Many of the most useful intersections I find between the physical practice of yoga, yogic philosophy, and everyday life come from the eight limbs, defined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I outlined the basic terms of the eight limbs in an earlier post, and since then one of them that I’ve been working on is asteya. Asteya means ‘non-stealing’, and is illuminated in Sutra 2.37 as, “to those established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.” At first glance, asteya seems like a precept that most of us would have learned thoroughly by grade school. Until you start to apply it to time.
The modern interpretation of asteya is most closely associated with how we use time, whether it belongs to us or to another. How economical, or equitable, are we with our words in conversation? How much do we procrastinate, consciously or unconsciously through a lack of presence? How do we use our resources, whether material or energetic, in light of time? My initial response to these considerations was a mixture of something like intellectual excitement (whoa, deep stuff!) poured over optimism (this could really help me transform my actions/attitude) with a dash of weltschmerz (iPhone addiction: I have it).
When I first considered how to practice a little more asteya with conversation, I tried to notice what my motivation was for the words I was about to say. This part can get, well, icky–I realized that a lot of what I said was either trying to garner attention, seem interesting, direct awareness towards my strengths and away from my weaknesses, or conversely beat up on myself to suit a depressed mood, and so on in a self-serving fashion. I’m only human and I know everybody does this. However, I realized that I could be more respectful of other people’s time if I at least thought about why I was saying what I was saying, and whether it needed to be said at all, maybe thirty percent more often? Just a bit more discretion, a tad more refinement in my speech. That’s the hope. I notice when I forget to screen what I’m saying because afterwards I feel a little off–as if perhaps I just dumped my neurosis on some unwilling person. The beauty of this is that there’s always the next conversation, and therefore many opportunities for reaping the subtle benefits of restraint.
I also made the mental leap that time well-spent is also practicing nonstealing, by honoring the future. For example, when I keep to my scheduled commitments, tiresome as they might be, I gain something from it over time (all wealth comes). When I skip my study session at night in favor of an internet binge, skip a workout without a compelling reason, skip an important task at home because I don’t feel like it, avoid a work project because it’s tedious, etc., those things ultimately become more beastly to return to the longer I ignore them, and the increased difficulty later on as result could be construed as a microtheft from the future. Of course, I’m referring to the ways I let things go out of laziness, fear, or a negative attitude that might otherwise be overcome (not to be confused with genuine intervening circumstances which preclude doing what was planned).
This is really common sense repackaged, but it’s comforting to me, at least, that in many ways spiritual principles can be addressed through small adjustments we make in our everyday lives. It’s also important to note, I think, that how we treat ourselves is excellent practice for how to treat others. To value our own time, resources, talents, body, and state of mind with care, humility, and reverence makes it easier to regard others that way. While it’s a platitude, I can say from experience that when I’m not treating myself well, I sometimes begrudge the time I bestow on others; I feel hollow and fraudulent when my external manners are better than my internal ones. Being kind and generous to oneself also cuts down on what we perceive we really need to take from the outside world, because there are fewer black holes of the soul, bending our behavior by their gravity.
Lately, I sometimes ask if I am stealing from myself when I make a decision. Catching this is less serious than it sounds. Laughter, or at least a smirk, is best. A deep breath. Minimal tsk-tsking. Even if I continue on stealing from me next week or next month, it’s not a secret anymore, and that seems like progress in the rehabilitation of my inner thief.