Life as Ascesis

You’ll perhaps be disappointed with my response, but I don’t think the answer to your question is significantly different from the answer one would give to anyone who is struggling to rise above the demands, the aches, and the pains of the body or the ups-and-downs of fluctuating moods.

In other words, it doesn’t seem to me there is, or could be, some specific spiritual recipe for dealing with the periodic anxieties you describe. Whenever we’re ill, or injured, or depressed, or experiencing the struggles of aging, or in any other way suffering, whether physically or emotionally, there is seldom any simple solution. Overcoming the ego’s resentments and fears at such times requires patience, objectivity, a sense of proportion, a readiness in asking forgiveness from those we may have wronged, and a persistence in prayer, in which we beseech God to give us the strength to conquer our negative feelings.

Life is a kind of ascesis for everyone, whether man or woman, young or old, sickly or healthy, rich or poor. Everyone has phases of life, days of the month, or hours of the day that are harder than others to focus and overcome worldly trials, aches, and pains. You should try not to be discouraged, and you should certainly avoid the temptation of comparing your own particular brand of ascesis with that of other people.

And whatever you do, don’t think all your efforts during the times of calm are reduced to nothing simply because of a few bad days. Whether you realize it or not, the rhythm of your prayers is affecting you at a very deep level, changing you (though perhaps only very gradually) for the better. As for the periods when you simply can’t pray at all in a concentrated way because of the feelings of panic, it’s been said that when we’re very ill “the angels pray for us”.

Leave a Reply