September's Gift - Asteya (non-stealing)
September’s gift of gentle yoga is Asteya, the third of yoga’s Yamas or guidelines for living in the world. Many traditions emphasize the importance of non-stealing. I remember my childhood Sunday school lessons telling me “Thou Shall Not Steal.” In my home as a child, non-stealing and non-lying were absolutes. We McGinnises were honest to the nth degree. I can hardly imagine how much trouble we kids would have gotten into for telling a single lie or stealing a tiny bit of anything from anyone. Before yoga, non-stealing always seemed a very straightforward commandment and it wasn’t one I ever worried about breaking as I knew for so certain that stealing was wrong.
In yoga, I have gained a deeper understanding of the many ways it is possible to steal from ourselves and others. This week, the reading I have been doing from two very different sources came together to help me think differently about the idea of stealing. My take away from both those sources is the realization that a way I steal from myself most stealthily and most frequently is in the way I handle time in my life. I make things too difficult and commit to more than I need to commit to. That said, just as I made a resolution at the beginning of 2020 to write a blog post each month, nine months later I am making a commitment to writing a shorter monthly blog post from now on. I’m making that non-time-stealing commitment for myself and for you folks who have been slogging your way through reading my often overly long posts. (Are you still reading? Shorter is good news, right?)
Instead of just commanding us not to steal, the concept of Asteya asks us to look at what is underneath our possible stealing. We can steal in many surprising ways from ourselves and from each other. In this blog I want to look at just one way we might steal from ourselves. Simply put, one way we often steal from ourselves is by not thinking we have done enough. This happens for many reasons, but most often I think it happens because we don’t think we ARE enough: smart enough, competent enough, lovable enough, attractive enough, good enough, deserving enough, enough period. Two very disparate readings I’ve been doing lately are the book by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying and my online food and exercise management app. Strangely enough in the last few days both of these resources have reminded me of four important concepts that I plan to use to practice Asteya. These are not new ideas to me, but the idea that using them might keep me from stealing time and energy and happiness from myself feels like a gift. The two writings use different language for sure, but both pointed me lately toward these concepts and I’ve decided this isn’t just coincidence. I’m going to pay attention. I started to say these concepts will help me practice Asteya in a better way. Instead, let me say, they will simply help me practice Asteya. My Asteya practice will simply be good enough as it is.
Practice Asteya: Stop Stealing from Yourself
Rather than trying to cover every possible detail of the idea of Asteya, I am sharing these four simple concepts I hope you can take onto your yoga mat or chair and out into your daily life to develop a practice of Asteya, of not stealing from yourself. Take from this what you will and let go what you do not need. Use just what is just enough for you.
- Be in the present moment:
It’s clear to me that not being in the present moment is like stealing away our moments from ourselves and missing important parts of our lives. In yoga classes, I often use quotes about present moment awareness. This one from Thich Nhat Hanh is one I love:
“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.” Thich Nhat Hanh
My recent reading of Ram Dass has left me with a couple of even easier-to-remember quotes as reminders of present moment awareness:
“Now is now. Are you going to be here or not?”
“When you are already in Detroit, you don’t have to take a bus to get there.”
- Appreciate exactly who you are:
Being in the present moment and being yourself in that moment can help you practice “Asteya.” Gratitude changes everything.
From Lao Tzu:
“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.”
- Bring to each moment the spirit of abundance:
When we are always worried about shortage and not recognizing the abundance in our own lives, we are more likely to steal from others so that we can get our share. When we operate from the idea that there is enough for everyone if we take only our share, everything changes. In our world right now, this seems a very difficult practice, but to try to change this scarcity model in our own small way seems really urgent.
“There is a lie that acts like a virus within the mind of humanity. And that lie is, ‘There’s not enough good to go around. There’s lack and there’s limitation and there’s just not enough.’ The truth is that there’s more than enough good to go around. There are more than enough creative ideas. There is more than enough power. There is more than enough love. There’s more than enough joy. All of this begins to come through a mind that is aware of its own infinite nature. There is enough for everyone. If you believe it, if you can see it, if you act from it, it will show up for you. That’s the truth.”
― Michael Beckwith
- Practice loving kindness toward yourself and others:
Often our thought of not being enough is based in fear. Fear is the opposite of love and fear is truly viral among us these days. If we were able to replace fear with love, it seems like stealing would be so much less likely. Consider using this self-compassion break developed by Kristen Neff.
SELF COMPASSION BREAK (5 MINUTES)
This practice can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the
situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Now say to yourself:
1. This is a moment of suffering. That’s mindfulness. Other options include saying:
This hurts. Ouch. This is stress.
2. Suffering is a part of life. That’s common humanity. Other options include saying:
Other people feel this way. I am not alone. We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch best for you.
3. Now say to yourself: May I be kind to myself. You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
• May I give myself the compassion that I need
• May I learn to accept myself as I am
• May I forgive myself
• May I be strong
• May I be patient
This month's pose: Chair Pose (Utkatasana) Lets Us Settle into the Present Moment
This month’s pose, utkatasana, invites us to settle into the present moment and appreciate where we are. IF YOU HAVE CHRONIC KNEE OR LOWER BACK issues you may not want to try this pose. Standing in mountain pose, inhale and raise your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor, palms facing down. Bend your knees to lower your hips, allowing your back to arch gently, keeping your waist long. If you feel any compression in your lower back, curl your tailbone down until the discomfort is relieved. Think of sitting your weight back into your heels. Visualizing yourself sitting back onto a chair. See if you might lower your hips a little more, holding your knees and chest back to keep the arch in your spine. Your arms can remain parallel to the ground with palms down or you can raise them slightly upward, moving palms to face each other. Hold for a few breaths. From here you can appreciate your abundant blessings and send loving kindness to yourself and others. To come out of the pose, press down through your feet and rise to stand.
One last tip and a poem for practicing Asteya:
Just as I had finished working on this blog today, I had the opportunity to play with my grand-daughter on Zoom. As we were finishing our playtime, I told her the subject of my blog was Asteya, non-stealing, and asked her if she had any suggestions about what I might include. She is a very wise little old soul and responded with her usual certainty and thoughtfulness and instantly created a poem for me to use. Then she added, “Oh, no wait. Forgot something. Make this the 4th line: Be yourself.” I thought it was a good edit and so the poem appears below. She had heard nothing about the content I had written but her content was so similar to mine and to that of Ram Dass and my food and weight management app. I decided the universe must be trying to tell me something.
That will lead you to not stealing.
–Vv Welsh, age 8
P.S. Ok, this blog is a LITTLE shorter than earlier ones.
Shorter enough. Change is a process. Thanks for reading!