In church, I used to hear the word “stewardship” thrown around: “We need to be good stewards”. For most people, that did and does mean “give money”. The real sense of stewardship is to take responsibility for the care of something. So if we are stewards of something, then it is our job to make sure all is right with it.
We are stewards of what is in our world. We are responsible for what is in our possession and our vicinity. As we grow spiritually, our small self is diminished and our stewardship expands beyond very limited borders. We become more conscious of who we truly are, and our area of responsibility grows. The truth is, if we are to be good stewards then we are responsible for every person and everything. Someone else’s pain is our pain. As we dig deeper in sadhana, we come to know that everyone is us, no matter how different they may appear or how far away they are from us. We are us. So full stewardship means full responsibility for all.
This is why every tradition has observances and restraints, rules to follow so that we treat each other as we would like to be treated. We cannot serve two masters: it is either God or the ego.
The purpose of school is to discipline the mind so that our individuality has not gone astray. We are to learn to obey. When we are more interested in children feeling good than in their obeying and being disciplined, we are not being good stewards. Now, in the U.S., we have lost our sense of stewardship. We are wasting our resources. We now only tend to our own tyrannical individuality. We serve the wrong master, the ego.
The role of a spiritual teacher is to help us choose God over the ego. A dear and wise friend, Eddie Oliver, wrote this to me: “All” issues arise from minds that are not “practicing”. If someone is practicing with loving discipline, all problems that arise are dissolved back into consciousness. When someone withdraws their attention from practice, begins to feel unsatisfied and then turns their attention outside to locate and place the blame “out there”, [they] flip their complete devotion to their Master of many lifetimes…the ego.
So the true beginning of spiritual practice and a good life is to discern our stewardship and who we serve. Discipline and surrender, done for the right master, bring us to a place where we can then practice the third level, which is taught in every major religious tradition. We will then understand what it truly means to be good stewards, because everyone and everything will be Love and with God.
St Simeon the New Theologian, a tenth-century Byzantine mystic, wrote about the practice that will bring us to this place of surrendering to God and living life as a good steward:
Truly the third method is marvellous and difficult to explain; and not only hard to understand but even incredible for those who have not tried it in practice. They even refuse to believe that such a thing can actually be. And, indeed, in our times, this method of attention and prayer is very rarely met with; and it seems to me that this blessing has deserted us in company with obedience. –If someone observes perfect obedience towards his spiritual father, he becomes free of all cares, because once and for all he has laid all his cares on the shoulders of his spiritual father. Therefore, being far from all worldly attachments, he becomes capable of zealous and diligent practice of the third method of prayer, provided he has found a true spiritual father, who is not subject to prelest. For if a man has given himself up entirely to God and has shed all his cares on to God and his spiritual father, so that, in his obedience, he no longer lives his own life or follows his own will, but is dead to all worldly attachments and to his own body—what accidental thing could ever vanquish and enslave such a man? Or what worry or care can he have? Therefore all the wiles and stratagems used by the demons to entice a man towards many and varied thoughts are destroyed and dispersed by this third method of attention and prayer, conjoined with obedience. For then the mind of such a man, being free from all things, has the necessary leisure to examine, unhindered, thoughts introduced by the demons, and can readily repel them and pray to God with a pure heart. Such is the beginning of true (spiritual) life! And those who do not begin in this way, labour in vain without realizing it. (from Writings from the Philokalia, ed. Kadloubovsky, and Palmer, p. 155)
As good and true stewards, we want what is best for everyone. And what is best for everyone is for them to be truly who they are. That does not mean we should want them to live the same lifestyle as we do. Rather, the point is that each of us is very different on the surface; in the worldly sense, our likes and dislikes vary. It is at the core of the soul that we are all the same, and we as good stewards will support this. As we work to live there, our security will be clear, and we will feel safe to let others manifest in the manner they need to as long as we are all supporting good stewardship.
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