In its broadest meaning, asceticism refers to the method of work needed to reach a specific goal. In the context of our understanding of spiritual life, we use the word asceticism to describe the method we embrace to expand our state of consciousness.
We call this method the Asceticism of Renouncement. We call it renouncement because we need to renounce to our acquired personality2 to be able to transcend it; otherwise, we would only make it stronger. We also say that the work of unfolding is renouncement because that is what life is: continual renouncement, even though we aren't always conscious that we renounce every single moment of our lives.
Although it is obvious that nothing in life is permanent, we don't always relate this condition to the fact that life makes us renounce continuously. Happy moments are so fleeting that we have barely begun to enjoy them when they turn into memories, also fleeting. Nor will we always have our material possessions, and this makes us uneasy. On the one hand we like to think we will have our things indefinitely; on the other we vehemently defend them because deep down we know nothing lasts forever. And not only will we be unable to keep our possessions, but we even have to try hard to remember what we have lived; we actually only retain very small instances that stand out in a continuous past.
Time, that great fabric of which life is made and which seems eternal, belongs to us only in the present moment.
What we've already lived is behind us, no matter how much we want to hold onto it. Whatever experiences we live now soon become part of our past. And, in the present moment, the future is no more than the expectations we have, and those seldom turn out as we hope.
Even though it is obvious that we are only passing through life, we usually live in denial. We fail to recognize that every step we take is simply one small step after another; each one so small it could never be grasped. But if we dared to face our state of continuous renouncement, and we wholeheartedly accepted this renouncement as our experience of time, we would achieve the inner freedom necessary to continue the expansion of our consciousness.
This is what the Asceticism of Renouncement is all about: through it we can unfold our highest aspirations and expand our consciousness toward the divine. In traditional spiritual terms, we say that the Asceticism of Renouncement leads us towards the union of our consciousness with universal consciousness. Throughout the process of this expansion, we experience different states of union, depending on the context we place ourselves in. In traditional spiritual terms, we refer to these as mystical states. (Mysticism will be further explained in the chapter on The Mysticism of the Heart.)
The Asceticism of Renouncement includes all the areas of our life. We could go into a lot of detail about this because, in one way or another, spontaneously or imposed, we have been renouncing all our lives. Ever since childhood we have learned to renounce: we are taught that we cannot say nor do whatever we want. We have to renounce to following our impulses in order to behave according to the expectations around us. Circumstances often lead us to give up what we like, and sometimes we renounce out of prudence. Whenever we make a commitment, we renounce the freedom we had before the commitment. In everyday life, some recommendations might seem like renouncements to some people; for others, they are simply healthy habits or common sense: for example, not seeking immediate gratification, or living within a budget.
But in this book we will not go into so much detail. We will describe only some aspects of this asceticism, paying special attention to our relationship with ourselves, our surroundings, and the divine.
1. This article is the second chapter of the Cafh course Spiritual Life. To see the first chapter, also published in Seeds, click here. The entire course is available as a free eBook on the Cafh website. Follow this link
2. Acquired personality: our identity, our way of thinking and feeling that is a product of our times and place and the habits we have picked up.