The big wheel keeps on turning
On a simple line day by day
The earth spins on its axis
One man struggle while another relaxes
–Hymn of the Big Wheel: Massive Attack
The other morning I looked out of my window and I could see all these tomatoes growing in a patch of the yard that my downstairs neighbors had tried to cultivate but eventually let go to seed. I was ready to go and pick them because I reasoned that they had left them there and given up. Then I realized that I didn’t want them to see me do it, which is a good indicator that I’m planning on doing something bad. So I practiced asteya (non-stealing) and didn’t do it. And the tomatoes are still there, rotting on the vine, which is too bad, but only too bad from my human, wanting perspective. The nutrients will go back into the soil.
My teacher Gabriel says always hold yourself to a higher standard. Obviously, we say to ourselves, we’re not thieves or robbers. But even putting aside for a moment the veracity of that claim, there are a lot of subtle, daily steals. The classic example is stealing other people’s time by being late or unprepared. We might steal by speaking too much when it’s another’s turn, or by making unfair demands on people who aren’t in a position to decline.
In view of the climate crisis, we should think ourselves to be stealing from current and future people and other species when we consume more than simply sustains us. Our reliance on fossil fuels is stealing the breath from kids near coal plants, stealing the land out from under the feet of the Marshallese and other inhabitants of low-lying places, stealing water from people who depend on snowpack throughout the year.
But we oppose thievery! So practicing asteya here means respecting others’ needs above our desires. Asteya is a stance against quarterly profits as a goal or measure of value. Not expecting profits, not benefiting from exploitation. This is hard to do. We’ve created systems wherein we all benefit from each others’ exploitation, and the exploitation of resources which would, used wisely, sustain our descendants. No simple declarations will extract us, we have to continually identify our complicities and work to end them. But like with big vs. small matters, if we’re climate yogis it’s less important that we ourselves are impeccable than that we slow and stop whatever stealing systems we are able.
Maybe parsvottanasana is the pose for Asteya: eyes on our own footprints, a firm backbone, hands not grasping.