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Stealing from Yourself

September 9, 2009

During class this morning, Erik, the instructor, focused our attention on the yama of Asteya.  Asteya is the principle of non-stealing.  Now, there are obvious implications to this form of self-restraint.  We should not steal others’ belongings; we should not steal others’ ideas; we should not take more than we need.  But, my thoughts went to the less obvious forms of stealing that we engage in and should avoid.  We should not steal attention or admiration due to jealousy.  We should not steal the self-esteem of others by belittling or degrading them.  We should not steal the good name of others through libel or slander.  And, we should not steal from ourselves.

What do we steal from ourselves?  Well, I know that, in my case, sometimes I steal from myself the opportunity to change or grow.  W.E.B. Du Bois is quoted as saying:

The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.

But, do most of us do this?  I suspect we do not.  When we are very little, and the world of opportunity seems open before us, we allow ourselves to change and grow with every moment.  As we get older, we start to learn the expectations that others have of us (based on factors like gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, family role, etc.) and begin to let those expectations box us into a narrow range of possibility.

Over time, having learned to believe that our possibilities are limited, we begin to stop even trying anything new.  But, once we do this, we fall into a rut of being, where the self cannot grow.  Growth requires change, and risk taking. This stealing of opportunity and growth from ourselves may sometimes be about relatively minor things – we refuse to try new food, because we already “know” that we won’t like it – or major life choices – we don’t apply for a job that we desire, because we are certain that we will not be hired.  We may not acknowledge to ourselves why we aren’t taking these risks, and come up with excuses for remaining the same (“I don’t have time to take that art class,”  “yoga classes are too expensive,” “I don’t have enough patience to get a degree”), but often the underlying reason is a fear of failure, because we have learned to box ourselves and our opportunities in, and believe that we cannot succeed outside of that box.

After my yoga practice today, I reflected that I often steal from myself the opportunity to grow in my practice by assuming that I cannot succeed at a particular pose.  This was true of wheel pose when I first began yoga.  I wouldn’t even try it, because it seemed impossible.  Now, having prodded myself into taking the risk, I still feel remnants of the

Image from yoga-guru.info

Image from yoga-guru.info

“I can’t” belief every time the pose comes up in class.    More recently, I struggled with forcing myself to give inversions a try.  I practiced yoga for a few years before I ever tried to get into handstand or headstand, even with the help of a wall.  While I’m still working on those poses, and still feel some degree of fear about them, I also have learned that I love inversions.  If I had continued to steal that opportunity from myself, I never would have realized this.  Now I need to work on arm balance… I have a tendency to immediately go mentally to a “I’m not strong enough” place when arm balance poses appear in the practice.  But, I know that I have to give myself this opportunity or I’ll never know what may happen, so I’m working on pushing those negative and constraining thoughts away.

What opportunities do you steal from yourself by assuming you cannot succeed?

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