The yamas and niyamas, guidance for life and the practice of yoga both on and off the mat, are currently the topic of conversation during Community Time following the daily Breath Practice. The month of August, 2021 has been the yama called Asteya which translates approximately to “non-stealing”.
Our exploration of non-stealing, began with stories of petty larceny from my childhood and adolescence. Shoplifting, stealing from Dad’s wallet, taking money from that pumping gas job. The blurred boundaries of the college years when sharing drifted into rationalized taking, “he doesn’t need that as much as I do.” One person commented that we used to call it “stealing from the man,” reflecting a common attitude that a corporation takes more than it gives so we are entitled to whatever we can get. Another person said “don’t forget taxes.” And how about illegal parking?
In that first conversation at the beginning of August, we acknowledged a little regret, remorse, humility, and maybe even a bit of shame related to these behaviors. It almost seemed like we covered the whole topic in that one session. However, a deeper exploration of more subtle forms of stealing from others and even from oneself was about to evolve.
An Outward Look
Our current wisdom muse, Deborah Adele, writes in her book, The Yamas and Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practices, that Asteya “guides our attempts to look outward for satisfaction.” Indeed, Yoga is always inviting us to turn inward.
She continues, that “often, our dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives lead us to this outward gaze,” and sometimes take what is not ours.
Stealing from Others
The revelations began to unfold about how we may still have something to learn about non-stealing. Perhaps I steal time from my clients when I’m habitually late for appointments. Perhaps I steal from others in conversation by jumping in and finishing their sentences.
Is it stealing to assume that someone is available to listen to me when I don’t ask for their time? Am I stealing their attention? Am I stealing when I judge others for their indiscretions rather than just letting them be? When I don’t want to feel, I might “numb out” with a bowl of ice cream. As a result, perhaps I don’t feel at my best the next morning. Am I robbing myself of access to my creativity and not bringing my best self to my students?
Stealing from Everywhere
Is it true that we steal from all over? Not only from others, but from the earth and from the future?
In the past I have enjoyed what I thought of as “collecting” stones from hiking trails, river beds, and beaches. Is that stealing? Do I have a sense of entitlement to things that are not rightly mine? Am I willing to be in dialogue or even relationship with who or what I want to take from? If I remove stones from where they naturally occur in order to possess them in my own environment, am I willing to ask the earth, can I have this rock? Seashore, can I have this seashell? River, can I have this driftwood? Do I then listen and notice what feels right after my asking? Am I stealing from the future by being wasteful and careless with resources, clean water, clean air, clear spaces, the environment?
Overwhelm or Gentle Awareness
As we discovered when focusing on each of the other two yamas we covered so far (Ahimsa/non-violence & Satya/truthfulness), this study can become confusing, heavy and discouraging. One of us acknowledged that this exploration of non-violence, truthfulness and now, non-stealing has “rocked” her world. In our conversations, we have also been reminded to be gentle with ourselves with these new awarenesses. Returning to the foundation of Ahimsa (non-violence) we are reminded to self-observe without judgement. We can allow ourselves to be in development with anything, anywhere, any time, forever.
As Mother Theresa teaches, “Not everyone can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can avoid being wasteful. We can conserve water and electricity. We can support initiatives to manage trash with respect for the earth. We can pick up trash when we notice it, always taking care to keep ourselves and others safe.
Stealing from Myself
And…do I steal from myself? Oooh. No. Say it isn’t so!
Do I steal from my adrenals when I routinely overextend myself? Do I rob time and joy from myself when I worry and stew in anger over things I have no control over? Do I deprive myself of the experience of self-worth when I try to live up to unreasonable expectations or compare myself to other people.
Do I self-sabotage, get stuck in self-doubt, perfectionism, low self-worth? Am I overly ambitious, spending time, money or energy beyond my actual resources? Let me count the ways. Do I take the familiar path…the habitual one with less risk or do I take the road less traveled?
The line from Deborah Adele’s book (p.17), that stuck with me the most was, “We steal from our own opportunity to grow ourselves into the person who has the right to have the life they want.”
I had to ask myself, and then reflect, “do I steal from my opportunities to have the life I want?”
It’s a tough question. For me it has an obvious answer. Of course I do! I have not mastered living. I have not mastered speaking up. I have not mastered self-knowing. Have I inhibited my own development with self-criticism, judgement, low self-assessment, setting the bar of expectations unreasonably high, comparing my internals with other’s externals? What to do?
