House Envy, Contentment Stealing, and Yoga
March 20, 2017"Though you may not be aware of it, you are already a vessel containing hidden light...within you are all the powers that are in all the worlds, within you is the hidden light of the first day of creation."
Diane Bloomfield, Torah Yoga
Most of the time, I am a really lousy Christian. Do I love my neighbor as myself? No. Do I give all that I can to the poor? No. Do I welcome the stranger? No. Do I comfort the sick? No. For me, living my Christian faith as Jesus taught is hard work. Some days it seems like the only thing I’ve got going for me, is that I love God, and that I am hugely grateful that I am loved back, warts and all.
But I do try. My Judeo-Christian heritage and the ten commandments help ground me. I like to think I’ve got most of the ten commandments covered (admittedly I’m wobbly on keeping the Sabbath), but there’s one commandment in particular that drives me to distraction: I’m a coveter. Specifically, I suffer from periodic episodes of extreme house-envy.
I only occasionally covet other’s money, careers, college degrees, cars, weight, physical fitness, artistic ability, spiritual devotion, garden, clothes, etc., etc. In general, I’m a pretty content type of gal. But when I see an appealing house, in a lovely environment, I just lose it, and the grass on my side of the fence immediately begins to brown; I imagine how wonderful my life would be if I lived in this beautiful place. Apparently, I’m not alone in this affliction, as the many home decorating and architecture magazines seem to suggest. In my covetous imagination, my well-kept and artistically aesthetic fantasy home is a place of peace and restoration where my family and friends long to congregate: enjoying nature, eating wholesome food, and generally communing in fun and loving relationship with one another--like a coffee advertisement on TV. It is where I am sublimely content. It is where my mythical happiness abounds.
I find that the commandment to not covet, along with my experience of house-envy, helps me understand the relationship between two yoga ethical principles: nonstealing, asteya, and contentment, santosha. It’s tempting to glance over the yoga ethic of nonstealing and quickly move on, as we all know stealing is bad. And as good people, we don’t steal, right? Contentment, too, is often skipped when we approach it as a future event, e.g., we will be content when X,Y, or Z happens. Coveting or envying something or someone, however, is not so easily dismissed. It springs on us out of the darkness of our own insecurities and longings. It’s sneaky. It often starts as admiration but can quickly morph into the green demon that steals our contentment and gratitude. Worst of all, it twists our mind into thinking that something outside of our self will make us happy. It is a major energy disrupter.
Studies on happiness say over and over that it is the quality of our relationships, not our possessions or achievements, that determine our happiness. When I look at the New Testament Jesus-teachings that I’m so bad at, I find they too are all about relationship—relationship with God, yes, but perhaps more difficult, relationship with each other. My faith tells me that I am part of the body of Christ. That I have a role to play on this earth to foster loving relationships in community and extend hospitality from my many blessings. When I get off my Pinterest boards, and take time to examine my own truth through the wisdom of these faith teachings, I find that my house-envy masks a deeper, more basic longing, and a misdirection. I find a longing for connection with others; my dream house is where friends and family gather, where there is joy and laughter, where there is community. But my house-envy misdirects me into believing that the connection that I long for will spring from the possession of the house, rather than from the love in my heart.
Thankfully, I can practice the ethical yoga principals of non-stealing and contentment, and tame the green demon. On the mat, I can be careful not to compare myself to my fellow yogis. I can approach my practice with curiosity about my body’s limitations, rather than judgment, and be awed by how my body moves, content with its abilities. I can bring my attention to my breath and be fully present in the moment, neither stealing from the past nor from the future.
I can also bring non-stealing and contentment into my life, off of the mat through my faith. I can choose to live in the nurturing environment of God’s love that is within me, right now, not found outside me, or some time in the future. This love can’t be bought or stolen or borrowed from anybody else; its majesty and mystery is beyond anything I could possibly possess or even imagine. To connect with the internal God-breathed love within, I start by recovering my gratitude and appreciate my many blessings. Only then, from a place of gratitude deep inside of me, will I be able to move into an authentic, loving, relationship with my neighbor, and find my true home inside my heart.
"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
1 Corinthians 3:16