Asteya

When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come. — Yoga Sutras

“When established in non-stealing, Asteya, one feels as if one is in possession of all the wealth in the world”. — Rohit Mehta

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies,
by weakening ambition and strengthening bones.
If people lack knowledge and desire,
then intellectuals will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.

— Tao Te Ching, Three

The third yama is asteya, or non-stealing. Asteya serves as a wake-up call, prompting us to remember all the ways, big and small, that we steal — the borrowed books still on our shelves, the corners we cut on taxes, the hours we spend at work not being productive. As we begin to consciously practice asteya, we also see just where and how we need to change. Suddenly we are no longer comfortable with the rationalizations and compromises we have been making.

At a deeper level, asteya is our first encounter with the power of non-attachment. When we look honestly at the ways in which we have been stealing, we come to understand that in each instance, there is an attachment to a specific result that overrides our deeper values. We want that last orange in the refrigerator more than we want to be a good partner. We had a tough week at work, so we will undertip the waiter at the diner. Beneath the attachment, we find fear: fear that we will not get what we need; fear that if we leave things up to the universe, we will not be taken care of. This sutra declares the opposite to be true: “When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.” In other words, the surest way to get what you want is to let go of wanting. What is required, then, is a radical, absolute, living trust in the workings of the universe. This trust is the spiritual opposite of the act of stealing, and is accompanied by right action, it removes the blocks to our natural abundance.

— Rolf Gates, Meditations from the Mat

Now, how does Asteya relate to our yoga practice? As we mentioned in earlier newsletters, the way we relate to our bodies in yoga practice is often a reflection on how we relate to life in general. In yoga class we often compare and want what others have. We want their flexibility, strength, body shape, youth, or poise. We want their forward bends, backbends or lotus poses.

And then we might try to imitate others poses. We imitate and steal the “finished pose” that our fellow student, teacher or the guy in the book does. And if our body is not ready for the finished pose, we might end up with strain, pain and injury.

Unfortunately there is nothing magic in the finished pose. It’s not the finished pose that brings health and enlightenment. Instead the power of the practice is in the process. The benefits of the yoga poses come when you listen to your own body’s ability, finding your balance, healthy edge and hidden potential. And then with the variety of poses give your body and being what they need in strength, flexibility, vitality, relaxation and peace. — Ingela Abbot

How often do we find ourselves envious of what others have, not realizing what it took for them to get there? And perhaps not realizing that it isn’t really what we need at all!

I’m very process oriented – it’s what I consult on, what I try to teach. Changing Places is at heart about the process I go through in learning about Tao, about art, about politics, about my golden retrievers, about life as a whole. That’s why you never really know what you’ll find here, and why I don’t worry about whether people like it or not, or comment or not, or how popular my blog is. It isn’t about that, it’s about me and my life, and the process and path that I live. Most people won’t find that too interesting – only those who are looking at their own process in life, trying to make the changes they need.

Learning to stop wanting things is hard work. Learning the difference between what I wanted — friends who are fun to be around, in my case – from what I needed — those who will stick by me no matter what — was devastating to me. I thought the people I called my friends, the ones who ended up walking away from me, were true friends. I loved them and cared about them as deeply as possible, sometimes too much, wanting things for them they didn’t want for themselves. I tried to give my love in inappropriate ways that went beyond their boundaries. And when I lost them, it drove me over the edge. But in the end, that was part of the process of getting me to the help I needed, to the diagnosis of my real problem, bipolar disorder, instead of the diagnosis of depression I had dealt with for years. And so now, beyond those dark days, I have the right medicine, lamictal, that keeps me completely balanced emotionally. Yes, I still have moments, but they are moments, not days or weeks or months. Those who have left my life no longer have me – but I still have them, in my heart, right where they were all along, since I never abandoned them.

People comment on how open I am about bipolar disorder, but, it’s a part of me, a part of my process. It helps me to understand the disorder of our world, how things can be so out of balance and out of control right now. I see how our leaders stretch so far to get what they want, they ignore what the rest of us need. They violate our boundaries as citizens and the boundaries of other nations, justifying it all with their own desires for how they think the world “should” be. But you cannot force your ways on other people – you can only love them as they are, recognize their true nature, and learn not to steal from them.

The sage never tries to store things up.
The more he does for others, the more he has.
The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.

— Tao Te Ching, Eighty-one