Asteya: The Yogic Concept of Non-Stealing
"Stealing Candy"—It's Not That Simple
When considering stealing, perhaps the first thoughts or images that come to mind are of robbers and shoplifters, or kids taking candy from the corner store. However, there are more layers and subtleties to this concept. If you are late, are you not stealing someone’s time? Do you steal your health by smoking, or steal from your future by remaining in a relationship that isn’t right for you? You can begin to see that this idea of non-stealing can take a variety of forms in our own personal lives.
Asteya is a Sanskrit word that means non-stealing. We steal more than we realize. During conversations, we steal other's opportunities to speak and be heard by making the subject about ourselves. Perhaps we never really listen in the first place.
I do this a lot. I’m trying to be more aware of it and listen more, and to wait for my turn to speak. For example, if you told me that your favorite place to think was the second floor of the library in Norristown, I would probably interrupt and exclaim, “Oh, I love libraries! I love walking down the isles and coming to a stop and picking out the first random book I touch!” So all of a sudden, I flipped the conversation around to being about me. I stole that person’s time to speak, shut them down when they were trying to share an intimate thought, and never learned what was so special about the second floor of the Norristown library.
One way to prevent this is by making space in conversation. Let the other person speak, think, and speak again. Allow there to be silence. You don’t have to reply to everything. It can feel awkward, that’s okay. It is a wonderful thing to give the gift of truly listening. Then, when it is your turn to speak, notice what it feels like to be listened to, or how it feels if the person tries to take your opportunity to talk.
We steal because we feel as though we are lacking and we are afraid. If we make space for what we want, it will come. And in making this space, this openness, perhaps we realize that what we want shifts, changes, or drops away all together. Without the need to reply right away, notice how beautifully a dialogue can shift and transform on its own.
Stealing From Your Future
An example of stealing from your future would be staying in a relationship that no longer serves you. Perhaps this relationship was fulfilling a need of yours at one time, but now no longer continues to do so. Perhaps you are choosing to say out of comfort just to be with someone, or you are too afraid to leave.
Whatever the reason, keep in mind that not only are you stealing from yourself and the possibility to discover either a different partner, or more about yourself by being single, you are also stealing that same potential from the person you are choosing to stay with. The same could be said by continuing to stay in any job or situation that is not contributing to the person you wish to become.
Stealing From the Earth
It is a common practice for modern society to take and use resources from the earth without giving back. This unfortunately, not only damages the earth itself, but is also a way of stealing from future generations who will have to learn how to deal with and resolve environmental issues. Consider the everyday choices that we make that may be taking away the health of the body of the earth, and how can you change or counteract these choices?
If you drive to work, most likely you are purchasing fuel that was taken from the earth and also polluting the air. For many of us, this is not an easy fix, as it may not be an option to walk or take public transportation, etc. However, what is something else you could do to give back to the earth? Could you nurture a plant or flower? Could you pick up at least one piece of trash each day? Choose one simple thing that you could do each day. Doing a tiny practice like this is like saying "thank you" to the earth for everything that she provides to us.
As with these practices of giving back to the earth, it is also important to consider the positive connotation of this term non-stealing. Another way of looking at this concept is as a way of giving to yourself and others with no expectation of anything in return. Do you give financial freedom to your future self by learning how to increase your income in creative ways? Do you allow your future self to be vibrantly healthy by exercising your body and mind? Do you give your future self of tomorrow a rested body by going to sleep early? Can you actually give your future self more time in the morning by preparing your clothes and lunch ahead of time?
Your future self will always thank you for these moments! Notice how you feel when you are practicing an action that will allow you or others to flourish. Take a moment and look back at all of the wonderful things your past self has done to help you become who you are today. Smile at your past self, and say "thank you." Now, visualize your best future self smiling back at your and saying "thank you" for all of the wonderful things you are doing today to become that person you want to be!