Monday, April 4, 2011

Asteya or Non-Stealing: Living with Integrity and Reciprocity

Asteya or non-stealing is the third Yama in yoga's ethical code. Each of us steal in many ways, every day-from each other, the earth, ourselves and from the future. This can show up looking like arrogance, one upmanship, by not being present when listening to others, jealousy, and excessive consumption of resources from the earth, to name a few.

My assignment over the last couple of weeks has been to notice when I am stealing from the earth and the future. The question for exploration was, "Where are you taking without returning something of equal value?"

Deborah makes a good point on page 62 of The Yamas and Niyamas when she says, "You wouldn't go to a friend's house for dinner, complain about the food, leave your trash lying around and walk off with the candlesticks because you wanted them. And yet, this is so often how we treat our world."

I began pondering this question on the heels of the Tsunami and earthquake in Japan when our fragility as human beings dependent on the earth was violently and tragically showcased. I have been sitting with the idea that what may really be taking place is a magnanimous imbalance within the earth's ecosystems and within ourselves. Calling it a "natural disaster" is a limiting concept that fails to include a holistic approach to engaging with and understanding our world.

The earth is a living organism that each of us are intrinsically connected to. We depend on her resources and we depend on her to be the very foundation we survive upon. Many cultures, both past and present, have known this and honored it. As within, so without, as it were.

Using only what is needed and giving back to the earth are anathema to many people raised to believe that they can have whatever they want, as much as they want, whenever they want, without regard for consequence. I too, was raised an American on consumer culture-super size portions, plastic bags, cheap clothes made in China and all of the petrol one's car could guzzle.

I still struggle with feeling entitled to consume with wild abandon even though my life has been scaled down to a simple country existence with minimal possessions and a garden.

And as I really began to look at where I was taking something without giving something back- whoa Nelly! I was a little bit shocked by how much my engagement with the earth still lacks reciprocity.

Even looking at one simple example like food leads to a conundrum of epic proportions for someone, like me, who is used to having every single type of fruit and vegetable available year round. To even begin to ponder the ridiculousness of buying a tomato from Chile, not to mention the enormous load of resources required to get that tomato from one continent to another-makes me a little bit crazy.

But there is hope.

There is hope in the seedlings that are coming up in my front windows. There is hope in the compost pile in the back yard. There is hope in the renewing season of spring. There is hope in all of the sustainable energy and agriculture movements that are popping up all over the US. There is hope in local food. There is hope in re-using old materials creatively. There is hope in local trade and bartering. There is hope in the possibility that each one of us may begin to wake up to our connection to that which we are dependent on for survival.

Asteya asks each of us to begin with ourselves and I am itching here in KR at the beginning of April to get outside and get my hands in the dirt, to re-affirm my relationship with the life giving soil, to plant and watch more hope grow throughout the summer, to tend to becoming more reciprocal.

"The earth is what we all have in common." -Wendell Barry

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