seat, smoking constantly and sweating because she was quite sure that the boss would discover her lie.
When we lie, it causes something known as cognitive dissonance — a sort of discomfort because of the presence of two conflicting thoughts in our brain.
In the cases above, the guilt or the risk of getting caught after telling a lie causes the brain to get stressed and release cortisol, the stress hormone. This happens because lying requires a lot of effort. If you speak the truth, you don’t actually have to remember anything, but if you lie about something, you not only have to give a convincing performance, but also keep up the story every time it comes up in a conversation.
Proof that lying causes stress and anxiety lies with the polygraph machine, which measures physiological reactions like heart rate to determine if a person is lying.
In the long run, if a person lies frequently, it can cause severe mental and physiological problems. In fact, research shows that the stress caused by frequent lying reduces immunity and makes a person more susceptible to catching cold, frequent headaches, sore throat and even depression.
A psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame conducted a study on 110 individuals over a period of ten weeks. Half the participants were asked to refrain from lying for the entire duration of the study, while the other half — control group — was given no instructions. In addition to taking a weekly lie detection test, participants filled out various questionnaires. After 10 weeks, it was found that participants who had been instructed to lie less, reported marked improvements in their health. In fact, fewer people from this group reported mental or physiological problems after the study as compared to the control group.
However, not all lies are created equal. In the vedic philosophy, a lie told to aid Creation or prevent someone from getting hurt is considered a truth. Although, research on this is scant, but lies told to protect or help others tend to create feelings of happiness and satisfaction, which automatically reduce stress.
All in all, the lesser you lie, the happier your brain and body will be and of course it will aid your spiritual journey manifold.