I would like to start by discussing the dangers of asceticism. The practice of asceticism has been preached by many of the spiritual masters who gave rise to the great religions of the modern age. According to Wikipedia, asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. This practice often involves abandoning one’s worldly possessions and pleasures in pursuit of enlightenment. The seeker of spiritual knowledge may resort to fasting for weeks at a time in seclusion to prove his worth to his chosen god. Certain religions encourage their followers to engage in this behavior. I can only say that this practice is unnecessary and is opposite of what one should be doing in pursuit of illumination. |
Whether we are talking about self-denial of worldly possessions or extended seclusion for the purpose of gaining enlightenment, asceticism is not conducive to personal growth and development. First and foremost, we are social beings. We are meant to hold relationships. Cutting our selves off from the rest of the world to seek God is unhealthy. Humans are experience life to it's fullest. This includes it's pleasures as well (within reason and moderation). As I have said in other articles, we learn from our experiences. We bring these experiences with us when we die. In fact, it is all we bring with us. We cannot fulfill our mission(s) if we do not participate in this process. There will be no challenges for us to overcome. When your life review is presented to you at death, a question will enter your mind, “What have you done with your life”? This may be your own thought, nonetheless; you will only be able to reply back to the voice, “This is the life I created”. Do you want to feel that you have come back empty handed, or do you want to be able to say that you took every opportunity to improve your character? Improvement is part of the learning process. All of this is key to the meaning of life.
This world is a gift. It makes no sense to turn our backs on it. Many of our pleasures have been built into the human experience, to give us an incentive to do the things we need to do. Things like food and sex serve a vital purpose. Fasting and vows of chastity are generally unnecessary and do us more harm than good. These biological drives are not exclusive to asceticism practices. Neither is the practice of prolonged seclusion. However, my discussion applies to these as well.
Part of the attraction of physical reality is the many exciting and rich experiences offered here. When we take advantage of our full senses, the world appears as a symphony or a brilliant play. If you don’t like those things, think of something breathtaking. That’s what we are given the chance to experience. We should not take ourselves away from these things in order to get closer to God. That is not what God would want for us. We are meant to be in the world. Not apart from it.
On the other hand, a brief period of seclusion is healthy. It’s good to get away from the world for a short time to recharge your batteries. A walk in the woods or a hike in the mountains can do wonders. If you don’t like hiking that’s fine. You can sit in a quiet park and take in the sights and sounds. If that isn’t possible, you can find a quiet place to meditate for a half hour every day. That’s what I do. You can even put light background music on. I don’t suggest heavy metal. What ever relaxes you is what you should do. Please stay away from illegal drugs. That’s not the right way to relax. Even when it’s done in seclusion. I’m not trying to be a kill-joy. It’s just that I know some people will use the ideas in this article as a way of justifying their addictions.
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