Sunday, May 30, 2010

Asteya ~ non-stealing, or recognizing the rotten root of desire

Been caught stealing;
once when I was 5...
I enjoy stealing.
It's just as simple as that.
Well, it's just a simple fact.
When I want something,
I don't want to pay for it.

~ Jane’s Addiction

My life is amazing and great. I have so many things, opportunities, friendships, and experiences, I can hardly imagine wanting more.

When I sit in meditation, it’s easy for me to feel the abundance of my life and the endless opening of my heart, and from this, the exquisite overwhelming light of gratitude.

Just the other day in fact, I was sitting on a seat of impressive volcanic rock, facing the ocean, my beautiful husband wading peacefully through the warm waters of the thermal pools behind me, surrounded by the lush green of the palms, and breathing in some of the cleanest air on the planet. I dropped quickly and deeply into that contented state of an easy meditation and was surprised to hear my timer sound off its soft harp sounds, signaling the end of my sit. I opened my eyes slowly, took in a few deep breaths, and got up to find Sasha, eager to share with him the insights that had come to me without even trying. It felt like the best meditation of my life, and I couldn’t wait to include him in my discoveries.

As I walked up off of the rocks and over to the pools, I noticed several people standing watching the ocean with excitement. I assumed they were just reveling in the huge waves and crystal blue color, until Sasha came running up to me, “Did you see those whales?” “What whales?” I responded. Although I had been enjoying my meditation, it didn’t seem possible that I could have zoned right out of prime whale watching. “Are you serious?” Sasha continued, “there was a mother and a calf and they were playing and jumping right there,” pointing to a large rock about ten yards off shore. “Everyone was screaming and taking pictures, I’ve never seen whales so close in my life.” I couldn’t believe that I had actually sat through all the excitement. Suddenly my “great sit” felt like a total waste of time. I didn’t want my “inner peace” and “insight,” anymore, not when it meant missing seeing whales up close and personal. I kept asking Sasha to describe exactly what he saw, as if somehow by hearing it enough, I would experience it too. I walked into the warm pools, listening to everyone sharing their excitement, the water washing over me like the feeling of disappointment and wanting that pervaded my mood.

I had already been thinking about this feeling of wanting. In the week before I left Mexico for Hawaii, I had been asked to translate an important meeting of an afterschool program in my town. A cell phone had been stolen, and there was ample evidence that a young girl who worked at the program had taken it. The American founder of the program wanted to talk to all of the workers together to discuss what to do, and needed my help in being understood. I translated faithfully, then asked the founder if I could add something myself. I turned to the girl, whose family I know well, and told her, “If you took it, just say so. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone wants things they can’t have, and every thirteen year old has made an error in judgment. No one thinks you are a bad person for taking the phone, they just think you made a mistake, and you can remedy it by telling the truth.” My little friend stared at me with a poker face and simply shrugged her shoulders. She was not going to admit her guilt, and there was no way I could make her. When the founder and I spoke after, I told her that I believed the girl had taken the phone, but that we should now just let it go. There was nothing else we could do, and the teen would have to work through her own process of knowing the position she had put her family in, and that the adults around her were willing to listen to her and forgive her, that they understood her longing. I believed that lesson would last. As the founder and I went through our own process of letting go, I put forth a question of complicity. Were we, the relatively rich Americans who live in the town, not also a part of the issue? Could it be possible that seeing us with our cell phones, our trucks, our i-pods, i-phones and laptops, is part of what stirred the sense of longing and temptation in this young girl? She has what we want, a life in Mexico, and we have what she wants, things and money.

I thought of this because I had recently had another powerful experience of wanting it all. A good friend of mine in my town had just told me she was pregnant. In a moment of ungrounded jealousy and longing, I was talking to my sister about my so far unrealized desire to have a child. I found myself telling her, “I just get so mad when I think about my friend, I mean, she doesn’t even have a boyfriend, she has no job and no opportunity, and no network of support.” In other words, she doesn’t have any of the wonderful things that I have, therefore she should not have this gift, whereas I, having everything, should have more.” My sister and I both laughed when we realized my reasoning. This longing seems to cloud any sense of rational thought.

And yet we do want it all. And when this longing becomes too much to hold, we act on it, doing and saying things that we know at some level are, at worst wrong, and at best, ridiculous. When I hear myself or others saying, “I can’t believe that he …..,” I just want to say, “Really? You really can’t believe it?” How could we not believe it?

The truth is, we all share this deep sense of longing. What we have is never enough, and we become consumed with getting more, whether it is a material thing, an opportunity, a relationship, or a state of being. We might, as the people at my hotel in Vallarta do, get up at 6 o‘clock in the morning to save our spot on the beach, even when we know that we are going back to bed and may actually not make it to the beach until noon. At least we got our place. This might seem reasonable if we are the one that has the beach chair and umbrella, but it would seem obnoxious and unfair if we are the one wandering the beach with no place to sit, while looking at all of those empty chairs, “saved” by beach towels and paperback books.

When we think of this month’s topic, Asteya, non-stealing, we might feel relieved that this one is easy. We don’t steal, right? And it makes it easy too, to feel superior to those that do. But if we change our perspective to what we share, that longing, that seemingly insatiable sense of desire, we might realize that we steal in subtle ways more often than we think, and that we are only one life experience away from acting out our longing and taking what we want. And we want it all.

We may think that we practice the ethical precepts of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, to steady and still the waters of our own erratic thought stream. Perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps we practice asana, pranayama, meditation to calm the turbulence of our mind, to satisfy the disruption of desire through finding contentment, abundance and fullness from an inner source. Maybe when we acknowledge this longing, we can attend to it and not push it away, deny, defend or judge it. And maybe, when we commit to this tenderness toward our own suffering, we open to new possibilities and gifts. Perhaps even the gift of knowing that from that place, that perspective, we already have it all, and that our satisfaction is not dependent on phones, children, whales or anything else. It is as close as our ability to recognize and appreciate it.

About a week after my sit, where I thought that seeing whales was better than the gift of contentment through meditation, I found myself sitting again facing the ocean and listening to the sound of the huge crashing waves, the salty air fresh on my face. The waves were getting louder and louder, and I decided that I should partially open my eyes to make sure the peace of my meditation was not disturbed by being washed away by a rogue wave. I allowed my eyes to open slowly to half mast, “shiva eyes.” Directly in front of me were three huge whales, close enough to swim to, jumping and playing in the surf. I looked around for Sasha, or anyone, to see if this was really real. I didn’t see another soul, so in a moment of wanting to hold on, I took out my camera, and held it up to my face. As soon as the camera was there, I could no longer see the whales with the same clarity and directness. I realized I was trading in the actual experience for the desire to “save” it. I put the camera down and just breathed in gratitude and astonishment. Right then, the biggest whale jumped up out of the water, and as it landed, one of the group let out a huge playful bellow. In that moment, I understood. I really did have it all.