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

Let Us Not Forget the Little Children

Copyright 2012 by Blair Atherton

Copyright 2012 by Blair Atherton

Children today are raised in a society that values wealth, prestige, personal appearance, and professional accomplishments. Therefore, these are the things for which our children strive. Too often these materialistic aspirations are not sufficiently complemented with spiritual values.

This is a challenge for those families that do not participate in organized religion. It takes an enormous effort and resolve on the parent’s part to introduce children to a higher being and spiritual concepts on their own at home. Consequently, spiritual matters are sometimes overlooked entirely in a child’s upbringing.

If this happens, it is regrettable because it can cast the child adrift in the sea of materialism without a compass. They may soon be lost to the dark forces that lay in waiting. They can’t help but think that the material world is all that there is. Perhaps this has contributed to some extent to the state of society today.

Maybe it is a matter of breaking things down to their most basic level. What are the central attributes of spirituality that provide us with a code by which to live? What are the guiding principles we can use to shape our behavior and become spiritual citizens of the world community?

Most important for nurturing spirituality in our children is the role model we provide. Children learn a great deal by example. The pre-teen years are perhaps the most critical for instilling the concept of a Creator and spiritual principles and values in children. We must be constantly aware of our own behavior around children and how we demonstrate spiritual values and their application in our everyday lives.

Let us not forget the little children for they will shape the society of tomorrow. Let us not forget the little children for they can help us to become better human beings.

Author’s note

I would very much like to hear from readers about how they have instilled spirituality in their young children outside of religious practice.