I first came across the term “Monk Mode” from a friend and fellow 31DtM graduate, Tex, years ago. It was, for me, a way of organizing my thoughts and behaviors and reasons for changing both. I needed to change at the time. That’s not to say that I don’t still have problems I’m working on, because I do, but back then I was clinging to the cliff face in utter darkness with the yawning abyss falling away below me, calling me to just let go of my precarious holds, to give up on my fight. Now, I’ve found my way out of that chasm and my feet are on solid ground, though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that cliff’s edge was only a few short feet from me.
Monk Mode was a way for me to say no to some of the instant gratification I so often sought. I could say, “No, I’m in Monk Mode right now. I need to focus.” It helped quite a lot. But that phrase in and of itself is just a tool. It can help in the moment of temptation to get you through it, but eventually it grows stale without some kind of long-term commitment.
And that’s what it has become for me. It is now a way of saying that I’m committed to various methods of self-improvement and discipline. Some call my methods extreme, but I call them necessary and ultimately enjoyable. Monk Mode, now, is my modern way of saying I’m holding to a sort of vow of asceticism. A lot of people simply don’t understand what asceticism is, though, but the term “Monk Mode” is easily understood by most and so it helps to explain what I’m doing when people ask – and they do ask a lot once they hear about it.
Before I dive into what that means in my life, though, I want to go over why I think Monk Mode is vital and helpful to me and why it can be to many others if only they’re willing to discard the idea that they must do what “the crowd” is doing if they want to be successful. Often enough, following the crowd will take you down the path of least resistance, but that path almost never leads in the right direction. So, let me lay the foundation.
I came across this term recently, which is helpful when thinking about why people want to follow the crowd. Acquisitiveness is the excessive desire to obtain wealth and material objects. It’s the impulse to buy stuff we don’t need simply so that we have it. I can’t honestly say I’ve never purchased anything because of that looming feeling of “I can’t live without it because everyone else has it.” The fear of missing out (FOMO) is behind a lot of wasted money.
People want to feel like they belong in the world with others. Buying things that others have makes us feel like we belong, that we’re doing the right thing because that’s what everyone else is doing, and everyone else can’t be wrong, right? People are discontent. We feel separated from others. No one else can experience our inner world, and we can’t experience anyone else’s. We’re all in this world together, but we’re also each in our own individual worlds, alone.
So, we do things that others are doing, in large part because it makes us feel connected to them. What many don’t see, and don’t even think to ponder, is…
- We aren’t actually alone in our inner worlds
- Following the crowd doesn’t connect us to them
Many people don’t believe in God, or any higher power at all, and I would be lying if I said I’ve never envied them in times of doubt. But then I remember that these people exist in a kind of self-imposed inner loneliness that they will not overcome as long as they stick with an atheistic worldview. I think there is more than enough evidence to be able to reasonably believe in God, and so I do. And God, the Creator of all things, isn’t cut off from the minds of His creations. He exists in every place and every time in existence. He knows your inner pains and struggles and has felt them Himself. He isn’t far away. Believing in God allows me and a great many others to not have to feel that numbing loneliness that so often bears down on those who don’t know Him.
As for number two, following the crowd does not connect you to them in any real way. It makes you feel connected, but feeling and reality are two completely separate things. Doing what they are doing is a never ending cycle that never leads to fulfillment. It will lead to temporary gratification, but eternally seeking the next dopamine high is no way to live.
I’m writing these things because there is a tendency, and there has been for a very, very long time, to follow the latest fads and get the latest stuff because deep down people are hoping that enough of it will lead them to true happiness. But that’s not how it works. No amount of trend is going to save you.
The Natural Law (or, the Rule about Right and Wrong)
“Each man is at every moment subjected to several different sets of law but there is only one of these which he is free to disobey. As a body, he is subjected to gravitation and cannot disobey it; if you leave him unsupported in mid-air, he has no more choice about falling than a stone has. As an organism, he is subjected to various biological laws which he cannot disobey any more than an animal can. That is, he cannot disobey those laws which he shares with other things; but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses.” -CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (emphasis mine)
I think we’re all aware of the objective morality which exists in this world. Many will argue that morality is only subjective, but I disagree. The taking of innocent life is wrong no matter who does it or in which time period. I will paraphrase CS Lewis when I say that some, just as they may get their multiplication tables wrong, are incorrect about what is morally right or wrong, and yet both mathematics and morality are objective anyway. And I think we can all agree that the morality of an action isn’t decided simply by who is doing the acting. To say a think is moral for them and not for other people is ridiculous. Human sacrifice, even though it is part of a culture, is still evil regardless of whether or not that culture deems it as such.
It is the Rule of Right and Wrong, or the Natural Law, as it was once called, that we can disobey, though. God given free will allows us to chose for ourselves how we will act. But so many of us give up that divine right to popular culture. Once again, we allow the crowd to decide for us how we will act rather than Truth. We will look for every argument in favor of our actions, too, simply so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just a follower, and vehemently defend our actions as though group think could ever be a moral enterprise in and of itself, all the while denying that we’re taking part in it.
