The Accidental Ascetic

Zen Garden Source: japanwallpaper.blogspot.com

Zen Garden
Source: japanwallpaper.blogspot.com

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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Nature’s Nurture Unleashed

Rainbow Chard Credit: http://sweetwater-organic.org/

Rainbow Chard Credit: http://sweetwater-organic.org/

Those of you who consistently follow this blog know that I am vegetarian. I will not recap here my reasons for becoming a vegetarian. What I would like to do is share with you a recipe that gave me an easy entry into getting my daily fruit and vegetables and eventually becoming a vegetarian.

The recipe below is for my green smoothie—so-called not so much for its color as for some of its ingredients. In fact, it starts out purple and after 15-30 minutes reverts to green.

Until I started having the smoothie every morning, I rarely ate vegetables or fruit in any quantity or with any regularity. Although odd to say for a vegetarian, I really don’t like vegetables, and have historically concentrated on the “meat and potatoes” of my evening meal up until my conversion.

Even though you may have no desire to become vegetarian, this smoothie is a very healthful whole food that allows you to get a big portion of your daily fruits and vegetables in one great tasting shot. This drink is (and must be) prepared in a high powered blender such as a Vitamix. There are a number of reasons for this. High power and high RPMs are needed not only to blast through frozen fruit (which will destroy a conventional blender), but also to break open the plant cells of the fruit and vegetables, release the contents of the cells, and reduce their components to subcellular and micron-sized particles.

Releasing the internal components of the cells gives our digestive system access to them. Chewing intact vegetables, whether cooked or uncooked, is very inefficient. Much of the nutrients they contain is not accessible, because we are unable to digest the plant’s cellulose cell walls. Heating helps but may inactivate important components. Using live, raw fruits and vegetables assures that all of the nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants are preserved and not modified or inactivated by cooking.

I do not have data, but if I had to guess, I would say that chewing cooked or uncooked vegetables might release at best 20-30 percent of the nutrients, while high speed blending might release on the order of 90 percent. An implication of this is that the amount of nutrients derived from a relatively small amount of high speed-blended raw vegetables is comparable to a relatively large amount of intact vegetables. That is, you would have to eat three to four times more unblended vegetables to get the same amount of nutrients, antioxidants, etc. that are obtained from a given amount of high speed blended vegetables. That’s good for someone like me who doesn’t like vegetables to begin with.

Organic vegetables and fruit should be used to avoid or minimize herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer residues found on conventionally grown crops. Conventional crops should be vigorously washed with a veggie wash detergent before use. Another benefit of using organic fruits and vegetables is that genetically modified plants are avoided.

For purposes of flavor and stability of the nutrients released from the cells, the smoothie must be ice-cold. This is most easily accomplished by using frozen fruit in the recipe. Otherwise, you will need to substitute one cup of ice for the water.

You may read other opinions, but I strongly recommend that the smoothie be consumed within 30 minutes. The shift in color of the smoothie from purple to green suggests that some oxidation is occurring. Once released from the cell, some of the components may be labile and lose potency with storage, even in the refrigerator.

Generally, the recipe below yields approximately a quart. I drink the whole thing, but you may choose to share it with another person. Some small high speed blenders are now available that make much smaller portions. However, I am not sure that the small volume produced will provide adequate daily amounts of nutrients and fiber.

Of course you are free to experiment with the ingredients, but I recommend that you start with my recipe first because I know it tastes good. Not all combinations of vegetables are pleasing to the taste, and not all are packed with nutrients like those below. If you want to try others, then change only one vegetable at a time in the recipe.

The Green Smoothie*

*My recipe is based on one originally developed more than five years ago by the Green Smoothie Girl as a healthy drink for her family. She has now established an online business selling a line of health products.

Blending times are for the Vitamix set to the highest speed.

PHASE 1

2/3 cup filtered or spring water
1/8 lemon (skin, pulp, and seeds included) thoroughly washed before cutting

Add the vegetables below in roughly equal amounts. Enough to loosely fill the blender jar. Tear the leaves into pieces as you might do for a salad. Depending on the size of the leaves, 1-2 leaves of each should be enough. All veggies should be organic.

Chard
Collard Greens
Kale (any variety or mix: green, red, black)
Curly or Italian parsley

Protein powder (equivalent to 20 grams of protein)
One banana, peeled

(optional) 1 tablespoon of whole chia seeds for extra fiber and omega 3.

Blend on high speed for approximately 45 seconds.

PHASE 2

Add the following to a one cup Pyrex measuring cup:

2/3 cup frozen organic blueberries
Then fill the remainder of the measuring cup with frozen mixed fruit.

Add the fruit to the jar with blended veggies and blend on high speed for 60 seconds. The consistency will be like a thick shake.

(optional) add your daily omega-3 supplement. I use the plant-based Vega Antioxidant Omega Oil Blend. It has the ideal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6.

Note: Do not blend longer than the times indicated, because longer time will cause heating of the mixture which may reduce potency.

Consume within 30 minutes.

Considerations for Choosing Other Varieties of Vegetables

While dark green leafy vegetables like kale and collard are staples for the smoothie, another goal is to introduce a variety of colors into the mix. This is desirable because the different colors reflect a wider array of antioxidants. Some antioxidants are more powerful than others and some plants provide better carriers for vitamins and other nutrients than others. Using a variety of fruits introduces color as well as vegetables like red, yellow, or rainbow chard and red kale.

It would be wise to look up the nutritional values of vegetables you are considering as additions or substitutes to the recipe. For example, the various types of lettuce offer much less than other choices. Beware of strong-tasting vegetables like mustard greens as these will dominate the taste. Bok choy, spinach, dandelion, and carrots are good variants to use periodically.