The "rich people pretending to be poor" trend continues in a NYT report on ashrams. Remember how Marie Antoinette went without new dresses because of France's massive war debt? This is sort of like that.

People want to scale back and live "the simple life" in what are basically scaled-down spas in upstate New York.

The three dozen participants started out with two half-hour Buddhist meditation sessions before dawn. They then spent the next two hours doing what’s called work practice, which consisted of scrubbing toilets and raking leaves, all in silence. An afternoon of instruction on the essentials of Buddhism led to more meditation, cleaning the dinner dishes, and sleeping in dorm-style accommodations.

Philipp Malkmus, a 30-year-old consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the rigorous agenda at Zen Mountain Monastery over the Halloween weekend actually left him refreshed... Like Mr. Malkmus, who spent several months before his trip clocking 60-hour workweeks, more nonbelievers are coming to experience the rigors of an ashram or monastery as a way to escape.

Yeah, you read that right: they are paying to scrub toilets in silence. Some people just need to visit a dominatrix or spend a few hours in a sensory-deprivation chamber.

But they're not all that ascetic:

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at Ananda’s high school-like dining hall, lunch featured six varieties of breads, including spelt and sprouted, roasted herbed potatoes, a vegan tomato bisque, orzo salad, pineapple-and-vegetable stir-fry, lemon bars, and apples and pears from a nearby farm. Nearly everything is made from scratch, including the ketchup, salad dressings and even tempeh.

You know, your typical precious Brooklyn-organic fare.

The Simple Life [NYT]
[Photo courtesy Daniel Pepper for National Geographic Adventure magazine]