I’m not attempting to say that you should never do anything anyone else is doing ever. I’m simply saying that we too often choose how to act based on what is popular rather than what is moral or helpful long-term in our own lives. Instant gratification and ease of decision making are killers.
Before I go further, I want to define asceticism more clearly for you. The following is from an article which you can read by clicking the link:
“Asceticism (from Greek: askesis – practice, training or exercise) describes a system of spiritual practices designed to encourage interior vigilance so as to combat vices and develop virtues by means of self discipline and self knowledge in the context of seeking God. Its chief preoccupation is the desire to master the lower nature and gain freedom from the disordered passions through renunciation of the world and the flesh as part of the great struggle against the devil.”
So, why does all that matter here? Because Monk Mode, modern asceticism (BTW I’m not approving of or affiliated with any organizations here), removes so much of the fluff. It turns from what others are saying and seeks Truth rather than conformity. It keeps me on the path of renewing my mind rather than falling back into following the pattern of the world.
“Do not conform 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
No, I’m not going to live in a monastery in the Himalayan Mountains despite the awesome photo at the top of this post, and it doesn’t involve any of that self-harm stuff, but I am going Monk Mode in my life as I live it now. That’s something everyone can do. It doesn’t require immediate, drastically life altering changes. In fact it’s a journey that should be taken one step at a time. Monk Mode is a filter through which one may view the world and their choices. It is a commitment to doing things not for pleasure or for approval from others, but for Truth and rightness.
So what does this mean in my life? It means that I’ve given up some stuff, which has helped me in overcoming other things. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t eat animal products. I don’t eat excessive amounts of processed foods. I don’t watch pornography. I spend far less time in front of a television than I once did. I spend a lot more time producing, writing, than I once did. I wake at 4am to workout and then write rather than sleeping in and losing valuable time. I spend more time learning, reading books which bring value, knowledge, and wisdom into my life. I save money rather than spend it frivolously. I’m working on speaking in a manner which God would be proud of.
I thought of just doing this in list format, but that seem too formal to me. It’s not about a list of rules to follow, but more of a spiritual journey I’ve decided to embark upon that doesn’t conflict with my faith in Christ. In fact there have been a great many ascetic Christians throughout history. You could say that devout followers of Judaism hold to some level of asceticism in abstaining from those things prohibited by Torah. Ultimately, it’s just about that path that’s necessary for me. I don’t know that this is the path for everyone, but I do think if it is then you’ll know as you read this.
Things commonly associated with ancient ascetic and monastic orders that I am not taking part in are poverty, celibacy and self-flagellation, which was previously mentioned. I have a family to provide for, and there is nothing honorable about leaving them to fend for themselves. Not gonna do it. And, I’m married to a very beautiful woman and the last thing I want is to do away with the God given gift of sex within the covenant of marriage. Not happening. Also, I’m not going to harm my body to atone for sin. Jesus took paid the cost for my redemption, as well as that of everyone else. Nothing I do will ever be enough to pay Him back for that, and it seems to me that harming oneself as a means of atonement is telling God that His sacrifice wasn’t enough for your sin. I’m not doing that.
I’m far from perfect. I miss the mark more often than I’d like, but that’s part of growth. I’m not claiming to be an ascetic on the level of those who dedicate their entire life to it, either. In fact, many may say you can’t claim to be any level of ascetic without taking part in the three things I listed above which I’m not taking part in, but I don’t mind. I’m doing what I want to do and that’s what I’m calling it. For me, abstention from some things is a way of maintaining discipline over everything else. I think there are many men and women who could benefit from living this way. It’s difficult at times, though. Some days are worse than others. But the benefits, long-term and short-term, outweigh the loss of instant gratification.
I still watch movies with the family, still enjoy some zombie slaying action on the big screen sometimes, still love salt & vinegar chips, still have an occasional sweet coffee from Seven Brew… I still do what I want to do, and relax plenty, I’m just no longer giving control over my choices to other things. I’ve written it several times before and I’ll share again here that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. God desires that we be in control of our decisions. Addictions of any kind take our free choice away, meaning that we aren’t in control of ourselves.
Proverbs 25:26-28 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep. Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”
Self-control, discipline, is a worthy pursuit that gives us the ability to exert the most amount influence over our own lives and choices. There is nothing outside of ourselves that we can control, yet most try to control external circumstances without a thought for controlling themselves.
That is why I have made the choices I’ve made, and is the main reason why I’m abstaining from those things which I am abstaining from. I won’t bow to the whims of my flesh, only to God. At this point I don’t think any more extreme measures are required. However, should I come upon that bridge, I’ll worry about crossing it then, not now. Now I’m going to focus on now, and leave tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow.
I think that’s all I’ve got to say about this for now. Questions? Drop them below.
Until next time,