The ancient disciplines of silence, solitude, and fasting have been, and remain today, a constant in many faith practices and belief systems spanning continents and cultures. Why is that, and what can be gained by the practice of intentional self-denial?
We’ve all heard how important it is to learn to say “no” to the ever-growing list of distractions and external demands on our time and energy to stay productive; and we have all been on one kind of diet or another. In this episode, however, we will look at how the importance of learning to say “no” to yourself might actually go far beyond productivity and nutrition. We do this by talking to an “expert” on the subject: Justin Marler, a former monk who ditched a lucrative record contract as a punk rock musician to instead dedicate the next 7-years of his life to the daily practices of extreme self-denial in two Eastern Orthodox monasteries (one of which was on a remote, sparsely populated Alaskan island). That’s just the beginning of a remarkable story that continues to play itself out today in how Justin and his wife Nova view their family’s personal and professional priorities, and continue to selflessly pour into others.
Whether for spiritual, philosophical, or practical purposes, the process of self-denial remains a time-honored and universally recognized way of connecting with something deeper within. We see this in the context of the Stoic’s intentional practice of poverty (as endorsed by the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca and his Greek counterpart Epicurus), with modern day minimalists who, often without any faith-driven intentions simply choose to do without, and of course with spiritually motivated asceticism adopted by monks in the dedication of their lives to faith (whether Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnava, or Christianity).
Although this podcast will not always discuss religion and faith, we certainly don’t avoid it. I’m personally a follower of Christ, and so is today’s guest. That said, I am always seeking to gain perspective by learning about people and practices from diverse backgrounds, and I would encourage my listeners to do the same. There’s a lot to be gained from Justin’s story for anyone who wants to choose to live more humanely in our modern tech-infused society.
In this episode, we discuss:
What it’s actually like to live as a monk in a monastery
The spiritual connection of the mind, heart, and will
The distinctions between Eastern and Western views on suffering
The similarities between the teachings of Christianity and the rebellion of punk culture
Contrasts between the early Christian church and that of today
Prayer as a “state,” and how that relates to the practice of meditation
Why monasteries are sometimes referred to as hospitals
The benefits of being surrounding by nature
The necessity of “rejection” for a purpose (rather than despair)
How spiritual disciplines can help us become more self-aware
The purpose and benefits of fasting as a practical method of self-denial
I hope you enjoy this show as look into the purpose in the process of self-denial!
Links and More Information on this Topic:
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch, the book that brought Justin and I together during an impromptu conversation about the need for solitude, especially when surrounded by our tech-infused modern lifestyle.
Justin’s Hymns for the Apocalypse music project, along with fellow musicians Jim Watson and Tony D’amato, launched with the mission of raising awareness and funds for the millions of people of all faiths and backgrounds worldwide who are suffering in extreme circumstances due to war and persecution. 100% of proceeds go directly to those in need.
Justin’s own site dedicated to, as he puts it: “the practice of warring with ones deficiencies, faults, sins and passions in order to restore ones life and relationship with God” by looking at the virtue and prayer of “early Christian monks, mystics, theologians and saints as preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Church for over 2,000 years.” This is a well-designed and easily navigated site which has a wealth of information and resources on the subjects discussed.
The monastery in Alaska where Justin spent some of his time in solitude.
The (now online) Death to the World - The Last True Rebellion ‘zine originally started by Marler in his early days as a monk, as the website explains: “a ‘zine to inspire the truth-seeking and soul searching amidst the modern age of nihilism and despair, promoting the ancient principles of the last true rebellion: to be dead to this world and alive to the other world.” Very interesting articles, as well as a shout-out to its co-founder and the publication’s now 21-year history on the about/history page.
I once again made mention of Dr. Madeline Levine’s eye-opening book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Dr. Levine is a well-known clinical psychologist who writes about the epidemic of emotional dysfunction of modern American youth contributed to by the intrusive parenting practices that inhibit healthy self-development. I mention her work in other episodes as well (I hope I get to interview Dr. Levine at some point in the near future!).
Other bands and acts mentioned during the show were Sleep, The Sabians, and Om (with Marler’s former Sleep bandmate Al Cisneros). As the current projects Justin spoke about get released, we’ll be sure to update the show notes here with additional links.
I hope you enjoyed the show! You can sign-up to learn first about upcoming guests, special shows, and inside news by entering your email address in the form below. Don’t forget to subscribe by clicking the links below, share with your friends, and spread the news - thanks!!