Monday, January 18, 2010


It has been far too long since I last posted. I have been busy in a way that I have not felt busy before, sort of juggling life in so many different ways, not responding to emails, and actually not even doing yoga for this past week. And I have realized two very important things. First, I need to do yoga. It has become my life force, my energy, my source of strength, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, and this past week has been painful. Of course, that is literal - I hurt my shoulder, which is why I have not been practicing, but I realize that is just an excuse. I feel like I have stolen something from myself, which goes right into today's yama - asteya, which means not stealing. 

The second thing I have realized is that while I have been "violating" this yama, the main source of my time consumption has been fulfilling its other side - charity. The opposite of stealing is giving, and I have been spending all my free time creating an email list for an organization to which I belong. It felt great to do it, but I realize how taxing it was on me. I was consumed with getting it done. Of course, a major reason I had to spend the last two weeks doing it almost exclusively is because I took so much me-time over the holidays. 

Once again, I find myself looking for balance. I cannot think of a religion that does not command that we do not steal. I certainly know that the law forbids it. But how often do we think about stealing from ourselves? How often do we think that to truly fulfill the notion of not stealing, we are required to also give? I know that Jews are commanded to leave 1/10 (I used to think it was 1/7 until my uncle corrected me) of their crop for the poor. But I never considered that the other side of the stealing coin. I never put the two in the same boat. How often do we think about not stealing in the abstract? If nothing else, thinking and writing about the yamas and niyamas has opened up my eyes to what these basic notions mean. When you really take a step back and consider them, they are incredibly powerful.

The legal world is full of situations where we can either promote asteya or violate it. Ethically, lawyers are encouraged to provide 50 hours of pro bono (free) service each year. That is more than a week's worth of work per year. I cannot say that every lawyer does it, but I know many who do, and I know many more who far exceed those fifty hours. I work with an organization in which people volunteer hours and money to not only ensure the organization functions, but this year, with so many people out of work, the scholarship donations were larger than ever. I cannot help but be inspired by this. 

Of course, the law provides numerous opportunities each day to steal. I could talk about lawyers stealing money from their clients or the clients themselves being criminals, but those are obvious. What about all the time we steal from one another? What about the frivolous motions that are filed instead of picking up a phone and working something out? What about taking extra time on a project in order to make a few extra dollars? This is not stealing that is either unethical or criminal, but it is stealing in the asteya sense. It has consequences larger than the minute action.

Like all of the yamas, asteya is part of the ladder that supports our interactions with each other. When we take small pieces from each other and from ourselves, those pieces add up. As we get away with one, we think that it was not so bad and take a little bit more next time. Before we know it, we have created a Ponzi scheme out of our own life. Though most of us will never have the ability to steal as much as Madoff, stealing non-physically is potentially more dangerous. Recognizing what it truly means to give and to steal is vitally important.

When I was in law school, I volunteered a lot. I volunteered in legal clinics and in the law school community. Because of my current job, I am unable to do much of what I used to do, and it hurts. I miss giving. I miss being charitable. Interestingly, I have started to donate more money - perhaps because I finally have a paycheck, but I think it is actually to make up for not being able to give with my time. I actually feel like something is missing, is stolen from me. Luckily, yoga has provided one outlet. It is also what changed my yoga practice from only a calming/physical practice to 
that which guides my life. I have started dedicating each class to someone or many people in need of it. Some days, that dedication is to a family member or friend. Other days it is to something much larger, such as those in Haiti. But this ability to give my practice to others has made my practice that much more fulfilling for me.

Asteya, therefore, is about being able to find that joy in giving, about being able to give and be fulfilled by it, not feel like you are stealing from yourself or others. It certainly is about not stealing money and items from others (as my teacher said, remind your students not to steal anyone's mat). But it is about the non-physical acts as well. I think my shoulder injury was a reminder of how important yoga is to me. I needed to be forced to give it up in order to realize how much it has given me. And the greatest gift I have received is the ability to give to others through my practice, the ability to practice asteya even when ethical constraints prohibit me from always giving externally.

Thank you for sharing this time with me. I hope to be back on here more regularly as I continue to open my eyes and heart to the yamas, niyamas, and all that yoga has to offer to me, the legal world, and the world in general.

Namaste and Blessings.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved. (of course it would violate asteya to post this without my permission, but with a link to the blog, you certainly have my permission).

1 comment:

  1. Wow - our blog posts really did pass in the night! ;) Cool.