Attachment: From Ownership to Stewardship

posted Jun 17, 2012, 7:30 AM by James Stoertz   [ updated Jun 22, 2012, 12:02 PM by Interfaith WS ]

Walter came to my workshop on "The Dynamics of Spiritual Growth."  For forty years, he had worked as a house painter.  A retiree, a widower, and a grandfather of six, he wanted to prepare himself for the “inevitable."   "l'm ashamed to say this," he said. "Here I am, an old man who can count the years he has left.  What makes me sad is having to leave the things I own like bowling trophies and pictures of my family.   And my grandkids-I don't even dare think about leaving them.  I know I can't take anything with me.  While I am still alive, I would like to get a little more detached from all that.  How does an old man start walking on that road to freedom?"

Darshani:  Because you called it "the road to freedom," l'd say you are already well on your way.  As I see it, no-body owns anything.  We human beings do not own homes, property, money, furniture, cars, or clothes.  We do not own even our time, energy, skills, looks, health, or anything else inside or outside of us.  That realization can come as a shock.  But when it comes, we are free.  Are your trophies the rotating kind?

Walter:  A few are.  Others have my name inscribed on them.

Darshani:  The ones that rotate are a good starting point.  When you look at them, what do you think?

Walter:  I think that they are nice to have while I have them but I know that they are not mine to keep as they’ll move on to the next winner.

Darshani:  Beautifully said.  Everything you have in your home and in your body is a rotating trophy.  Nice to have around while you have it, but not yours to keep.  Ownership is fiction.  Stewardship is truth.  You and l and everybody else on earth are stewards of everything we think we possess.  Anything and anyone can be taken from us at any time.   We are stewards even of our lives.

So the road to freedom for you, whether you are old or young, is the exercise of looking at everything in your life as a rotating trophy-not just the good stuff, but the bad stuff too.  Every bit of it is temporary.  As you look at everything and everybody, even your reflection in the mirror, think of your real Self as a river bank.  Water flows relentlessly between your long great arms.  You let it flow and splash your sides, and you enjoy its touch, but never do you stretch out your arms to grab it for keeps.

Whatever is given to us we should use well, without saying or thinking, "This is mine, good, bad, delightful, painful.”  Such expressions imply relationship.  Objects are not bad in themselves; it is the relationship that we establish with them that constitutes our bondage.  What you are trying to do in becoming detached is to place a different value on your external world.  Whenever you become aware of clinging, remind yourself that you don’t ownanything;  that your grandchildren come in and out of your life like figures on a movie screen;  that your trophies and pictures can be stolen, damaged, and gone from your life forever;  that everything your senses perceive, including your body, are transitory phenomena.  Realize that the reality and meaning of all these things lies only in the value you imbue them with.

Once I knew a woman who was constantly preoccupied with her beauty.  For hours every day, she massaged, creamed, and mud-packed her face and massaged her hair and scalp with fine oils.  Mirrors in all her rooms served as reminders and affirmations of her beauty.  For some months, I did not see her.  When we met again at a shopping mall, I barely recognized her.  She had been in a car accident.  A dozen plastic surgery operations had not restored a fraction of her original beauty.  The loss devastated her, but the devastation brought her to the spiritual life.  That is a tough way to learn the lesson of stewardship.

The Bible puts it well: “Lay not your treasures where they will rust.”  You might put aside a little time every day to look deeply into that non-rotating Trophy that will never rust.