The Scarcity Steal
The third of the five Yamas (Universal Morality) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is Asteya or non-stealing. Seems pretty self-evident at first. Don't take other people's stuff. Why would we do that in the first place? Because we feel we lack something or don't have enough. It comes from a belief in scarcity. But material items aren't the only thing we can steal. We can also take other people's ideas, time and attention.
Claiming someone else's idea(s) or work as your own is clearly stealing. We all know that, right? It's called plagiarism. So why do we plagiarize? Because we feel we lack the capacity or time to come up with ideas of our own; because we don't believe our ideas are any good. Again, it comes from a belief in scarcity or lack; in this instance, perhaps we feel a lack of talent or think we won't measure up so we cheat and take the easy way out. No one ever said coming up with your own ideas is easy or quick. Of course, one theory in the art world is that all ideas have already been thought of, and we simply think up new ways of expressing them.
We can also steal other people's time and attention when they are not freely given. Have you ever been in a conversation that you know has gone on way too long, and you're trying to figure out how to extract yourself? In this instance, your interlocutor is stealing your time by mindlessly prattling on. If we want to avoid the same trap, we must be mindful and pay attention when we're interacting with others. When we remain actively engaged, we can pick up on subtle (or not so subtle) cues that they are giving us about the time they have available. It's not personal if someone needs to end a conversation, and they'll appreciate that you've picked up on their cues. It means you're listening and that's one of the greatest gifts you can give to another.
Ever have someone show up late for a planned meeting, date, class, dinner, event? Not being punctual is stealing other people's time. It's also a great way to tell them: I don't respect your time, or you. Being punctual is one of those simple things we can do that let other people know we care about and respect them. Show up on time, how simple is that?
But there was a traffic jam! My kid scraped his knee! My boss wanted to see me! If you're generally punctual, people are forgiving in those rare instances when something legitimate does happen to make you late. But I've known, as I'm sure some of you have, people who are habitually late and rarely on time. Don't be one of those people. You're stealing time away from others.
As yoga practitioners, we can also steal yoga poses. Whahhht?? When we try to force or contort ourselves into poses we're not ready for or that are beyond our physical capabilities, we are stealing that pose when it's not ours to take. We may give in to the temptation to leapfrog when we do this: skipping over the process of working our way up to a pose, which can take some time and patience, and just diving in "as if" we're ready for it when we know we're not. Obviously, this isn't a good idea as it could lead to injury, minor or severe.
Avoiding the leapfrog approach is also a great opportunity to practice keeping our ego in check, since leapfrogging often has to do with what the ego wants, not the body. Your ego doesn't care if you get injured, as long as you look good. Remember that. When we don't take the time to go through the process, we're stealing what could be a valuable learning path away from ourselves.
Observing Asteya is a great way to learn about our own beliefs in scarcity, and to notice some behaviours we may engage in that are stealing from others, and from ourselves.
"Be content with what you have: rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." Lao Tz
Sources for this post:
Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses, Sage Roundtree and Alexandra Desiato