Asteya is the third of the yamas from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and is the vow that asks of us to refrain from stealing. Well, that's pretty obvious right? Thou shalt not steal is nothing new, and I would say this is one of the first right behaviours we are taught as a child. It's agreed upon and written very clearly among many of the worlds religions and in many ancient texts. We could very easily dismiss this yama and take the wisdom for granted if we assume we are perfectly righteous in this department. But are we really?
Lets look at some of the ways Asteya could be a useful practice and reminder to live a more harmonious life.
1. The obvious. Do not steal. This could simply mean do not take what is not yours, like do not steal a shirt from the shop without paying for it. But what about that grey area of borrowing. What about that drop of milk you 'borrowed' from your co worker, knowing full well, that you wouldn't pay a drop back. Perhaps there is a balance and a harmonious flow of milk sharing, but I remember from my office days, that was barely ever the case. Usually, there was a divide. Those who bought milk, and those who just constantly borrowed milk without ever contributing their share. It's fair to say, I saw many disputes over 'spilt milk' in my time. We shouldn't just assume that people are always willing to share, even if that is our culture. Again, it goes all the way back to ahimsa, respect and compassion. If it's not ours, and we didn't ask, we should leave it alone.
2. Stealing time, some one else's, or our own. This is one that we might not think about, but is a big one. How much do we respect the boundaries of time? We steal someone's time when we hold up a class or a meeting because we are running late. Maybe we steal their time when we are faffing about, distracted and causing a delay. Emails and instant messages can be ways of stealing time. In the day an age of the smartphone, businesses have to be open 24/7 and when we send a text or email, we can expect an instant reply, even out of traditional 'working hours'. Granted, it might not be that we are expecting an instant reply, it may just be that we are sending the email off while it is fresh in our minds before we forget. However, it can put pressure on the receiver to feel that they are obliged to respond any time of the day. It's helpful both as a consumer and as an employee/business owner to be mindful of these time boundaries and adopt a healthy respect for them, honouring both parties.
We also have to be weary of what else is stealing our time. Do we waste time on social media, endlessly scrolling? Do we get sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube, Google or Tick Tock. I know I have! Aren't all of these robbing us of our precious time to be doing something more meaningful, more creative, more - right here, right now. Mindfulness teaches us to wake up and be present to what is happening right here in this moment, not on a screen but right in front of us.
In a virtual world, we must remember to wake up to what is truly reality, what is right here, right now.
3. Stealing someone else's creativity and ideas. This one can be a deep subject, because from what I have learned through my studies in yoga, there is no 'ownership' over ideas, thoughts and creativity as there is something called universal consciousness, and our ingeniousness actually comes from tapping into this place. When we are in the flow, when we are in tune or even sometimes after a freak accident, it as if information just comes to us. Some people call this 'getting a download' from source. However, our teachers wouldn't buy that excuse and fail us for plagiarism, copyright laws will have a much more successful case in court than 'universal consciousness', so we have to be careful here. Copying and pasting someone's work is clearly stealing, using someone else's words and quoting them as your own, is stealing, However, there is nothing wrong with being inspired, motivated and influenced by something or someone, we just have to give credit where credit is due, and this is a good practice in itself on humility and dropping the ego.
Carrying on from this point of copying others, this applies also to our image and our life path. If we just try to imitate someone else, try to live their life, we rob our self from our truth, our authenticity and we rob the world from the brilliant gifts our uniqueness brings to society.
4. Stealing attention. I am sure we all know these people, or maybe we can identify with this at some point in our lives. Those who tend to direct the conversation back to them over and over again, or who are only interested in people who will give them an audience. They can usually be loud, funny at times even, but eventually we all get pretty tired and bored of the show. When someone is attention seeking, there is usually a lot of time and energy put towards them and the needs of the others in the group can then go unnoticed or neglected. I think if we think hard enough, we can all recognised those moments where it was 'all about me'. Maybe it was within your romantic partnership, or within a group or even within the family. Any time we are putting our needs as a higher priority over others, we are potentially taking more than our share of the energy in that moment.
5. Finally, let's look at our bargain culture and how we can see thievery show up when we give a disproportionate value to something. Conscious consumerism is on the rise, and we couldn't need it more. However, what is also on the rise is price comparison websites, an increase in discount chains and a flood of free media being consumed on the internet. We can forget that there are a lot of costs in making a product, whether it is a shirt, your coffee, or all the free videos we watch on YouTube. Sometimes, the price to pay for such a bargain is very high somewhere along the chain. Child labour, poor working conditions, low or no wages, environmental impacts ect ect.. When we honour the true value of something, we respect it's worth, again, linking right back around to the previous two yamas - ahimsa and satya. One rule that I try to think of that helps me with this one, is what goes around comes around. I believe when I value the worth of others work, I will receive value in the end for mine.
But gosh, as I write this, I am realising I have to be more conscious of the way I observe asteya in my life. My hand goes up to a few of these, and I most certainly don't get it right all the time. This is why we study, and practice... and practice ... annnnnd practice. It's not always easy to do the right thing, and in the short term, it seems that we can get a whole lot more when we don't play fair and right, but in the long run, we always pay the price. Someway, somehow there is always checks and balances in the end.