Asteya–Moving out of Fear and Celebrating Abundance
“When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.”–Yoga Sutras
The third yama is asteya, which means nonstealing. At first, as I contemplated this yama, my mind jumped in with, “But I don’t steal. So this yama is a no-brainer. Yeah, I got this. I don’t shoplift, I don’t take anything that I haven’t paid for. Ok, next yama?” Whenever my mind says something like that, I should listen for a warning bell going off, and for a smaller, quieter voice that says, “Hold on a minute. You DO have something to learn here. Pay attention.” Pretty much any time my mind thinks I know everything about something, in truth I really know nothing about anything.
When I prepare my yoga classes, I have a tendency to cull information from a lot of different teachers of yoga; if I can see well and see far, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I definitely do not want to try to reinvent the yoga wheel; I’m so grateful for those who have tread the path ahead of me and have precious wisdom to share about their journeys. I try to distill the wisdom I find into little kernels of awareness that I can incorporate into my classes so that my students can walk away and remember what they experienced–and apply that experience to improve their lives.
In my quest to wrap my mind around the lesson of asteya, and how I and my students can apply this yama to our yoga practice and our lives, I came across the words of Rolf Gates in his wonderful book Meditations From the Mat. His interpretation of asteya gave me a lot to think about, so much so that I felt moved to share what I found with my students. I began class with my students in a restorative pose so that they could become still and go inwards while I read to them about asteya. I challenged them to stay with their breathing, and to allow their own thoughts, especially objections to what was heard, to just float away as they continued to give their awareness to the words of the passage and to their breath.
Here’s an excerpt from what I read to them:
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 our 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. […] 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. […] 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 accompanied by right action, it removes the blocks to our natural abundance.
–Rolf Gates, Meditations From the Mat, pp 41-42
(After I read that, I said, “Aha! I’m so busted!” I looked around at my bookshelves. Oops, there was a book I borrowed when my daughter was a few months old. She’s almost three now. Maybe, a couple of times I forgot to give my sister back two rings that she accidentally left behind one time when she passed through town…and I finally got around to remembering the last time she was here. She was glad to see her rings again. I kind of felt like a jerk for not remembering to give them back sooner.I could keep going, but I won’t. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve unconsciously held on to things because some part of me thought that I wouldn’t have access to them again. Ahh, humility. It opens the doorway to sight. And now I see that I have work to do on this yama after all.)
Once I finished reading to my students, I asked them to move gently out of their restorative pose. We did a few spinal warm-ups, and eventually we made our way to standing. I asked them to set an intention to move away from unconsciously acting from the standpoint of fear, scarcity, and lack, and to move into awareness of their natural abundance. We generate so much energy when we practice, and fueled by an intention, it becomes so much more meaningful, so much more powerful. We devote the energy of our practice to growth and change on all levels and eventually we realize our deepest dreams and visions.
When we breathe deeply and slowly, we nourish the body on the cellular level. We realize that there is no lack of oxygen, and we trust that as we exhale completely and empty our lungs, there is a whole ocean of air ready to flow back to us as we take our next in breath. We feel the abundance of aliveness in the body as the sensations grow stronger in our postures. There is no lack of aliveness–here we are–it’s intense, it’s potent, it’s real, it’s all ours. In a very real way, our yoga practice gives us access to our most precious source of abundance: our creativity, the unique expression of our own talents and abilities. As breath and energy flow through us, as the heart pumps blood and the mind is honed to a perfect focus, we become unstoppable. This is what happens when we step into our power. The constructs of fear melt away in the awesome fire of our focused intention, and we remember who we are.
Asteya isn’t something that once understood, we can forget about and move on. It’s something that we can remember to practice every day as we breathe deeply and affirm how much we have. We celebrate our aliveness, we express gratitude for the riches of our bodies, food, clothing, shelter, family, friendship, love; we remember that our needs are always met.
This practice of asteya really has served as a big wake-up call for me, and I’m so grateful to be awakened. Once again I feel a deep outpouring of appreciation as I thank all the teachers who forged the path ahead of me. Their work has provided keys to unlock many doors to my awareness. My dearest wish is that my work will help someone else to open in awareness of their essence self, and that they in turn will help others to open as well. True abundance never stops, it keeps flowing on and on and on…
Coming up next, the fourth yama, brahmacharya. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below–I look forward to hearing from you!
Are you aware of any decisions you have made recently out of unconscious fear, or belief in scarcity or lack? Have you held on to borrowed things past the time you’ve actually needed them? Most important of all–what are you grateful for?