Out of Body
The limited senses with which we perceive the world do not provide sufficient information to comprehend existence, to understand satisfactorily life’s purpose. Without an extrasensory perception, we continually grope in our ignorance, unable to contemplate ourselves as we truly are.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the [parable of] one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. [Matthew 13:22 ].
We cannot detach ourselves from our reality, therefore, we cannot see ourselves completely. Ascetic practices such as fasting, solitude and renunciation provide a vehicle that impels the mind to think differently about the self, to have an extra-bodily perception, to project thoughts beyond the normal sphere of cognition.
In sacred traditions, asceticism was accomplished for diverse reasons, but all were related to pleasing God and increasing God-consciousness. Fasting and renunciation of physical desires complemented repentance, penance and atonement, and reflected a spiritual longing for the Creator that could not be satisfied by worldly possession or accomplishments.
The single holistic principle that binds together the multiplicity of human motives is the tendency for a new and higher need to emerge as the lower need fulfills itself by being sufficiently gratified [Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being].
Almighty God, has placed a longing spirit within us that seeks to return to the Creator, seeks to find a path to harmony, to peace. This path becomes less and less visible as we focus on momentary satisfaction.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you [Saint Augustine, Confessions].
Asceticism affirms detachment from the physical pleasures of material existence. By detaching ourselves from physical appetites, we profess awareness of a reality distinct from the carnal, mundane, temporal manifestations upon which our mind is wont to focus.
Self-control of physical desires is the enabling of another sense, one that provides a glimpse of our raw appearance, bare of cultural trappings. It opens a door through which we, or part of us, can pass while leaving behind much of the reality that our senses normally perceive. During our retreat from temporal entanglements, we can meditate on how we act when in the world, and reflect on who we are most of the time.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:2].
Distracted by trinkets along the sides of our path, we linger, stray, backtrack and wander in circles. We appease our confusion, our sense of being lost, by satisfying heightened cravings for treats, delicacies and tidbits.
Our hearing is numbed. Our sight is dimmed. Our heart becomes hardened, not from cholesterol, but from starving the spirit. May God forgive us and guide us aright.
Krishna, thou Lord of the senses, though moving amongst the objects of sense, remain unaffected by them. Thou hast indeed shown us the ideal: to live in the world and yet not be of it. [Srimad Bhagavatam 11.1]
Renunciation of physical pleasures is a commitment to something other that current material needs and desires. For this commitment to have meaning, we must have a sacred purpose. A world with more than material significance has to be affirmed.
People beset by desire run here and there, like a snared rabbit, and those trapped in the bonds of attachments keep returning for a long time to suffering. People beset by desire run here and there, like a snared rabbit, so one should get rid of one’s craving if it is freedom from desire that one wants [The Dhammapada, 24:342-3].
When we believe in something greater than what is seen, purer than what is tangible, mightier than what is perceptible, then our search for a transcendent reality has begun. We have entered through doors of the unseen.
A man came to the Prophet [pbuh] and said, “O Messenger of Allah [God], direct me to an act which, if I do it, will cause Allah [God] to love me and people to love me.” He said, “Renounce the world and Allah [God] will love you; renounce what people possess and people will love you.” [Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 31].