The inner workings of the Yamas(ethical precepts) begin to awaken when we are at constant practice of the outer workings of the first two Yamas, truth and non-harming. The inner workings are more subtle, and called, Asteya and Brahmacharya. Asteya is translated as non-stealing. It appears a simple practice from the external view, however because it is more of an internal working, the yama has to be traced back to the root of why people steal from one another-our ideas, energy, attention-not always just physical theft. We even steal others stories making them our own. I like to think of non comparing as the practice that is the anecdote to steya(stealing).
When I stopped comparing and categorizing everyone and everything into the boxes that I was keeping them in, I was able to break free from mine, and the path of yoga and dharma really began to flourish in my life.
When we compare ourselves to others, we feel less than or greater than. Even when we say, “I should be grateful because I could have it worse.” “Look at that person and how bad they have it, so I should be happy.” This is merely a self righteous, passive aggressive response to comparing and contrasting, like we do all the time to keep ourselves stuck and suffering. We should not compare because comparing leads to pity. We either pity ourselves or we pity others, and pity is the enemy of compassion.
Compassion means we are taking action and pity means we are giving up.
In 2013 I traveled to India for the second time. I had been to the south of India in the luscious land of Kerala the previous year with my asana teacher Shiva Rea. Kerala, a matriarchal society, is like the Caribbean in landscape, and is like being in the comforting arms of a mother. It is beautiful, calm, and the people are relaxed and fluid in their bodies. Their head bobble and steady gaze into my eyes left me wondering if they were just appeasing me or really understood what I was saying. I was charmed, but I could feel something happening deep in my navel as if the soup was stewing. One evening I sat in meditation for an hour not realizing the time that passed or the tears streaming down my face, but something was resolved deep within me. Something that was so feminine and fierce that would heal my relationship with my mother and all the mothers that came before and all those that were to come after.
The next morning I woke with more clarity and a voice that echoed. “Do not be distracted.”
From this deep resolve I experienced a miraculous break from the conditioned power of relationships and the American culture I am a part of working from a negative self complex trying to achieve something better. The voice was beckoning to me to leave behind comparisons and awaken to compassion. It was like a mother shouting to her child to stop playing in the street. I did not understand fully what was happening to me but I left with a mind that was more clear and a presence that was rooted-more simply in trust.
On this second pilgrimage to India I was privileged to journey to the sacred city of Varanassi. Varanassi is considered a holy place on the Ganga, and it is the belief of some hindus that when people die in Varanassi, their souls go straight to shiva, the supreme Lord.
Varanassi was quite a contrast from the curves of the landscape and the people of kerala. I couldn’t help but notice even the shape of their bodies were different here. Rather than the motherly sway and softly curved bodies, the people in Varanassi were thin and strong with torsos shaped like an upside down triangle. They had broad shoulders up to their ears and narrow waists that stood upon their steady long legs. Their gaze was fierce and seamed to cut through the crowded, noisy streets and crisp grey sky. When we thanked our guide for leading us through the crowded streets, he replied with dignity, “It is my duty, this is my dharma!”
It was here in Varanassi, on my second trip to India, that I finally understood the importance of the subtle workings of asteya, not comparing, and how it came to this culture from that deep trust within. A belief that they were acting out their part perfectly, in this finely tuned orchestra.
From our western eyes it may not appear finely tuned, as we are known as the problem solvers of the world. Our compartmentalizing, problem solving, and comparisons are great- as long as it doesn’t cost us our trust and faith. Trust and faith is the spark of enthusiasm that keeps the mystery of life in our hearts, as we take action with our hands.
At first glance into the eyes of the beggars on the street in India- dirty, noisy, and poor-it wounds a place inside the western heart-mind. But there was a deeper knowing and confidence in their eyes that was more soulful than I have seen in our culture of linear success, and when I changed my gaze to meet theirs, there was a spark and a smile, like the infamous Mona Lisa, reveled in their warm faces, as if to say, “I Know.”