Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Principle of Asteya, or Non-Stealing

Continuing our discussion of yogic philosophy, we move on to the third yama, Asteya, or non-stealing.

Asteya has many aspects:
• Honoring what belongs to others
• Never desiring to possess by mind or speech, either outwardly or secretly, the wealth of another (this applies to money, possessions, ideas, space, time . . .)
• Not taking anything (neither valuable nor trifling) that belongs to another
• Not coveting; not being jealous
• Proper time management (not stealing from one aspect of your life to satisfy another)
• Keeping appointments and commitments
• Cultivating a sense of completeness and self-sufficiency; letting go of cravings.

Okay, then.

I think Asteya is a tough one. Most of us don't steal (as in taking things from stores without paying for them). But who doesn't have moments (or years) where they feel incomplete or not-good-enough? Who doesn't envy others for their better salaries or nicer homes, or constant stream of brilliant ideas? It's hard to be content with what one has and not desire to have more or "other." Still these are things for us to work on: because we cannot be truly happy unless we are content with our lives as they are in the present moment.

I used to be really good at time management. Always on time for appointments, deadlines, and other commitments. But then I had a baby. And much to my horror, I discovered that when another human being figures into your process of getting-out-the-door (or onto the computer, or simply to think straight), it's much harder to be reliable and consistent. Still entirely possible, but a heck of a lot more challenging. So I continue to work on that.

And then there are cravings . . . How can we make ourselves NOT have them? Isn't that impossible? It's one thing not to give in to cravings, but another thing entirely to just not-have them. Here's what I think: the more content you are with your life, the more grateful you are for your current situation, the less you will crave what you don't have . . . be it a brownie, or an ice cream sundae, or a cute new pair of yoga pants that make your butt look good.

The yamas and the niyamas are not goals to be attained once and forever. They are principles that we work on, day in and day out, throughout our lives. With any given one, we will have good days and bad days. It's important to remember that it is an ongoing process, and if we keep these principles in mind, we are likely to be happier in the long run. So as you strive to apply the yamas and niyamas to your life and your yoga practice, remember to keep practicing Ahimsa -- to avoid judging yourself poorly when you don't live up to your own standards. In the words of the indomitable Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day!"