Varying degrees of asceticism are often on my mind. Though I closely relate to the spirit of many of the commitments made by my co-religionists, I can’t say that I’ve personally made all that many formal commitments, or or dedicated myself to a certain mode of behavior. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of any practice I’ve taken up upon saying, “This is a thing I’m promising to do”. More often, it’s been that I formalize some kind of relationship and then figure out what things either promote the health of that relationship or detract from it.
Though I would never describe myself as a pagan monastic, I have much in common with those who do. I’ve adopted a particular diet as a result of my religious path and the choices I made each day reaffirm some of my most important connections (specifically those with the plants). I dress in a particular manner; though it’s not all that remarkable (and perhaps that’s part of the point), it’s still reflective of a particular aspect of my work and my identity as a spirit worker. Though I’m rather firmly beneath the poverty line, my frugal lifestyle (excepting perfumes, of course) is materially and spiritually necessary; simplicity lets me focus on what’s most important to me and having a few dollars left over for donations and for book purchases is important (I plan to leave a book legacy to a pagan library when I die; I buy books with the very specific intention that others will be able to benefit from them). Perhaps most notably, my interpersonal relationships are as non-sexual as I can make them.
None of these things are vows; they are choices, little pillars of decision that support what is most meaningful in my life. There are times when I make contrary decisions. I suffer guilt and personal dissatisfaction not because I went back on something I promised, but because I know that these are things that keep me happy, spiritually fulfilled, stable, and safe. There are times when I’ve mistakenly been contrary to these guidelines; buying a domain name was not a frugal decision nor one that simplified my life. I had hoped it would. Occasionally I’ve compromised on these things because of a circumstance where I thought things would simply be easier than arguing or where the personal discomfort associated with contrary action was less than that associated with sticking to my principles (you might scoff, but how much trouble are you willing to cause at your sister’s wedding?). There have even been moments, at least one, where the choice was taken from me and made by someone else. Rightly or wrongly, I still blame myself in part.
Some (non-pagan) renunciants I’ve known talk about living simply. The simple life is one that requires little upkeep in order to function; the extra time is devoted to spiritual pursuits and service. Owning few possessions means less effort is required to maintain them. Eating simply means being satisfied more easily. In many ways I agree with this and share a desire for a simple life. That said, precisely what is simple in my case? For reasons of ability, a car is the preferable mode of transportation on many days, though I walk to the bus stop nearly every day to go to work and try to use low-impact transportation strategies as much as I can. I have a PlayStation because someone gave it to me. I have a bunch of pills and other medical paraphernalia. I have beads and yarn and book making supplies and sewing stuff and jewelry stuff because being an artist makes me a (sometimes very) small amount of income each year; I have to have the right tools for the job. Spirit work is also rather notorious for being tool-heavy. I’ve managed to consolidate a lot of these items into certain places in my apartment but there’s not one room (except maybe the bathroom??) without some measure of spirit work nonsense hanging around.
I’ve decided that instead of aiming for some poorly defined simple life, I’d aim for a simpler life. Looking for a simpler method is good; discovering satisfaction in plainer forms is good. Though I still rather stand by the goal that I voiced upon moving to a lovely apartment with tangerine walls – that I wanted to be surrounded with beauty – there are simple ways of achieving this goal.
There’s much I need to improve on. I tend to hang on to objects even when they’re not useful out of some anxiety that I’ll perhaps need them someday (I will not). I tend to accept objects given to me simply because I worry that unless I take them, they’ll just be thrown away (even if I end up having to do the chore). I can be sentimental about objects that have no sentimental value (“But I’ve had those scissors FOREVER!”). I struggle with acquisitiveness for its own sake. I have no doubt I overcomplicate the food issue when a turkey sandwich is, in many ways, simpler. I wear things that are contrary to my convictions because I’m tired of fighting. I push away friendships and communities that I assume will have no acceptance of more than a decade of religious celibacy. I withdraw from engagements that might end up positively if I just stick it out. I accept a lot of complication because I’m unwilling to fight anymore.
Seeking a simpler life has been an unrelentingly positive tendency. It has delivered riches that I can’t enumerate, let alone name. My life is better this way; I am better this way. But simplicity has its costs and its compromises and plenty of complications. I hope that I will continue to seek ever greater refinement in this pursuit.
2 thoughts on “A Simple(r) Life”
This was a thought-provoking read. I’ve spent years trying to find my own balance with trying to live as simply as possible (without inadvertently making my life more complicated in the course of my attempts to simplify it) so that I can devote as much time as possible to my spiritual life and artistic pursuits. My hope is to leave behind a hermitage when I die, and bequeath it for the use of other Pagans. So all of my Work is done with that long-term goal in mind.
I am particularly fascinated by discussions of religious celibacy – and lack thereof – with respect to Paganism. I’d like to think there is plenty of room for both. I do identify as a Pagan monastic, though occasionally I use something like “solitary mystic with monastic inclinations” or “would-be religious hermit” depending on context. Though I have never felt that celibacy is supposed to be part of my religious vows as such, I did make a vow of sorts after my last relationship ended in 2013: at long last, I turned over my romantic life entirely to the gods and spirits I serve. I prayed fervently, told Them I was finished with polyamory, online dating, “friends with benefits” and every possible variation on those themes, and most especially finished with unrequited crushes. I told Them I wanted no part of any of that anymore, and asked Them to help me be free of it. My heart had been broken too many times and I was fed up with being treated like a commodity – and that is something that can happen in very subtle ways that are hard to escape in our culture, even with the best of intentions. I decided I was only interested in committed, long-term, consciously chosen monogamy. If that wasn’t on Their agenda for me, then I would simply accept celibacy, even if that meant I’d never again have a mortal lover. If They wanted a romantic partner for me, I would trust Them to bring that person into my world somehow.
That has not happened, so I’ve been celibate ever since. I wouldn’t exactly call my celibacy a choice, because I’d like to be in a happy long-term relationship, and I think it could be compatible with my spiritual practice. But I’m quite happy with my life as it is, too, and that’s a hard-won victory after a devastating divorce, so I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest.
I’m with you about being surrounded by beauty. The ascetic path is not mine, though I can see its value for some. I have sometimes felt drawn to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries because of the opulence and beauty with which their temple spaces are decorated and their sacred dances are conducted. One of my goals is to find a long-term way to live such that I have sufficient time and energy to bring as much beauty as I can into the world.
Anyway, thanks for these thoughts. I could go on, but I’d better get some work done now. 🙂
There’s much about an ascetic life that appeals to me, though I know that it’s not necessarily easier for its apparent simplicity. No doubt this life will feed this soul’s trajectory towards that eventual end, heh.
My own celibacy has been less a denial of sex and more a deprioritization of its role in my life; over time it’s fallen to one of the very lowest rungs of my list of personal priorities. Though I find a lot in common with people who identify as asexual, I’m not necessarily oriented that way. Over time I’ve become comfortable with the fact that the act of and desire for sex doesn’t lead me to satisfaction or fulfillment – and pleasure without subsequent satisfaction or fulfillment isn’t appealing.
I feel strongly motivated to share beauty and pleasure and cultivate these qualities in the world so others can enjoy them. I haven’t really developed a coherent plan to achieve this; I just kinda flail at it and hope that things like writing and bookmaking are a reasonable start. I also really like giving, so I try to do a bit of that every month, too; supporting people who are already doing something I find admirable is part of the promotion of pleasure and compassion. Plus I get to help kitties. 🙂