Everyday asceticism

Really? Monks in everyday life? Yeah well, maybe so.

Living an invisible ascetic life

What does it look like to bring monastic traditions into everyday life?

One way to answer this question is to say that it can look completely normal.

For me, there is nothing in my ‘real-job work life’ to provide even the remotest hint of things like monasteries or disciplines. There is nothing to suggest that I follow a spiritual path, or that I do or don’t have religious leanings, or that I have some kind of vision or insight for which I’m carrying a torch. Unless someone stumbled upon this website, I don’t exhibit even the slightest hint of spirit-questness nor the smallest glimpse of a martial arts background.

That’s not true for everyone leading a ‘monk-in-everyday-life’ existence. For example, some people volunteer to help the homeless, or they work in social health positions that make their interests apparent. Some people talk causally and openly about their practices of meditation or yoga or spiritual retreats. Which is all completely fine, of course. But I won’t speak for any of those people; I’ll just speak for how a guy like me fits it in.

The Behind-the-Scenes Fitting Room

Life is like an iceberg: we usually don’t see the stuff beneath the surface.

It’s like trying on new clothes… everyone sees the new outfit the next day, but they have no idea how much time you spent shopping and trying on outfits.

Most of how people experience each other is, figuratively speaking, through that box in the illustration titled “Interactions.”

We rarely encounter much beyond what’s in front of us. And in today’s hurry-up world, there’s precious little time in our lives to peer into someone else’s ‘fitting room.’

While all that other stuff is rarely seen by others, it’s there. It’s the behind-the-scenes work, training, study and practices that contain the practices which can help us develop and improve.

I’m not sure how many of us have these kinds of quiet practices or disciplines. I know for many people their disciplines center around things like keeping physically fit, including strict workout or gym routines. Or getting the kids off to school and the laundry done. That’s discipline. Or maybe it’s the insistence by parents that the family attends mass or temple once a week. From my point of view, each of these examples can be seen as a form of monastic discipline.

That being said, I’m going to suggest that for people who might be comfortable with the idea of being some kind of monk or nun in everyday life, that their daily practices and disciplines typically have a different flavor. They may still go to the gym or to church, but there are other things happening in the changing room that most of us don’t see.

My personal ‘Daily Practices’ are not the legendary stuff of monks and nuns. I’m neither depriving myself of conversation nor being so withdrawn as to be isolated behind gates that no one is allowed to penetrate.

Rather, for me, it’s everyday life stuff because that’s where I am. It’s in the everyday life stuff that I apply all my behind-the-scenes study and work. In other words, I do my studies and behind-the-scene practices, and then I apply my self-improvement though my Interactions. And I try to do that seamlessly, invisibly, not drawing attention to it. I don’t want people seeing my practices, and I don’t want to draw attention to my resulting actions. That’s because I want it to be natural because it’s become natural.

To be clear, I’m not promoting my approach as the approach. That’s not my style. But I deeply believe that the best place to practice is in everyday life applications.

Everyday life applications

I’ve related previously how my sensei had once told me that I should learn how to meditate in everyday life. Well, what I’m describing is one way of doing that. But here’s another example:

I took several Reiki courses many years ago. Got my certifications. My classmates included massage therapists. Most of them incorporated the benign ‘hands-on’ Reiki techniques into their therapies. I decided on a different tact. For one, I had no interest in being some kind of literal hands-on healer. Secondly, I had a different take on what hands-on meant. For me, hands-on healing was a concept I could apply through my Interactions.

Reiki is a subtle practice, focused on the subtle energy called Ki. I figured there were a lot of things in my life that could benefit from subtle healing energy. Perhaps my relationships. Or what about tough meetings? Wasn’t there a great opportunity during aggressive, in-your-face confrontations to bring about subtle improvements?

Or, what about work flow and project inefficiencies? Weren’t there endless opportunities to use a more advanced form of Reiki to smooth out the wrinkles, to rebalance work approaches and problems, to bring about a healing of construction project conflicts and inefficiencies?

How it looks

It doesn’t.

At least not for me. Because my spin on being a so-called monk in everyday life doesn’t show. At all. I don’t walk around with robes and sandals. My work is unseen, and generally uncredited.

But being in a monastery, however informal or obscure it is, does accomplish several meaningful things for me.

  • A monastery provides a place to meet some like-minded people. For me, that’s a great benefit. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
  • A monastery is a great place for contemplatives. But see? You tell me what that word or concept means to you. Because a monk or nun of everyday life sets their own definitions, the ones that fit their own life and interactions.
  • The monastery helps keep me focused on some goals or objectives that people might characterize as Life Purpose. I don’t need a monastery to do that, but it’s undoubtedly an enhancement.
  • The monastery gives me a place to organize writings. Mostly mine at this point, but a monastery can also support others. In the case of The Little Creek Monastery, we have been supporting the written work of Great River Institute since 2009, which I hope to grow. And perhaps we may start doing that with others, as well. But we’d need some more ‘scribes’ (editors) and contributors.

Re-defining asceticism

My spin on an updated concept of asceticism generally doesn’t resemble traditional practices other than sharing the primary focus of most traditional monasteries: inner transformation. I’m not out waving my monk’s staff or knocking on doors for a beggar’s donation. But regarding inner transformation, I’m your guy, an average, everyday guy who happens to be deeply committed to the mysterious inner journey.

How do you integrate your practices into everyday life? Please share in the comments, or send us an essay or a brief message.