In The Throes of Asteya (Non-stealing)
By Elizabeth Sostre
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” – Mahatma Ghandhi
At what point do we surrender and simply share the world with gratitude?
Our culture has its feet rooted in taking ownership of material goods, ideas, and the creations of others. This process triggers fear and doubt. Ownership mentality instigates and provokes the entitlement attitude. In this process the takers cause harm, evoking distrust, and resentment in others.
There is a plethora of ways that we take from others, and whether we mean to or not, we do it. For example, it can be something as simple as borrowing something from a friend, family member, or neighbor and not returning it – be it clothes, books, a tool, and/or money. You agree to return it, pay it back and don’t. These acts are done both consciously and unconsciously. Consider the workplace. How many times have you taken notepads, pens, clips, etc. to have for your own personal use at home? Why have we done this? Is it a feeling of entitlement or perhaps an act of selfishness, or simply an innate self-centeredness? How about the ways we steal from mother earth? There’s littering both on land and in the ocean, the lack of recycling, etc. What about pollution? We have no one to hold accountable other than humanity for the non-practice of asteya (non-stealing) and ahimsa (non-violence). Many times, we’re too consumed with taking rather than giving.
I recall moments in my life where I helped myself to office supplies believing that it was ok, that I wasn’t doing anything wrong since it was a corporate office that had an overflow of staples, clips, and notepads. Did I feel entitled? I don’t believe so, and I never thought of it as stealing, though my actions revealed otherwise. Did I borrow clothes and/or books from my childhood friends when I was a teenager? I don’t remember ever borrowing clothes from friends but did borrow books and didn’t return them. Was I taking from them? Yes. I didn’t do it with ill intentions. I just never thought to buy my own trilogy of Flower’s in the Attic. Did one or two friends take from me? Absolutely, and I was miffed to say the least because it was my two favorite dresses. The first being my prom dress and the other, my favorite beach dress. They were never returned, and I was given a run around of excuses as to what happened to it.
When we experience situations and events that make us feel perplexed, disappointed, or dissatisfied, we seek to find that which brings us satisfaction and, in the process, we often instinctively steal from others and ourselves – be it time, we may leave others waiting, taking up their time or cancel at the last minute. Or worst-case scenario, we don’t show up! Sadly, we don’t hold ourselves accountable, but make excuses for this behavior.
I remember last minute cancellations during my adolescent years even into adulthood. Those were difficult years in my life, and learning lessons came with hard knocks. I hadn’t quite figured out what it really meant to live with the values and integrity that I was raised with by my parents. I didn’t consider how my actions affected the person I had plans with. By cancelling at the last minute, I took up their time -time that they could have applied to something else. It was a selfish act on my part. I did not value their time.
How many times have you chimed in when someone was sharing an opportunity that was presented to them? You say, “Oh, I had the same opportunity and I…and then I…” Suddenly the conversation has shifted to you. You are stealing the other person’s glory and or jai moment! I remember a time when I chimed in about an opportunity. I completely turned the attention on me, rather than listening and giving the glory to the person that was sharing. Perhaps I could have shared my understanding of a similar experience to connect with that person and once again commend them for the wonderful opportunity. When I realized that I stole their moment to shine for myself, I noticed that the other person didn’t say much there after about their wonderful opportunity and moved on to another topic. I felt bad noticing this person who tried to share their exciting news lost their desire to finish sharing and simply accepted the theft. I realized that in the end I did not serve anyone, not even myself. If anything, I took from the both of us. I stole from myself the opportunity to feel and express my sincere happiness toward the person who trusted to share their great news with me.
It’s the same with grief. Someone you know loses a loved one and becomes very vulnerable, sharing with you their pain and suffering. Then comes the sudden shift in the conversation where the other person remarks, “When I went through the loss of _____, it was the most difficult thing I had to accept, the pain was so great….” This has certainly happened to me. I was in the middle of sharing my grief with someone I trusted and ended up consoling her because the grief became about her loss. The conversation became impaired and the opportunity for her to listen, support and show compassion was squandered. My mourning was minimized.
With all of this said, having returned to my yoga practice several years ago and putting into practice the ethics of yoga, I discovered that there is indeed a myriad way to practice asteya. Being cognizant of other’s time, accepting and acknowledging other’s success with a kind and loving heart, and by living my life with integrity and reciprocity is living at a higher level of consciousness. Since asteya calls us to not steal someone else’s joy, there is no comparing myself to others, but instead, being encouraging and supportive of others. We get to ask for support when we have the need for it. This is reciprocity.
I learned that when in the throes of asteya I was able to choose to let go of the behavior attached to stealing and acknowledge that the world is not mine for the taking. I happily purchased my own supplies. I became an advocate in caring for mother earth and volunteered at the Botanical Gardens, where I learned how to care for both culinary and medicinal herbs and plants. My relationship with others and myself became healthier, harmonious, and joyous, and when I take the time to lift others, I am not only serving them, but serving myself. I got to choose joy rather than the pain and suffering that result from being a taker.
I love how the practice of asteya calls us to reflect and live consciously with gratitude for our visit and blessings. I acknowledge that I am a spirit living in a physical body, experiencing life on earth and as a visitor I get to care about how I conduct myself and share with the world. I live with the values I heard about throughout my life and chose to restore my relationship with my belief system both spiritual and physical.
I have discerned the kind of life I had been living from my life purpose and am continuing to learn and practice to walk the path of humility and service. I do not take anyone or anything for granted. This is a form of reciprocity that I get to continue to experience, acknowledge, and exercise with loving-kindness, and compassion. For me, here lies the true value of living a life of asteya and ahimsa. As a result, I get to enjoy the fruit of peace and harmony.
Elizabeth Sostre returned to her love for yoga and writing during the time she took ill with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, in 2009. Upon learning she could not return to her career as an educator for the Department of Education, she took time to rediscover herself. As she continued her new journey, she developed interest in several healing modalities, which led her to becoming a Reiki master, yoga teacher, yoga/wellness retreat coordinator, life and holistic health coach, and a transformational trainer.
She wrote her first workshop, “Living Towards Wholeness” in 2019, which she continues to facilitate and promote, as her belief is that personal growth is born through the process of both spiritual and transformative work, springing one into a state of awareness, breakthrough, and application. Her vision for the world is connection – to connect in a space of respect, love, compassion, and peace. She has a BA in English Literature/Creative Writing and went to Graduate school for Clinical Counseling. Liz is currently writing a book, Deconstructing Your Past To Live In The Present.