Those things which we are attached to, are the only things that may be stolen.
Asteya asks you not to steal, and frankly, that seems easy, right? Among adults, those who would be reading a blog post about the Yamas & Niyamas, it's easy to comprehend that you don't steal. Most of our children know too, to not take what isn't theirs.
Then Yoga asks a big question; what is "yours"? and what does the act of stealing say about our predicament?
There are legal ramifications for theft of all kinds, including intellectual property, with good cause, humans are fallible creatures who are capable of making poor decisions. But what of the small things we take from others, and even ourselves?
First, what does it mean to have ownership in the first place? This can get away from us quickly when we fall down the rabbit hole, so let's address this head-on. There are indigenous cultures that would challenge the notion of ownership over anything in the physical world, it's all on loan, and it's all for sharing- the land and the resources of the land are intended to be a communal benefit. Modern politics and cultures of commodification fly in the face of this ideal, landing us where we are today. We love our stuff. We own land, and homes, cars, clothes, and trinkets abound, you could say in our modern lives, the things we consume, consume us- they do, or they can. While Asteya, in its most pure sense, isn't about things, it would be helpful to notice the relationship we have with our things and the things of those around us. We'll dive deeper into that relationship when we discuss Aparigraha, but for now, as far as material possessions are concerned, know that the resources of this land and the damage we do in the relentless pursuit of them is theft- theft from future generations and from the very land itself. So how do we mitigate this? Generosity and gratitude come to mind, while we can't all relinquish the trappings of our physical, material world, we can express appreciation and respect for the role we play in the state of the world and what we're leaving for the future of humanity.
As a concept, Asteya looks at the intangibles of this world -time and thought in particular. What would it mean to steal time? Personally, I can be someone who runs late, it's not my best attribute, so I work to reduce the impact I have on others with this tendency because I'm aware that time is our most valuable resource. That example is obvious, but what about the quality of the time we share? Our modern lives have introduced more distractions than ever, our handheld devices offer an infinite amount of opportunities to disconnect under the cloak of being more connected. Asteya reminds us to be present, when we practice presence we are practicing reciprocal attention and therefore adding to the experience shared in time rather than taking from it.
Similarly, and perhaps along with the quality of time we share comes the content of that time. How often do we participate in conversation simply to be heard, rather than to truly listen? The idea of "stealing" thought isn't just about the theft of intellectual property which is actual theft, not just an intangible concept -it should be obvious to us to not steal the ideas of others for personal gain. Asteya speaks more about the implications of conversations and shared thoughts. For instance, if you are in a business negotiation and terms aren't made clear, there is theft of expectation here, I've experienced this myself. While the idea of what might be construed as "theft" is nuanced, when we take the time to reflect it becomes very clear.
All consideration given to the implications Asteya has in our external relationships, it hits even deeper when we turn the concept inward.
How do we steal from ourselves? We steal from ourselves when we ignore our own needs, our goals, and our intentions. That thing I mentioned earlier about running late? The biggest issue there is actually an internal one, I steal from myself when I don't organize my time in a way that provides me with the ease of showing up fully. Now, this isn't permission to be hard on ourselves, but rather a call to get honest and make adjustments.
These modern lives of ours are full of choices, distractions, stressors, complications, and trauma. This Yama proposes to us that we have more control over our attention and time than we might believe, but we steal this agency from ourselves through habit, denial, and delay.
Asteya provokes us into action by reminding us that at any point we can shift from greed to gratitude, from inaction to action, and from inattention to attention. And in these acts of giving back, we rise to the virtues of generosity and love.