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Asteya: Non-Stealing

A couple of lifetimes ago I was a teacher at a Yeshiva (Jewish school), and although I'll never be an orthodox Jew, there are many Jewish principles that I really love and respect. I briefly worked with a very annoying man who was constantly interrupting my work to ask me a dumb question or just make an observation I didn't give a shit about. But he was often sure to first apologize for interrupting, pointing out that there is a Jewish rule that forbids someone from interrupting someone else when they're obviously working. I'll never know if his irony was mildly sadistic way of messing with me, or just him trying to be polite despite his apparent loneliness and need to talk to me, all of the time. Thank god he didn't stick around long.


I just googled this Jewish principle regarding work interruption in several wordings and came up with nothing to support my story, so maybe I'm making it up. In any case, I really hate when people needlessly interrupt me when I'm obviously busy because it is a form of stealing: my time, my concentration, my attention.


Asteya (non-stealing) is of course, like the others, not so simple as not taking things that aren't ours. Adele makes this connection: "Asteya calls us to live with integrity and reciprocity. If we are living in fears and lies, our dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives leads us to look outward, with a tendency to steal what is not rightfully ours. We steal from others, the earth, the future, and ourselves."


This is the first time I'm having trouble completely buying Adele's interpretation; it feels a bit too circumspect, a bit of a reach. I definitely agree that most of us take too much of all things, and most of it is not rightfully ours. We steal time, attention, natural resources, etc. But is this because we're living in fears and lies? I think in part, yes. When we exist with a mentality of scarcity, we do want to grab at things that either we don't need or aren't rightfully ours, and hoard that which we have acquired. But fears? I think it could all come back to scarcity-- a fear of it. I guess I'm looking forward to examining this fear; it's something that I've worked on and made good progress on overcoming in the past, so it will be good to check back in with it.


Week one: "Be a fork lift; you should always be lifting people up"- Yogi Bhajan

Adele points out the danger and inherent dissatisfaction in comparing ourselves to others. It is "The thief of joy" as Theodore Roosevelt is famously quoted. When we we compare ourselves to others, the end conclusion can only be either that we are less than or superior to them, neither of which is a healthy or productive way to relate to someone.


I can relate to this as much as anyone. It's just human behavior to compare ourselves to those around us, and sometimes it can even be motivating. But usually not.


This week's challenge tells me to "notice when I'm stealing from others through time, attention, one-upmanship, power, confidence or not being able to celebrate others' success", and to "be a forklift so that everyone I come into contact with feels uplifted because they were in my presence". And here's how it went:


1. I have a fellow mom friend, Sally, who became a yoga teacher recently and is doing really well with it. Actually, she's killing it. And I am truly happy for her, but a part of me is also jealous. I catch myself mentally justifying all the reasons that she's able to do so well (categorized by getting teaching gigs at several different studios right away), like having lots of hired help and support at home. But I know that she has awesome ability and talent (and she was practicing yoga way before I was) and totally deserves her success. And I genuinely want it for her! So why do I feel this ugly little negative feeling when I see her posting pics and schedules on social media? I should be doing the same thing, anyway...

I know from personal experience how crucial to one's self-worth and identity it is to have personal accomplishments and a career, especially after leaving one's former career to raise kids. When I saw Sally most recently, I was able to bypass any envious feelings as she updated me on work and just be happy for her, knowing how much happier she is to be working and doing something that she loves. Just slowing down to examine the situation and where my feelings are really coming from allowed me to be fully, genuinely supportive of her, cheering her recent accomplishments as a true friend should. And have an easier time hanging out with her again.


2. I had a talk this week with a young girl new to working the front desk at my yoga studio. She's super sweet--and super young--and she expressed to me that she hopes to be hired as a teacher. I didn't even think before speaking the truth that unless you were trained at our studio, the likelihood of being hired as a teacher, especially one that has no prior relationship with the owner, is pretty much nil. I didn't say it quite so harshly, but I got the message across and didn't sugarcoat it. And immediately afterwards I felt terrible. I felt like I shit on her hopes and dreams, without leaving room for compassion and kindness. I fully believe in being honest in situations like this, but what I meant to convey was that she shouldn't put all of her energy into that one goal, especially since it's not her top priority (becoming a dancer is). So I made a point to seek her out and both apologized for being discouraging, but also reiterated my intended meaning, encouraging her to focus on what she moved to NYC to accomplish. I had to backtrack to do it, betraying all I learned in week 3 of studying Satya, but I was so relieved to make my meaning clear, to apologize for being negative, and to live in this concept of leaving people uplifted.

And she was like, "hey, no biggie", anyway.


3. I texted an acquaintance after coming across a piece she wrote for Medium to thank her for writing it, sharing it publicly, and to tell her how impressed I am by her and that I think she's destined for greatness. This is not really something I'd normally do. Normally I'd just have the thought that it would be nice of me to reach out to her, but in the end I wouldn't. I'd continue to think about it for weeks or months, knowing deep down that a better person would have just taken 2 minutes to send the text. It felt great to make the simple gesture whose only purpose was to lift someone else up.


Week 2: Not stealing from the earth or the future:

The principle of Asteya asks us to see everything as being on loan to us, especially our planet. We are stewards of it and of future generations so we should be protecting our environment fiercely.


I've never been much of an environmentalist. I do the minimum, like recycling, and I'm conscious about not creating needless waste, but it's just not one of my top causes. I do try to minimize my overall consumption and footprint, mostly because I HATE wasting anything, so any environmentalist leanings are more a result of trying not to be wasteful.


Unfortunately, becoming a mom increased my waste by about 100x: diapers, wipes, tissues/paper towels for cleanup, baggies and plastic wrap for leftovers, plastic on toys, clothing that is worn once or twice before being outgrown, tons of laundry, the list goes on. I got a lot of my baby supplies and continue to get clothes as hand-me-downs, but extra consumption is just a fact of having an extra person in the household.


In doing some basic research (like her and her), I found there are many ways in which I can cut down on my waste, and once I started, I got really into it!


Here are some small ways in which I'm avoiding stealing from the earth this week:

  • Greatly reducing my single-use packaging by lugging food, utensils, water and coffee cups around with me, not taking any additional ones this week/month.

  • Stop using plastic baggies and Saran wrap. I never used to use baggies, but with the kid's constant stream of uneaten food, it just became so easy to pop it in a baggie for the fridge, or use a baggie to cart snacks around with us everywhere we go. I have baggie-alternatives, I just have to put in the 2 seconds of extra effort to use them.

  • Reusing plastic clam shells that berries and lettuce come in as food storage.

  • Not getting take-away food or drink out (unless bringing my own container)

  • Eating more vegetarian (again)

  • Using cloth napkins

  • Recycled a big bag of clothing

  • Finally using that menstrual cup I bought over a year ago but had a traumatic first experience with and never touched again


This has actually been really fun and enlightening! And I've found over the time of the experiment that it's not hard at all to reduce my personal waste. Just a few minor tweaks and changes made me feel much better about my environmental impact. Maybe next month I'll try composting.

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