What is Asceticism?
Asceticism is considered a dirty, avoidable word in the materialist world. Before we address asceticism we must take on the issues of the modern world. The whole idea of “more” seems to be the issue involved. Imagine if we took “more” out of our language and being happy with everything and everyone we had in our lives. Asceticism is defined at dictionary.com as such:
1. manner of life, practices, or principles of an ascetic
2.the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like
3. rigorous self-denial; extreme abstinence; austerity.
I would not say that these are terrible definitions, but the third definition is not so flattering. I have been an ascetic for many years. I do not even own a television set, nor have I since 2013. almost every day of my life is prayer, meditation, work, study, and writing. I only use my phone and laptop when I have to in life, such as writing a blog. I always find that life is never tiring of giving us distractions. Asceticism gives us the opportunity to block out distractions and be singular focused on one task at a time.
“But I like distractions in life, so being an ascetic might not work for me.”
This is perfectly fine. There are people who have families, a busy lifestyle, long hours of work, and things that come up in life. I do not think everyone is meant to be cut out for this kind of life. Being an ascetic does not mean that we are people who sit in the mountains and pray to get enlightened for the majority of us. Yes, there are people who take asceticism that far and are perfectly content with it. However, asceticism is synonymous with discipline. Therefore, it means many function in daily life and you would never know! It would simply be abstaining from certain habits, mannerisms, foods, and activities.
I personally eat raw fruits, raw veggies, and nuts. I pray 2 or 3 times daily out of the siddur, depending on my work schedule. I have several journals:
- Life journal
- Daily practice journal
- Personal magical
Generally speaking, reading and studying are a huge part of my practice. I find the more knowledge and wisdom I collect and use then the more people I can help. So these books vary. I have a few books that are mandatory for classes and others I just read for fun. I always keep in mind that each study and book has a useful purpose for my life.
Lastly, I attend Kabbalat Shabbat every Friday. This is my way to connect with Adonai. There is a chance to meet the community and to enjoy time with my Rabbi. It is a great communal time for me and the whole congregation.
The committed esotericist may actually learn more and achieve things spiritually when focusing on a few practices and trying their best to maintain them. It creates stability in life that is much needed in order to achieve mastery of ourelves and our art.
“But I like my guilty pleasures.”
We are humans and we all have our guilty pleasures. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with this! My teacher who was also an ascetic before he passed away, had his guilty pleasures. I have mine too! The whole issue is not the guilty pleasures, the issue is overindulging in them! Let’s say you like chocolate. As an ascetic you would save your chocolate for special moments, you just would not eat it everyday. My teacher would always emphasize to take everything in moderation.
One of my biggest guilty pleasures is movies. I love movies and many of them are franchises. It is okay to like these kinds of things. I just block it out to stay focused on Adonai and ways to better humanity. I still have yet to see the sequels: Jurassic World and the newer films. I will though it is on my list of things to do on Shabbat. I find it much more satisfying to read for fun, which is why I have not had the opportunity to watch the films I want to yet. But I will get to it.
But the whole purpose is to learn to control our urges. We have no real control over our impulses if have no desire to limit some of the unproductive things we life. The esotericist will certainly find value in taking control of his/her urges as well of having control over them, then our guilty pleasures are actually more enjoyable when we do them.
“All this sounds good, but I do not think it will help me.”
That is okay! You may not want to embrace the whole lifestyle, perfectly fine. But imagine if you can just shut out the world for 10 minutes a day. There are 24 hours in a day, so if you had 10 minutes to yourself without distractions imagine what you would learn about yourself. We are changing all the time. I am not the same person as I was 5 years ago and neither are you. Therefore, we can change in aspects for the better or for the worse. It helps to look at our qualities and evolution.
I find that in silence (when I am not playing music or listening to the news) that I do a lot of reflection on topics in meditation and prayer I never would have caught. I mostly focus on the mitzvot, loving my neighbors, and loving God. If I am not helping my neighbors then I am not helping the community. If I am not loving God then I am not loving my neighbor. Have my actions made my neighbor’s life easier or harder? Have I tried to give Adonai my best today? Have I let people know that I loved them today? Are my friends okay? Was I negative today? How can I help my neighbor tomorrow? These are a few of the questions I ask myself as I meditate and I try to place them into action. This is very important. These passive activities manifest into active activities. Just 10 minutes on questions like this can make life better.
Most of all the higher secrets of the art are obtained through the more passive activities. Over time the more we do it, the more it reveals. Some things may seem small, and may not shatter the earth, but you see how they can impact the world. You may have some bigger revelations that are useful. But you become a better better and Adonai will reward you with enlightenment through understanding and wisdom.
“But I do not have time.”
Do you not have time or do you not prioritize time? I have seen people spend hours on their phones. I have never seen such a social media crazed society. Gossip sites and channels are profiteering off other people’s drama. Yes, it is fun to some people, it is all addictive. But is any of that really making my life more productive for me, my friends, or my family? Most likely not.
Do you take a shower or bath? I would certainly hope so! These are perfect times to go into a meditation and focus on important questions. As odd as it may sound, you can do this while sitting on the toilet. People have admitted this was relaxation time for them.
Imagine if you only a few minutes at a time were applied? Once again your self-mastery would be more well-suited toward this direction. The occultist would be much closer to God to learn more from the great Teacher himself!
I realize that we all lead busy lives. However, we need a way to block out the noise for the sake of our own sanity sometimes. Do you have to go as far as I do? No. I am very lucky I have the time and lifestyle I do. I am lucky there is an orderly life I have right now. But know that a discipline that allows us to contemplate on life will help all of us grow, no matter how much time we have for it.