Updated: Feb 10, 2021
My last few blog posts have focused on ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (not lying). The next in our list is "asteya" or not stealing. Most likely we don’t go around shoplifting or stealing cars. However, just because we don’t take items does not mean that we don’t sometimes take things that are not freely given.
An idea that resonated with me when I was learning about asteya in my yoga teacher training was that of stealing others’ energy or peace of mind. When something bad happens to us and we unload it onto an unsuspecting person in our lives, we risk stealing their energy. While it can be healthy to vent, it can be selfish to do so without first considering whether the person we are venting to is in a position to take on what we are throwing at them.
I work in criminal law and spend my days reading case law, much of which is full of horrible things. Most of the time, I am able to effectively deal with my work by making sure I take breaks, practice yoga, etc. However, every now and again, I come across a case that really bothers me, that I can’t get out of my head. When this happens, my instinct is to tell someone else about it. I am not sure why. Maybe because misery needs company. Maybe I just need someone else to validate the way I am feeling.
One time, when I was relating the details of a particularly disturbing case to my husband, I watched his face crumble, and I realized that I was needlessly traumatizing him. While I needed to know about this case, as it was part of my work, there was no need for my husband to know the details. I was placing images in his head that he wasn’t going to be able to get rid of. I was stealing his peace of mind in a misguided attempt to restore my own.
Of course, we need to be able to share with our loved ones if we are going to have healthy relationships, but we also need to exercise some judgment regarding what is truly going to help us and be good for those around us. In my example, at the end of sharing with my husband, I felt no better about the case, and I felt terrible for having dumped this information on my husband needlessly.
How do we avoid stealing others’ energy? One way is to show some generosity to ourselves. By giving ourselves what we need, such as time to rest or to engage in regenerative activities, we are less likely to get ourselves into a position where we are depleted and need to take from others. Further, when we do feel the need to share something bad with someone else, we should ensure that they are equipped to deal with it. We might ask them how they are doing and whether they have time to talk to us about something that is bothering us. We can show restraint in what we share. In my own example, it would have been enough to let my husband know that I was dealing with a case that involved horrible events without going into the details. I just needed him to understand that I was in a bad place, not bring him into the bad place with me. In fact, my needs would have been better served by ensuring that he was in a good place and could help me come to where he was.
In her book, Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas: 10 Principles for Peace and Purpose, Courtney Seiberling writes,
The people in our lives are there to enhance and support us but not be our sole source of happiness or what holds us up every day. We are all responsible for our own well-being, and while it is beautiful to have deep and meaningful relationships, we can only expect so much from them. When we appreciate people for who they are, our relationships aren’t suffocated and can be a healthy exchange of experiences.
If we are able to become our own friend, take time to process our own experiences and show ourselves kindness, we will be able maintain our peace of mind and generate our own energy, which will enhance our relationships: we will not need to take so much from others and will have more to give.
If you wish to engage with the idea of asteya, you may wish to find ways to take care of yourself so that you minimize what you need to take from others. Of course, there are situations in which we need to rely on people a great deal; for example, when we are ill, we have a newborn baby or there is a death in the family. However, we may be able to deal effectively with many of the mundane downs in the ups and downs of our daily lives by showing ourselves some kindness and generosity. Build in time into your day for rest, speak to yourself kindly and engage in activities that you enjoy so that you are not depleting your energy and therefore don’t feel the need to steal others’ energy. When you are in a tough place, think of what generous thing you can do for yourself that may help.