Thou Shall Not Steal

In March of 2020, the world changed in an instant. People were hoarding toilet paper. Milk and bread were difficult to find and distilleries stopped making whiskey and started making hand sanitizers (which was the real tragedy, in my opinion). It was crazy-ville, to say the least. Never in my lifetime had I witnessed a ‘me and mine’ mentality such as this.

I mean, I understand selfishness. I am selfish at times. I think everyone is, and that’s okay, because there are moments when only you can take care of you. I witnessed selfishness as a survival trait when working with the homeless and economically-disadvantaged, food-insecure folks here. I had always been fascinated, and admittedly often annoyed by, their lack of consideration for others when it came to matters of survival. Sugar packets, napkins, and prepackaged foods would be gone in a matter of minutes, everyone taking what they wanted with no consideration for the person next in line. I’m not judging them. I’m just saying it was something I couldn’t grasp conceptually…until the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. (Did you know there was a TP shortage in 1973? Me neither until just now. Of course, I was wearing a diaper, so it wasn’t relative to me.)

As we continue down the Eight Limbs of Yoga, we are still in the Yamas. Yamas are, essentially, the practice of abstinence. We meet this morning, over coffee, to discuss Asteya – or the act of ‘nonstealing’. 

We all know that nonstealing is refraining from taking what isn’t yours and taking more than you need. Most of us don’t steal from others – unless you include pens from the bank, then I am guilty as charged. And most of us – unless you’ve ever been to an All You Can Eat Buffet in the Ozarks – don’t usually take more than we need. Or…do we?

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Shall we go deeper? (If you don’t want to, that’s okay. There’s a good list here that will get you some understanding of Asetya, without my ramblings.)

For those of you still reading…Have you ever refrained from speaking up because you were afraid of hurting or angering others? Have you ever chosen to not use a talent? Have you pushed yourself over a boundary line another person has set? Have you ever slept, eaten, ‘relaxed’, worked, or spent too much? Hmmm. Yes. Me, too.

When Asteya was introduced to me I was in the middle of juggling working from home while also trying to be my son’s teacher three days a week, and getting little to no sleep because my anxiety was so high one dose of Xanax wasn’t even scratching the surface. Add to that a little (okay, A LOT) of negative self-talk and poor food choices and what I ended up with was nothing short of a recipe for disaster. I was stealing from myself and others and I was most definitely taking more than I needed in anxiety meds, wine and whiskey, and sugar. Here, as I share, my hope for you is that you can simply take a deep breath, and instead of judging yourself – just decide if you need to make some adjustments. After learning Asteya, I found the following Truths:

I identified where I let others cross my boundaries. Crossing boundaries is a two-way street. Yes, other people push them and cross them and that is wrong. Period. But, let’s own this, shall we? If we allow it to happen, we are stealing from ourselves in the same moment they are stealing from us. One morning I was feeling particularly edgy and when that happens, my senses go on overload. (I often say that my son comes by his Autism naturally because if they were diagnosing Sensory Processing Disorder in 1977, I am certain I’d be on the list.) On this particular morning, for some reason, the idea of being touched was making my skin crawl. The air conditioner was too loud, the motorcycles driving up and down the street were nerve-wracking and the coffee tasted bitter, no matter how I doctored it. The idea of being touched on that particular day was akin to wearing polyester fabric in the middle of a southern Missouri summer. In other words, a nightmare. My then-partner went in for a hug and I said “I really don’t want a hug right now”. Needless to say, I had to repeat myself a few times, and while I did it nicely, after the fourth time, it escalated to “I told you not to touch me” – in a rather sharp tone – I may have even said ‘Don’t fucking touch me’ – I honestly don’t remember. All I remember was being so confused by why he wasn’t listening which led to me putting on my shoes and leaving – quickly. First, to be fair to myself, if I had packed my anxiety medication or if the stash I had at his house wasn’t depleted, I might have been okay that morning. But me, without my meds, and he, with his habit of not listening to the word ‘no’, just really set me off. So several lessons: If people don’t respect your boundaries, walk the fuck out. The first time. Don’t apologize for setting a boundary. But don’t… and really listen to me here…DO NOT let others manipulate you into believing that because you have a boundary that you are somehow the person who is wrong.

Clinging to someone because we are too afraid of being alone or because we doubt our own abilities—that’s stealing as well. – Linda Sparrowe, Yoga International

