Posts Tagged ‘asteya’


pretty shiny things that I didn't want you to steal

pretty shiny things that I didn't want you to steal

Today was one of those days where my asana practice suffered. I woke up feeling kind of under the weather. I took Pooka out for a walk in deep snow, wondering if that walk could be considered a walking mindfulness meditation. Each step was deliberate and slow, but awkward. Not exactly graceful or mindful.

At home I did a few restorative poses with my block — supported bridge, supported fish, and supported shoulderstand (with the back of the pelvis resting on the block, legs straight up), with some deep intentional breathing and the hope that I’ll feel better tomorrow.

Saturday night I went to a pirate bingo party. I dressed like a pirate wench, covered in plundered jewels. One of the necklaces I chose to wear reminded me of a crazy story from my past involving stealing. Asteya (non-stealing) is one of the yamas —  the five codes of outward observance. They can be thought of guides for how to behave toward others. (The niyamas are the inward observances.)  I was telling my mom the yamas and niyamas are kind of like the ten commandments of yoga. I think she liked that. 

The yamas include ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) brahmacharya — ooh, a tricky one. celibacy? sexual continence? there are a lot of potential meanings.  Also aparigraha, or non-greed, non-hoarding.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali translates the verse on asteya this way: “To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.”

What does it mean if people steal from you, repeatedly?  

This story involves a thieving yoga teacher. It was late 2004, I think, and I needed to leave Puerto Rico for about a month. My ex was leaving too. We had this big farm house and tons of animals to tend to. We found someone to come and stay there and feed them — a good friend we trusted. I also found someone to teach my sunrise yoga classes at the Ann Wigmore Institute. Everything was set.

Then I met this woman, a famous activist, who was volunteering at the Institute as well, who I felt an immediate kinship toward. She was a much more radical version of me, and I think I was in awe of her. I didn’t stop to think, “do i trust her?” I thought of my dogs, Pooka especially, and wanted to make sure they got lots of love when I was gone. I had a car — a 1967 pontiac tempest, and the idea came to me to offer it to her for the month I was gone, with the condition that she would go visit Pooka every day. Pooka was used to so much love. I wanted to be sure she was okay while I was gone.

I’ll call the activist B. She was happy to get a muscle car to drive for a month, and said yes. As I handed over the keys, I said, “make yourself at home!”

Fast forward to the morning after I got back. I dropped in on the sunrise yoga class to see how it was going, and to get be a student for once in that incredible space looking out over the ocean. My sub was a completely gorgeous local Puerto Rican man. I went up to him after class to thank him and ask how it had gone. My eyes drifted over toward a bench. I suddenly felt totally confused. There was this card sitting there — that I had painted. I asked where he got it.  He was that B had given it to him. I looked at it again. It was this beautiful card that had so much meaning for me. I had dropped paint onto the card, and what had emerged was this beautiful fetus in a womb.  I told him that I had painted it, and wondered how B had found it and given it to him. 

So when I saw B next, I asked her. “I found a book upstairs in the library with a bunch of cards in it,” she said. I still hadn’t thought to question her. I thought maybe it was possible that one of the books I had donated had some cards in it. It was possible! 

Next day, I saw her wearing one of my shirts. I asked her if she had borrowed it from me, and she said no, that someone had given it to her. So that was the second “hmm,” and this time, i doubted her honesty. I remembered where I bought it, and i couldn’t find mine. So I started feeling suspicious. Still, it was just a shirt.

Around this time, someone told me that a lot of stuff from the farm (meaning my house) was in the Institute staff house, where she and B lived, and that maybe I should come by. This friend told me that B had borrowed my yoga journals and had cut out some photos and pasted them on the wall by her bed. 

That kinda pissed me off, because I had written for Yoga Journal and wanted my physical copies of the magazine. I used it as a reference at times. 

At this point, I called her and asked her if she had anything else of mine, to please return it. 

Next morning, I arrived at the yoga spot to teach. The sun was rising, and there was a pile of my stuff. Several yoga books, including a Jivamukti book I absolutely love. CDs. A yoga mat in a mat holder. It was a pretty sizeable pile. She hadn’t returned the yoga journals. And by this time, I had started to look around and had noticed some things that were missing. And my friend who lived with B at the staff house said there was more there. 

Now, looking back, it sounds so juvenile. I should have just gone to her one more time and said, listen lady, I know you took more of my stuff. When I said, “make yourself at home!” I didn’t mean take whatever you wanted. You can eat what you want, but don’t steal all our spices, nuts, cacao, and frozen fruit! I mean, who would think you’d have to make that sort of proclamation?

I went over to the staff house with my friend and found stuff I didn’t even know was missing. Most notably, this necklace that my dear friend and New York roommate Martha had given me. It had belonged to her grandmother. Three strands of beautiful green and bronze-hued vintage crystals. I grabbed it. Now I was really starting to seethe.

I called the institute director and told her about it. I told her that I had given B a chance to return everything and that she hadn’t, and what troubled me was that if she was stealing from me, perhaps she was stealing from others. An institute volunteer stealing is unacceptable. 

Yes, I wish I had gone to B one more time and gone through her house and confronted her on all of it. I feel sort of cowardly for doing that. We had a meeting, and she was confronted and asked to leave the institute.

Then, oddly, she got a scholarship for yoga teacher training at Jivamukti. B had some good karma coming her way. I couldn’t understand it. Had she been raised on a commune and thought that she could take anything she wanted? Did she have some sort of stealing compulsion? (Another friend of mine had stolen a bunch of stuff from me in the past, including my driver’s license! She definitely seemed to have some sort of compulsion.) 

She returned the card she had written to the hot yoga teacher. I still have it. She quotes Marianne Williamson, from A Return to Love: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

It was a nice thought, but I couldn’t see past the fact that she had stolen that card that I had painted. I always thought that card was some sort of symbol of my infertility, that maybe something would be born of me, somehow maybe I’d get a chance to be a parent. Something. It was a message from the universe, delivered in drops of paint that I had smeared into a beautiful image.

I was torn. It was just stuff. How important is stuff in the scheme of things? Yet there are boundaries we should respect. There are laws regarding personal property. You take something that doesn’t belong to you, you can go to jail. I wasn’t interested in seeing her punished. Yet I couldn’t understand it. How can you take something that belongs to ME? 

Eventually B wrote me a letter of apology — on hemp stationery she had stolen from me. And she gave me a card, with this poem from Mary Oliver:

In Blackwater Woods

Look the trees

are turning their own bodies

into pillars

of light,

are giving off the rich fragrance of

cinnamon and fulfillment,

the long tapers of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders

of the ponds,

and every pone,

no matter what its

name is, is

nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side is salvation,

whose meaning none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal,

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.


I felt she was scolding me for grasping at my possessions.  Yet, why did she want them?

Once, when I was on a business trip, someone broke into my house and stole all my jewelry, including a charm bracelet that my beloved grandmother had left me, with charms she had collected from all over the world. It’s easier to understand when you see the broken window, the brick on the floor surrounded by shards of glass, the pile of human feces in the garage. That’s an offense. That’s violence. That’s theft. But when a friend takes things, and you wish you could have given them freely, but didn’t…. it’s uncomfortable.

In the past few years, I’ve lost almost everything I’ve ever owned. I’ve lost all the money I saved. I’m closer to that point of not caring about possessions. but I still do. 

Patanjali continues, on asteya, or non-stealing: “If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us. If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us.”

I hope so. Uh oh, if I hope so, does that mean it will not come? Om shanti.

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