The third Yama, Asteya, refers to the practice of non-stealing.
On the surface, this is a physical restraint that many of us agree we don’t participate in. We pay for things at the store, we don’t shoplift or steal from our friends. But the Yama’s are about moral restraints – about the inner workings of our heart and intention. I want to examine all the ways non-stealing presents itself in our lives: taking what does not belong to you, greed, jealousy, time, ideas, cravings, cheating, and overconsumption.
“When we look honestly at the ways 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. Beneath the attachment is fear.
Fear that we will not get what we need
Fear that if we leave it up to the universe, we will not be taken care of”
So when we cut corners on procedures, are unproductive at work, hold on to borrowed clothes and books, don’t reimburse friends for dinner – what we are really doing is taking more than what is ours. It’s a nasty habit and it’s based in fear and lack. It says to God, “I don’t trust that you will provide for me”. When we examine Asteya in this way, we see the true quality of our faith and trust in the creator of the Universe.
Matthew 6:25 reminds us that everything is taken care of. ““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
We have so much to learn from nature. The birds are cared for. They trust in the way things are. The plants are cared for – and look what happens when they get more than what they need – they drown. At the root, Asteya is about trust. It’s an opportunity to put action to our faith.
This practice is also about stuff. Overconsumption of material possessions is one the loudest ways to scream “I am not enough”. It is also a plague that has swept through America in the past decade (think Affluenza). We have 4 car garages and storage units just to contain all the stuff. The problem with stuff is that it distracts us, all the time and maintenance stuff requires to upkeep and clean- we could be being with ourselves and our loved ones.
A deeply disturbing and unpopular aspect of Asteya to discuss is how we steal from animals to provide food, clothing and entertainment. Foundational to yoga, is the belief that all creatures are created equal. We were given this land and entrusted to care for it’s creatures. Have we done that? When we consume animal products, we are taking what has not been given from the animal kingdom. Factory farmed animals are caged and tortured, denied the ability to run and breathe fresh air. There is no way around it- this is stealing. Even those “free range” animals – they did not lay down their life for our consumption, we stole it – in a violent way. Animals want to live just as much as you or I want to live. They feel pain, happiness, grief, sadness, frustration, and joy. We see this in our dogs and cats – what makes us think cows and pigs are any different?
Another way we take what is not ours is with our time. Have you ever been in a class or meeting where one person dominates the conversation, makes everything about them and hoards the time of the facilitator? You know what I mean.
The list can go on. Asteya challenges us to examine all the ways we take what is not ours, what is more than we need. Whether it is possessions or food, ideas or time – all are rooted in the belief that we are not enough, that God will not provide what we need.
We can practice Asteya by practicing acceptance and contentment with ourselves and our circumstances. The mantra is “I am enough“. “I have more than I need”.
When we begin to let go of what we don’t need, we make space for the Universe to provide us with what we do need.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”