I am ten days into Project Ashram. Some aspects of this project are very challenging, other aspects seems to flow.
The biggest challenge for me is vegetarianism. I only started last weekend and I’ve already unconsciously and deliberately eaten meat and consumed wine. I feel a very strong resistance to this aspect of the project. I’ve been vegetarian in the past and enjoyed it. When factory farmed meat is my only option I choose to eat vegetarian. Many of the reasons given for a vegetarian diet are good ones: less suffering, less environmental impact, limited exposure to antibiotic and other husbandry drugs, etc. But many of those can be more or less reduced or eliminated with organic, sustainable farming and husbandry methods. We are lucky that the meat at the butcher in my pocket of Wales is organic and grass fed from small farms (our butchers raise almost all of their own meat). Some of the health claims of vegetarianism are dubious, though. In May, my husband and I moved more towards a paleolithic style diet. It’s basically like the Atkins diet. I won’t go into all the pros and cons of it, except to say: wow, we have been really impressed with how we feel. Giving up wine and alcohol is a bummer, but not a big deal. However, I am deeply reluctant to go back to vegetarianism. It’s not because I can’t cook that way, or don’t have access to vegetables and grains, or because it’s such a huge shift in my thinking. I am pretty certain it’s because my body has taken a shine to the paleo diet, and it keeps choosing the meat and fish.
Do I stick with vegetarianism, hating it the whole time, because it’s a general rule? With this project I intend to be as ‘full on’ in each tradition as I can be. I know that when I sort out when I can go to the nearby(ish) Hindu temple I will need to abstain from meat for 3 days prior. In three months time I am going to go back to the paleo-style diet. I don’t have the ethical, health or spiritual qualms that yogis and some Hindus have. Won’t hating every moment of an exercise counteract any positive benefit of that act?
The tantric view-point is far less ascetic, preferring to view wholeness, as opposed to renunciation, as the ideal. And yet I recognize that abstention can be a very good thing, particularly in my world of abundance. Perhaps a better sacrifice for me would be to fast periodically. I am going to sit with that.
Clearly, going vegetarian (or not) is my biggest personal challenge. Whether or not I stick to being vegetarian (and I probably won’t, if I’m being honest), I will continue to eschew beef and save wine for celebrations.
The other, less dramatic challenge is getting up in the wee hours of the morning for my devotions. I am naturally a morning person; this helps. But after a night when the baby nurses multiple times or my son has bad dreams or growing pains – oh that 5 am wake up is brutal! This is the struggle of trying to be a holy homemaker! How does one keep the practice going when Life gets in the way?
How I’ve coped is to choose to sleep in. I forfeit asana (yoga postures) and meditation, and just do my devotions (prayers and offerings at the altar). The devotions can be done with children and morning routines in the background. What’s curious is that some mornings, when I’m finding it particularly difficult to get out of bed, my son will call out for me right at 5 or, like this morning, at 4.55, or the baby will need a big nurse at 4.45, finishing just as the alarm is ready to go off. It’s like my children are conspiring to get me out of bed. I actually quite appreciate those moments!
On those mornings when I get the whole practice in I feel so grounded and refreshed. I also get the benefit of a quiet house all to myself. In that hour or thirty minutes or some days only an extra fifteen minutes, I really do feel like I’m in my own ashram.