What to Do? Start at the Roots
So, we looked deeper, below the surface of observable behavior. What is stealing all about?
What are the roots of stealing? Is fear the root of stealing? What am I afraid of? I can be afraid that I won’t get what I want, won’t get what I need. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m not enough, that I’m not worthy. That I’m not entitled to ask. And I’m not entitled to refute and say no, setting a boundary. This opens the door to reflect on my inner gymnastics, my dysfunctional ways of getting what I need. This leads me into an exploration of feelings, patterns, age-old habits, defenses like avoidance, denial, minimizing, dismissing, delusion.
Are there lies about myself that I chose to believe at some point, yet they no longer fit (maybe haven’t for a long time, if ever)? Are there stories I tell myself that need to be weeded out, to be deleted and replaced with something more truthful, more kind, more nourishing and uplifting?
Tools for Asteya
One tool to support non-stealing might be treating myself and others with kindness. Another is to offer others my listening, rather than thinking about my response or using their time to unload my problems, my aches and my pains without asking for their listening. Danny Arguetty, in Nourishing The Teacher: Inquiries, Contemplations and Insights on the Path of Yoga quotes Sharon Salzburg, author of Loving Kindness (p. 131), “It is a rare and beautiful quality to feel truly happy when others are happy. When someone rejoices in our happiness we are flooded with respect and gratitude for their appreciation. When we take delight in the happiness of another, when we genuinely rejoice at their prosperity, success or good fortune rather than begrudging it in any way….Unlike a state of mere excitement or giddiness, the quality of sympathetic joy challenges our deep assumptions about aloneness, loss, happiness, and show us another possibility.”
Sympathetic joy…let’s try that.
Antidotes to the Desire to Take
Several people, including me, have discovered that gratitude for what I do have is a good antidote to the tendency to want what I don’t have or take when something has not been given to me. I am grateful for what I have – security, peace, rights, shelter, convenience, clean safe water, plumbing, a roof over my head, electricity, a shower at the temperature of my choosing, . heat and A/C, home insurance, a reliable car. Then there are the toys I have: my music, bicycle, kayak. I also have opportunities and access to services that make life function more smoothly and help me take care of myself: a community center where I can swim and lift weights, public services, a health care system, an awesome Primary Care Physician, a really good dentist, acupuncture treatments, chiropractor, massage therapist, traffic that stays in the other lane, a postal service, UPS and FedEx. I have luxuries: a bakery that makes extraordinary pizza, croissants and sourdough breads, high quality olive oil, my favorite kind of coffee, an assortment of types of tea, non-dairy creamer.
What Do I Need?
Amidst the exploring, we discovered that any tendency to take what isn’t ours might stem from not having what we need on some level. And so, a voice rang clear. It seems really important to notice what I need. Personally, this seems like an important key. And, that’s a challenge for me. That may be a new process for some of us. Personal needs assessment 101. Is it okay to put myself first? Or is that being selfish or self-indulgent. Can I take a sacred pause and give myself time to chew, digest, reflect, integrate.
Yes. Discerning what I need is indeed a challenging process sometimes. An investigation. How do I make an accurate self-assessment? This is truly a practice of self-discovery.Sometimes it’s clear. Sometimes it’s obscure.
Benefits of Regular Yoga Practice
The key is practice. Breath practice enhances sensitivity. Breath practice enhances awareness The key to the nervous system furnishing us with information about our experience is to be relaxed. To enhance the inner receptors it helps to get energy flowing. Not a tempest or roaring gale-force wind, but rather a gently flowing river of vitality.
Practice increases awareness. Regular practice increases awareness and strengthens access to intuition. When in doubt, consider if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (acronymn HALT).
What does it mean to halt? Keep it simple. Take care of foundational things. Stop. Drink some water. Lie down. Use the Kripalu Practices of Being: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow (aka BRFWA). Stay open. Let it flow. Let go. Drum up the courage to make requests vs veiled demands.
When my needs are met, I feel a sense of wholeness. I feel well-supported. Then I can practice generosity that is giving freely and honor the practice of Asteya.
You can join us anytime for our continued exploration. Our conversations in September will be about Brahmacharya, also known as moderation.