April 5, 2012

I Steal, You Steal, We All Steal: The Dilemma of Asteya in the 21st Century. ~ Sarah Shapiro

Photo Credit: Flickr-The Commons/itala2007(slow)

Back in the early 90s, when I took my first Yoga Teachers Training program at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City, there was a heavy emphasis on the Yamas and Niyamas which are the ancient  ‘dos and  don’ts’ of Yoga.

When we got to the Yama of Asteya (Non-Stealing), our main Teacher, Swami Ashokananda, asked everyone in the room if they had ever stolen in the past. I had to reach back twenty years into my childhood to the time I stole one of those foot-long 50-cent blue popsicles from our local market and perhaps a few packs of Bubble Yum gum. God only knows how I hid this popsicle and made it out onto the hot pavement with my two eleven year old friends!!

Let us fast forward back to the Yoga Teachers Training: when my teacher, Ashokananda, asked me about my ‘stealing’, I naively shared the story of the popsicles. Everyone laughed and nodded their heads and shared related funny stories.

He then soberly asked if any of us had ever come into work late or had left early. When it was my turn, I paused and answered truthfully: ‘yes’. I would regularly arrive fifteen minutes late to my job at the time and leave early if I could get the chance. He clearly stated that this was ‘stealing’ and he explained that we were ‘stealing’ time and money from our employers. “It can add up”, he explained, in his sensible and calm voice. What if everyone stole half an hour from a large company each day? How much money would be lost to that company? He posed the question, “Is it fair to steal time and money from these companies?”

Photo: Steven Depolo

My fellow students and I were dumbfounded!

We were about to throw out these mind-bending Yamas and Niyamas in favor of the ‘perks’ of modern life. When Ashokananda clarified that if you asked your supervisor or employer about coming in late or leaving early, then there was an agreement and this was no longer stealing, we heaved a big sigh of relief. We all wrestled with the various ‘levels’ of stealing and debated this fiercely throughout the training.

Further, he asked about stealing envelopes, paper clips and pens. Okay, I was guilty as charged! I have a few pens that have the names of various companies on them. But is this really ‘stealing’ if you sign a form and accidentally put the pen in your purse? And if so, do we all agree to stop? Is this a private, moral matter? Is it societal? According to the ancient Yogis, ‘yes’ to all of the above and yes, we have to stop stealing and make higher choices and observe Asteya to the best of our ability.

Let us fast forward to the 21st Century.

Like many of us, I used to download music and movies from the internet. I shamefully admit that there was not one ounce of me which felt that this was ‘stealing’ or that any harm was being done to anyone at the time. It was thrown into a ‘collective soup’ of unconsciousness in this arena and just lived under the ‘everyone is doing it’ blanket.

After the birth of iTunes and the 99-cent (now $1.29) songs, I suddenly stopped what my teacher would call ‘stealing.’ Basically, it was ‘affordable.’ I started regularly purchasing music online and paying for it. The next stop would be movies and TV shows. Of course, the $8.99 for Netflix has allowed many of us to stop ‘stealing’ movies from the internet.

Recently, after re-reading another book on the Yamas and Niyamas, it came to my attention that there is harm coming to many journalists, musicians, photographers, artists and writers with the advent of ‘free’ downloads. Many are rapidly and dramatically losing their source of income.

I have witnessed some of my friends lose over ninety percent of their income as writers and photographers because we all want it for ‘free’ and pretty much take it. The reality is that years of talent, blood, sweat and tears can be put into these books, songs, photographs and articles. It is true that we all know a writer, artist, journalist or photographer that is out of work. Entire professions are disappearing.

Yoga is all about awareness and conscious choice.

This does not mean we can never again download a movie or a song for free, but we must be aware of the overall effect that this has on many professionals and their respective livelihoods. We all enjoy great music but can these people make this music if they are waiting tables at forty five years old? What about writers? These professions take tremendous time. We have to find a way to support our writers, musicians, journalists and artists, or we will ultimately kill off the creative Spirit in our culture.

Although iTunes and Netflix are not perfect, perhaps we, as consumers, should demand more disclosure about what percentage of profit actually goes to the musicians, the actors or writers. If we are going to give up ‘stealing’ from the Internet, we should at least know that our money is going to support the artists that we love.

This is all about energy and consciousness.

You may end up paying for a movie and deciding to share this with a friend who is truly in need. Let us, as a community, attempt to be more aware and to share only with those truly in need and to help start a movement towards supporting artists and writers and ask for full transparency from iTunes and major players in this industry. Perhaps we will frequent ‘indie’ sights that give a larger portion of proceeds to the artists—we need some tech people to do this research; please share if you have this knowledge.

It all starts with one thought.

This is a subtle process and it is up to each one of us to define what is and is not stealing. It is up to each one of us to decide what we want to pay our artists and how we value them. It is both a private and a public matter. My hope is that this article helps us: observe Asteya, clear up our own energy, and give money to artists who surely deserve it. Let us work on our awakening together.

Sarah Shapiro, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She has worked with hundreds of patients over the course of twenty years. She teaches Jungian Archetypal Psychology, workshops in Chakra and Energy Medicine in the US and Canada. She is in the process of returning her pens. Check out her latest project at www.divineinterventionhealings.com.



Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Tanya L. Markul

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