Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Natural Asceticism


Spirituality and Body

A Natural Asceticism

Feb 27, 2010

Welcome to OneLife Ministries. This site is designed to lead you prayerfully into a heart experience of Divine Presence, Who is Love. I hope persons of varied wisdom paths will find inspiration here.

Brian Kenneth Wilcox
MDiv, MFT, PhD
Interspiritual Teacher, Author

You are invited to join Brian at his fellowship group on Facebook. The group is OneLife Ministries – A Contemplative Interspiritual Fellowship.

Today’s Story

Socrates believed a wise person would lead a frugal life. He did not even wear shoes. Under the spell of the marketplace, however, he would often go there and view the goods on display. A friend asked him the reason. Socrates said, “I love to go there and discover how many things I am perfectly happy without.”

*Story by Anthony de Mello.

Contemplative Musings

Asceticism. From Greek askesis; exercise, training.

What does not wearing clothes have to do with spiritual training? Well, to the Digambara sect of Jainism, apparently much. The Digambara sect rejects wearing of clothes. What we see as helpful asceticism, or self-denial practice, differs. For example, I once served in The United Methodist Church, and, like its founder John Wesley, fasting is to it an important ascetic practice. Yet, Zoroastrianism forbids fasting. In acesis, diversity reflects differences innate to cultures and peoples and faiths. This is natural and appropriate. No one wisdom path need establish a set of ascetical practice and say such is universal. For example, nothing about fasting from food makes it essential for all wisdom paths. Yet, many persons claim fasting from food is an essential acesis. The ego enjoys universalizing its own ways to bolster itself; so, pride easily creeps in under disguise.

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As we grow more deeply-infused by the Life of Spirit, we become less attached to material things. This is not a mere asceticism, for self-denial, pained and arduous. We are not trying to prove we are more spiritual than others. We are not trying to be holy or spiritual. We are not trying to impress God. This is a natural movement aligned with growing connection with Sacredness. And intentional practices of self-denial, growing naturally out of this experience of Love, create a stronger bond in community and a means of connecting with one's wisdom tradition and its history.

Certainly, asceticism is important in spiritual growth. What is asceticism? Different wisdom paths stress this matter differently. Most, if not all, spiritual paths, state need for a measure of intentional self-denial practice.

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Asceticism entails denial of desires to assist in attaining a spiritual ideal. Included in these intents are ritual purity to come into contact with the Sacred, need for spiritual healing (or atonement), expressing love to the Divine, and a wish to merit or get access to supernatural powers. Ascetic practices include rejecting worldly goods and engaging forms of spiritual practice of self-denial, including refraining from sex (or celibacy), periods of silence, living simply, fasting, obedience to one's spiritual authorities, meditation retreats, dietary regulations, ...

More broadly, asceticism can be any act of self-denial, any movement away from the material to the non-material. Simply spending time in daily prayers and meditations is an asceticism, for in this you are denying engagement with others and usual activities to nurture the ideal of communion with Spirit and spiritual evolution. Attending a worship gathering is an asceticism, and you are saying, “While others engage in pleasurable, popular activities (from going to the beach to reading the newspaper), I'm going to devote a withdrawal-time from that to honor the Sacred with others.”

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Yet, the danger of asceticism is the potential for it to become extreme and another validation of the ego-self. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche warned of religion and spirituality being a means of affirming the ego.

Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego's attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and, second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seemingly solid and cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative way of life. When we have learned all the tricks and answers of the spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, … Ego translates everything in terms of its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a sense of great accomplishment and excitement at having been able to create such a pattern. At last it has created a tangible accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.

*Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

So,here is the prime temptation of self-denial as spiritual practice. The ego-sense will gladly grab onto spirituality in a subtle, twisted effort to validate and enhance its self-sense through the very means that are meant to transform the ego-sense into the Divine-likeness. Even the aspirations for spiritual enlightenment and a heaven can be a very selfish pursuit. Meditation halls, synagogues, ashrams, mosques, and churches are as apt to be hidings for ego-glorification as any bar in the land.

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In working with a person who had gotten into meditation, he informed me of seeking to deny the ego. A means he was doing this was through not speaking the word “I.” He told me of this. I said, “The aim of spiritual practice is not the annihilation of the self, but the transformation of the self.”

So, see, all self-denial is a denial only to make room for the transformation of the process of self-centeredness, which is based on a sense of an individual-separate I-ness, into an I-ness with awareness of connection with the Divine and others. Healthy asceticism is not to glorify the ego-sense, but utilize the ego-sense in its own translation into a connective-self.

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Therefore, I encourage a natural asceticism. That is, a self-denial that is naturally in agreement with one's relationship with the Divine, not a forced or extreme denial in any sense. Here, as in all things, moderation is important. Self-indulgence and extreme self-denial or each most likely to be ego-drives seeking to utilize spiritual gymnastics to validate and glorify itself. This is an inverted form of humbleness, and is really prideful. So, be discerning, be natural, and seek spiritual discernment in all the means of religious and spiritual practice, not least in denial practices.

Spiritual Exercise

What do you see as the over-all purpose of asceticism for you? What are forms of self-denial you practice in your spiritual Path? How do you see these as helpful? Could they become harmful to your spiritual growth? Explain. Have you tried any practices of self-denial that seemed not to help you? Which ones? Is there an ascetic practice you have not tried, but would like to?

©Brian Wilcox, and OneLife Ministries. 02/27/2010

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*OneLife Ministries is a ministry of Brian Kenneth Wilcox, SW Florida. Brian lives a vowed life and with his two dogs, Bandit Ty and St. Francis.

*Brian welcomes responses to his writings at briankwilcox@yahoo.com . Also, Brian is on Facebook: search Brian Kenneth Wilcox.

*You can order his book An Ache for Union from major booksellers.


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