Next up in the Asetya revelation field: I was managing my time – badly. Now, normally, I’m not known for poor time management. I can accomplish a shit ton before most people have their lunch. But, working from home while a child is present is like trying to brush your teeth whilst eating Oreos. It’s just a mess. (And if this isn’t you…then you don’t get to judge anyone in this situation. You. Do. Not. Understand. End of story.) I would no sooner get involved in a work process and he’d say “Hey, Mom. I’m hungry.” or “Hey Mom, how many likes did my YouTube channel get today?” “Hey Mom, wanna play Minecraft?” I love my son more than any other human on the planet and I was ready to murder him. (I’m fucking working here, kid, so that you can have lunch, afford that tablet, and buy Google Play cards in order to upgrade your village. If I get fired, we are both fucked. You know…the stuff you think as a parent but don’t say out loud because, well, you love them.) Also, I’m always a remote employee – which means I always work from home and have for nearly nine years. Working from home isn’t an issue for me. Working from home with a retired and anxious housemate, a bored and restless child, and juggling all my friends’ who weren’t used to working from home was the issue. All of that was (is) fucking exhausting. People who don’t normally work from home weren’t (aren’t) used to the isolation. Under normal circumstances, if they get bored or restless at the office, they take a lap and chit chat with others. This ‘take a lap and chit chat’ when everyone was on lockdown resulted in text messages and FB messenger posts constantly: Ping. Hey, when are the yearbooks going to be distributed? Ping. OMG. This Zoom meeting stuff is hard! Ping. Shots fired in the 1900 block of E. Grand. Springfield is full of idiots. Ping. Hey, any word on yearbooks? Ping. The neighbor next door is yelling at his wife on the porch. Ping.  The neighbor I was telling you about? Now the cops are here. Ping. Hey. Do you know anything about the yearbooks? Ping. If one more person asks me about those yearbooks I’m going to lose my shit. Ping. Hey, has anyone asked you about the yearbooks? (Can I be blunt? I don’t fucking care. About any of it. Not the yearbooks. Not the fact that our city is a cesspool of crime. Not about your neighbor. I care about getting my work done – and why don’t you care about that?)

Each ping, each “I’m hungry”, each interruption, added minutes to my day that I just didn’t have to give. I found myself at my desk until 9 pm each night. When I finally told everyone in a public FB post (public FB posts are rare for me) – rather impolitely, I now realize – that I was not going to be available for them all day every day I pissed people off. One even wrote, “You told the entire world to leave you alone. Alone, you’ve been left”. Fine. Because now I’m not stealing from myself during the day – I’m working when I should be working and I’m answering texts about yearbooks at 7 pm – when normal people should be answering texts. Some texts I just don’t answer at all because there isn’t a direct question that requires an answer. Lastly, and I’ll wrap up this point, there’s a scripture in Proverbs that instructs us as to when to make hay and when not to (read here). Not only does answering unimportant texts during the day steal from myself, I’m stealing from my employer by not working when I’m supposed to be working. And, if I text YOU during the day, I’m stealing from your employer, too. How ’bout them apples, huh?

Linda Sparrowe, Yoga International, states  “One way of practicing asteya is to refuse to allow our mind to ‘steal’ us away from what we’re doing and rob us of our present-moment focus. Allowing ourselves to be distracted is a form of stealing because we deny ourselves the true joy of experiencing what is happening right now.”

Asetya also challenges me to be honest. Newsflash, I am not always honest. I don’t lie on purpose but through Asetya I’m learning that by not sharing what I am feeling or experiencing my shadow side with others then I am stealing from them and ultimately, from myself. I’ve learned that my single-most toxic trait is my inability to ask for help when I need it. I say “I’m Fine” but I ‘disappear’ and ‘isolate’ when I am feeling the most anxious and I emerge when I feel better. This is what I mean by ‘shadow side’. I believe my shadow side is ugly and unworthy of love so I do my best to hide until I’m back ‘in the light’. I once told a lover “If you give me the benefit of the doubt and don’t give up on me, I will always come back. You just need to be patient and realize it isn’t about you. It is all about me.” So far, no one has been able to fully extend that courtesy, but I’m hopeful that the right person can. Additionally, I’ve recently learned that being ultra-independent is a response to trauma. Now, I can’t blame all my issues on my trauma – but I can say that I am absolutely fascinated by how much of my shit connects back to trauma. The more I learn about this subject, the better I understand myself. I think the more trauma-informed we can become as a society, the better equipped we are to understand and appreciate people’s resilient nature. I’m already, by nature, an independent soul. It’s just who I am. But you couple this natural-born trait with some trust issues and Boy Howdy. Yeah.

Anyway…if I’m being honest here (and I am, right?)…I just wish I could be loved and understood for the whole part of me…the natural traits, the response to stress, the anxiety, and the learned responses…without having to apologize for them. I mean, growth is expected if I’m ever going to refrain from stealing from myself or others – but the expectation of a little grace is also necessary. If I hurt another, I should apologize for the behavior, but constantly feeling apologetic for who I am at my core just to get love in return? No thanks. There are 7 billion people on the planet. If I’m not what you want, there is an entire sea of better fish. Let me say that again: If people cannot offer you grace when you are spiraling…then find new people. Grace, with growth, is necessary in order to learn to stand in Asetya by being honest. I’ve walked too many people through the valleys of their own mental unwellness to be left alone in mine.

In reflection, I leave you with a song but also with some questions:

How are you stealing from yourself or others? Are you refraining from activities that harm you or others – and I don’t mean harm as in something big like shooting or beating someone…are you stealing from your relationships because you are unkind or taking things too personally? Are you giving people the benefit of the doubt when they deserve it and holding them accountable when they cross the line of your boundaries? Are you honoring others’ boundaries? Are you honoring your own? Drop me a line. I love comments!