Asteya is the third of the five yamas, the yamas being a personal code of conduct for living peacefully and in harmony with all living beings, including the Earth. Donna Fahri writes
The practice of asteya asks us to be careful not to take anything that has not been freely given.
She goes on to give seemingly mundane examples, yet they are powerful because they are so commonplace. For instance, when calling someone on the phone, asking first if this is a convenient time to talk rather than immediately jumping in and presuming the recipient is ready for the overflow of information. The jumping in and taking of someone’s time is equivalent to stealing their time; better to first ask if the time can be given rather than to immediately snatch it.
Both Farhi and Deborah Adele bring up personal satisfaction and the commonplace action to reference others in determining one’s own satisfaction. This comparing oneself to others often leaves an individual feeling something is lacking, in a sense they have stolen from themselves by not looking inwards. Emma at Ekhart Yoga sums this up succinctly (and you can read more of her explanation here)
The need to steal essentially arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to be able to create what we need by ourselves
From that vantage point of comparison, it becomes easy to insert oneself into conversations with others so that the conversation becomes about you rather than the person you are speaking with, in a sense stealing from others. To quote Adele quoting Yogi Bhajan:
Be a forklift; you should always be lifting people up.
According to Deborah Adele, “we steal from others, we steal from the earth, we steal from the future, and we steal from ourselves.” She suggests a practice of reciprocity in order to give back what has been taken.
Both Farhi and Adele believe that Asteya necessitates looking inwards to see who you are and who you want to be, and then turning your attentions and actions to the deeds needed to achieve your goals. As Donna Fahri states
Not stealing demands that we cultivate a certain level of self-sufficiency so that we do not demand more of others, our family, or our community than we need. It means that we don’t take any more than we need, because that would be taking from others.
One way to help cultivate that sense of taking only what is needed is to build a practice of gratitude. Acknowledging all that one has to be grateful for is a way to foster a “sense of abundance.” Again to quote Deborah Adele, this time quoting Albert Einsten:
A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other people, living and dead, And that I must exert myself in order to give in the full measure I have received and am still receiving.
My prior posts on the Yamas:
Ahimsa – Nonviolence
Satya – Truthfulness