The Accidental Ascetic

Zen Garden Source:

Zen Garden

Over the last several years I have become an accidental ascetic of sorts. It was not a conscious decision or goal; rather, it was a natural progression of an evolving spirituality and lifestyle.

I acknowledge that what I am about to describe is not for everyone and I am not suggesting that anyone should try to emulate my path. Each of us will be led down our respective spiritual paths naturally.

My children have on occasion half jokingly (or half seriously) pictured me as a Buddhist monk or similar, cloistered in my home practicing qigong and tai chi and burning incense. The fact is, I do keep largely to myself and practice the above Asian energy arts daily. I also meditate twice a day and pray on and off as I move through my day as things come to mind. But these things are only a part of my life, not its totality.

Becoming a vegetarian was a key step in my accidental progression toward asceticism. Denying myself of the many foods that I once enjoyed, especially animal flesh, was cleansing, not only for my body, but also for my spirit. I surprised myself with the determination and total commitment and conviction that I brought to the challenge. It showed me an inner strength of which I was not aware.

However, my vegetarianism did not arise for the sake of self-sacrifice or asceticism. Instead, it came from a strong belief that it is wrong to raise animals in large numbers for food. I could no longer support the barbaric treatment of farmed animals.

I have been vegetarian for almost three years now and I have never wavered from my pledge. One of the collateral outcomes of my vegetarianism was a very limited menu of only a few dishes that I prepare for myself—nevertheless, much better than the tasteless porridge some monks may eat.

Another incidental outcome is that I rarely eat in restaurants because gluten-free vegetarian meals are rare or nonexistent at most eating establishments. This also makes it difficult to travel which is something else I have had to curtail.

But my so-called asceticism goes further. For example, I care little about material things. I have no desire to further enrich myself with money, things, recognition, or position. Furthermore, I am not the least bit impressed by those who seek notice for what they have or appear to have. However, I do take notice of those in need and support a number of charities throughout the year.

Part of (or perhaps as a result of) my apparent asceticism is a gradual shift away from things of the material world to the things of spirit. That is, a shift to spiritual values and seeing the world through spirit eyes. For me, this is the value and benefit of moving toward a somewhat ascetic way of life.

Although far from the true ascetic, the degree of asceticism that characterizes my life now, helps me to put things in proper perspective and to see myself within and among the sea of humanity, not detached, beyond, or above it. I see our collective and individual suffering and wish to somehow ease it through healing, service, and prayer.

The purpose of life, both in body and spirit form, is to serve others with love and compassion. Doing so is what gives our lives meaning, and what demonstrates the divinity within each and every one of us.

You might like to see the following related articles:

With Spirit Eyes I See
The Spiritual Mind
Nature: A More Expansive Spirituality

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