Temporary asceticism
May 6, 2008 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of temporary asceticism.

I mean "asceticism" in a loose sense -- any sort of programmatic self-denial will do. By "temporary" I mean that the ascetic regimen is entered into for a limited (though not necessarily pre-defined) time period.

Lent, Ramadan, the monastic tradition in Buddhist Southeast Asia (under which many young men become monks briefly in youth or young adulthood), and a Westerner's retreat at a monastery would all qualify. Links and/or information related to any of those are welcome, and examples need not be religious in nature: I'm interested in hearing about anything that meets my definitions of "temporary" and "asceticism."
posted by Cucurbit to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
LDS missions would seem to qualify; I read a story in the SD Weekly probably a year or so ago about exactly how freaking poor Mormon missionaries are and it really surprised me. I'll see if I can dig up the article.
posted by crinklebat at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2008

The North Indian festival of Karva Chauth involves married women fasting for one day (with no food or water ) to pray for the health and long life of their husbands.
posted by peacheater at 8:43 PM on May 6, 2008

In addition to Lent, Eastern Orthodox Christians fast(abstaining from meat, dairy, oil and alcohol) on a variety of other days. There are four major fasts, and they fast every Wednesday and Friday. The four major fasts are:
Nativity Fast: The 40 days preceding Christmas
Great Lent: The 40 days preceding Easter
Apostles Fast: Varies, between eight and 42 days
Dormition Fast: Two weeks before the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin.

In retrospect, it's kind of hard to call it temporary, it adds up to almost half the year.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:48 PM on May 6, 2008

Probably not what your looking for, but I find air travel to be a temporary hell.. er, I mean asceticism. At least the way I do it. Forced to be uncomfortable for hours, basically immobile, with little to eat and drink and no real control over it. Having to do lots of little things that one is told. And being polite and agreeable about it the whole time.
posted by fleacircus at 8:53 PM on May 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

OK, the SD Weekly isn't actually a paper; I think I meant the Reader. But I can't seem to find the story. I remember that the missionaries he met were living two or three to a one-bedroom apartment in a bad part of San Diego, and that they were mostly eating peanut-butter. He bought them a meal at someplace pretty cheap (Denny's, maybe?) and said that while they were very polite and gracious, they definitely set upon the food like they'd never known nourishment before. He had always assumed that they rode bikes because the church told them to but decided that it was probably because they didn't have enough money to maintain a car.
posted by crinklebat at 8:54 PM on May 6, 2008

Sometimes singers can go for a day or two without speaking. It's more difficult than you might think, and can mean that some activities just can't be attempted.
posted by amtho at 9:17 PM on May 6, 2008

Earth Hour.
posted by sien at 9:56 PM on May 6, 2008

Disciples of many sufi muslim orders, most famously the Naqshbandi, are expected to undergo a period of retreat or seclusion. Also, while the mandatory fasting of Ramadan is a type of asceticism, it is also encouraged to spend a portion of the month secluded in the masjid, especially the last ten days. You could google for suluk/sulook and itikaf/i'itikaf for more. I'll try to come back with links later.
posted by BinGregory at 10:24 PM on May 6, 2008

What you're describing sounds an awful lot like "Walden".
posted by Class Goat at 10:25 PM on May 6, 2008

You can read about ten day vipassana retreats here.

Ten days with no meat, drugs, alcohol, radio, music, TV, reading, or speaking. And thousands of people all over the world have done it.
posted by crazylegs at 1:32 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could classify most forms of pilgrimage as temporary asceticism. The Hajj involves a lot of restrictions, is physically demanding and in the past was hard to get to. The Pada Yatra, an ancient foot pilgrimage in Sri Lanka, would be another example. Pilgrims travel down the east coast of the island on foot, a journey taking weeks to months, depending where you start. While traveling, the pilgrims stay under no man's roof and eat only donated food. Traditionally, it is walked barefoot, though asphalt roads make that unbearable nowadays.
posted by BinGregory at 4:07 AM on May 7, 2008

Following up on suluk/i'itikaf: this book has a pretty detailed description of retreat and seclusion in traditional sufi practice.
posted by BinGregory at 5:26 AM on May 7, 2008

Are there still Catholic Workers? I had a friend in the early 1990s who had been one and it definitely sounded ascetic.

Some people who walk the Camino de Santiago could be considered temporary ascetics. Others are more like walking tourists.
posted by PatoPata at 6:54 AM on May 7, 2008

In addition to during Lent, Catholics are still obliged to abstain from meat or perform some other form of penance during Advent and on Fridays.
posted by J-Train at 7:43 AM on May 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!
posted by Cucurbit at 4:17 PM on May 7, 2008

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