Pandemic Journal 27/6/22 — “Come into my garden” or Asteya, stealing time

Experience life just as it is…

Sweet June. Is she of Summer or of Spring,
Of adolescence or of middle-age?
A girl first marvelling at touch of lovers
Or else a woman growing ripely sage?
Between the two she delicately hovers,
Neither too rakish nor, as yet, mature.
She’s not a matron yet, not fully sure;
Neither too sober nor elaborate;
Not come to her fat state.
She has the leap of youth, she has the wild
Surprising outburst of an earnest child.
Sweet June, dear month, while yet delay
Wistful reminders of a dearer May;
June, poised between, and not yet satiate.

— Vita Sackville West, ‘Summer’

Summer Solstice – pivot in time

When the longest day of the year arrives, I know that my mood will shift for a moment in the bliss of an extra long day. The light makes my garden ‘grow like stink – as my mother would say. Marking time to celebrate what heals us.

These are desperate times for so many and the world presses into one as it should. War and famine and corruption and hatred and disease and backsliding. The body and the body politic roil with rage.

While taking action for change is desirable, encountering some version of bliss on your own is essential.

A Ladder of Swords

I once advertised and taught a yoga class in the early 1980s to my friends in graduate school. We were all exhausted and sometimes depressed. My flyer was illustrated with a nineteenth-century woman in a striped costume climbing up a ladder with rungs comprised of swords. Sending up suffering fit the bill. The text was about how socialist feminists had to restore ourselves as the journey for change was long.

And so it is. So long.

Come into my garden

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

— “I Worried” Mary Oliver

Asteya — on stealing time

As I’ve mentioned in my blog before, over the past eighteen months I’ve been practicing yoga asanas almost daily. And some pranayama and meditation. Regular classes and two intensive and extended teacher trainings honed my interest that began in about 1977. At 71 now mid-COVID, it was time to deepen my knowledge.

The eight limbs of yoga are complex and demanding. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, originally in Sanskrit, is a palimpsest of sorts. Over centuries it gained multiple interpretations. Its eight-limbed yoga path remains:

  • the familiar yoga postures or asanas
  • the focus on the breath or pranayama
  • the discipline of meditation or dhyana
  • ethical restraints or abstentions or yamas
  • lifestyle observances or niyamas
  • the withdrawal of the senses or pratyahara
  • concentration or dharana
  • “the absorption into the Divine” or samadhi

The yamas are ethical restraints:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (non-falsehood, truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (celibacy or ‘right use of energy’)
  • Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding)

Asteya (non-stealing), the third yama, literally means ”Don’t steal!” but it also conveys “Don’t hoard.” The meaning can widen and deepen into the notion of intellectual theft or of “stealing time” — the latter, something I made into a lifetime habit.

For much of my academic life, I struggled to be on time. When picking up my daughter from activities, I struggled to be on time. Consequently I stole everyone’s time. (It was some relief recently to discover that people with ADHD are late late late. – Undiagnosed, I testify!)

In yoga, we are encouraged to accept our practice where it is located in our bodies and minds at this present moment. Don’t steal from yourself and cause yourself harm (ahimsa). Since my long course of steroid treatment has been diminishing by the months, weeks, days, I’ve found my muscles flimsy and aching. What I could accomplish in a headstand or a sun salutation last year, I can no longer. My psychological work is to accept where I am at this very moment and not injure myself jacked up by the vain memory of what my body once accomplished.

“Experience life just as it is.”

Yoga teacher Chelsea Lees advises: “Probably the richest application of this yama asteya is in its encouragement to experience life just as it is. Do not ’rob’ yourself of the experiences life has to offer.….When we allow ourselves to be with what is without clinging to or avoiding we embrace all of life….Being able to sit in these experiences, to feel what is out there to feel, and to do so in a way that is mindful of the needs of those around you, is what it truly is to embody the true meaning of Asteya.”

At this very moment in time, I’m enjoying another person’s care and love. Having avoided intimacy for years while single parenting and working as a professor, I’ve found myself in a new place. Navigating an intimate loving relationship for the first time in decades can be a challenge. I’ve so many feelings that well up — sometimes it is difficult to locate their origins. And the intensity blurs boundaries. Am I anxious because of this moment, or because of past loving relations. Am I trusting or untrusting because of this here and now or as a result of past histories? How and why is my desire tuned up? And how is my yoga practice contributing to my well-being?

“There are lots of things you can steal,” says Devi. “You can steal someone’s time if you are late. You can steal someone’s energy. You can steal someone’s happiness. You can steal someone else’s ideas if you represent them as your own.” To invite asteya into your life, consider what you truly need and refrain from letting your desires persuade you to take more. Have fair trade be your mantra—not only in your shopping habits but also in all of your day-to-day interactions. Respect the time and energy of others, give credit where credit is due, and see if you can help build up the world’s kindness reserves by giving more than you take.

a green shade

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade …

- Andrew Marvell, ‘The Garden’.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Journal 27/6/22 — “Come into my garden” or Asteya, stealing time”

  1. Lovely to read this Janice. I do yoga extremely imperfectly but find it essential for just being in my body. I’m doing some work with schoolkids now and find it easy to sit on the floor and have been surprised by the number of other adults who say they can’t do that.
    I studied Marvell in detail at school. Reading him all these decades later, makes me aware of how much more I know now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, yoga, however imperfect, gives us functional movement that helps us in the everyday. To be sure. And I am so glad to experience what you experience with Marvel when you are “aware of how much more I know now.”


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