We practice stealing from ourselves and others all the time. We steal from our futures, our growth, and our ability to take what we want to be the person we believe we have the right to be. Asteya, on a deeper level, encourages us to abandon intent or desire to possess or steal. This can include materials, talents, relationships, or gifts. Additionally, do not steal others’ achievements, success, time, or natural resources.
Asteya is part of the ethical practice of yoga. The practice of yoga encompasses your physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual self. There are 5 Yamas (a Sanskrit word) as part of this practice, in translation meaning restraints. These restraints don’t limit us from living life, rather they begin to open life up to us more and more fully in ways that are practical and easy to understand. The third Yama is Asteya, meaning non-stealing.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”Lao Tzu
Stealing From Others
When our focus is outward it can lead us to compare ourselves to others. We may find ourselves lacking something and not feeling good enough, or we can find ourselves superior to others which can make us feel arrogant. When we put our attention on others, from a place of disconnect within ourselves, we can easily fall into behaviors of control or manipulation. We can also begin to display patterns of needing to make our lives seem more exciting. For example, if someone is telling us about an upcoming trip they have planned, we may feel the need to tell them about a more exciting trip we have been planning or we may simply let them know we have already been where they are going. Either way, we turn the focus of the conversation to us and steal the energy from the other person.
It can even happen in times of sorrow. Maybe someone has just lost a family member and is sharing their grief and we feel the need to jump in and tell them about our own experience with death and a time where we lost someone special. We are shifting the conversation to ourselves instead of being present for the other person. We are stealing from others.
Furthermore, when we judge others and hold prejudices against others, we may steal away their confidence and freedom.
The moment we feel lack, feelings of desire, want, and greed comes out. We look for something to fill that empty sensation. Oftentimes, it can feel like everyone else has what we want. And our feelings of lack, insecurity, and want make us feel incomplete. The practice of asteya asks us to gaze inward and find our own sense of self and that we are enough just as we are.
Stealing From The Earth
Not only do we steal from others but we steal from the earth. We forget that we are merely just visitors in this world. We get into the habit of saying, “I,” “mine,” and “my” with everything. My house, my car, my kids, my friends, etc. We take ownership of everything that surrounds us. Even saying things like, “I had a flat tire.” This habit of ownership makes it hard for us to appreciate that nothing on this earth is really ours. We have created a world in which the bounty of the earth is for the individual and not the community. Asteya asks us to practice the inherent gift of life…take only what we need and give something back in return.
Stealing From The Future
Our lives are sacred. Our ancestors fought and died for us. They endured so many hardships and sacrificed so much for us. We forget how precious our lives are in each moment. How important each moment is and what an impact each moment has. We seem to focus on what we don’t have or what we might not have in the future. We forget about the abundance right in front of us. What are we leaving for those who will occupy this earth in years to come? What lessons and gifts are we giving now? Are we stealing from the future by missing the gratitude of living right now? Asteya asks us to be the caretaker of now with our direction pointed toward those who will come after us.
Stealing From Ourselves
It is very easy to get trapped in judging our identity with our accomplishments. We display all we have in material possessions or what we can achieve or accomplish in the span of a certain time. We race from one thing to the next hoping to get more done. All the while, stealing time from ourselves. We need time to catch up with ourselves. To stay present in each moment. To rest, reflect and contemplate. We need time to let our experiences simmer within.
So often, we literally steal joy from ourselves by worrying excessively about the future or mulling over the past. Worrying about the future causes us to plan things to perfection, but when something does not go exactly as planned, or when we become obsessed with perfection, we tend to forget about savoring the big picture and miss the joy of chaos and the present moment.
Many times, we allow people, situations, things, environments, and experiences to impact our ability to be happy. We carry the good or bad memories of the past caused by these external stimuli and get caught up in our own regret and guilt. When we do this, we steal the opportunity of dwelling in the pure bliss of our being, of living in this very moment.
When we hold prejudices and judgments about our own selves, we limit ourselves and steal our infinite possibilities. We become our own thieves.
When we think about asteya in regards to our happiness, we are reminded not to steal the pure joy of the now of our lives.
Stealing From What We Truly Want
How many times in life have we wished to win the lottery only to discover we wouldn’t have a clue how to manage all that money it if we received it? Or we have dreams of being the CEO of a major corporation, only we have no idea how to run a big business. We get trapped in our ego and believe we have the right to know or the right to have anything we want. The truth is we only get to have what we have the competency for. Anything else is stealing. Our outcomes in life are consistent with our abilities, not necessarily our wishes. Asteya asks us to be capable of receiving what it is we want. It opens the door for us to seek out mentors and learn from others who have accomplished something we are seeking. It opens us up to new growth and knowledge and building our competency.
Shifting Our Focus
Asteya asks us to turn the focus away from others and instead, to turn toward ourselves in a way that allows us to grow. When we attend to our own growth and learning about the things that nourish us, we are engaged in building ourselves. From this place of fullness of our own talents and skills, we are serving the world and not stealing from it. When we don’t have the courage to pursue what it is that serves us we get distracted with what others are doing around us. We get sidetracked from our own dreams and desires.
According to Yogi Amrit Desai, when you realize that everything that you need lies within you—and that the source of all intelligence, power, strength, love, happiness, and peace lies within you—when there is nothing outside to look for, asteya naturally starts to manifest. This sense of self-reliance, inner richness, and resourcefulness is another important element of the practice of asteya.
The Yamas are not mutually exclusive, they are interdependent and there is an element of hierarchical balance between them. In that hierarchy, Ahimsa (non-violence or kindness) always comes first and Satya (or truthfulness) comes second.
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