Lent Starts Today
Traditionally a period for some spiritual practice, I like to participate every year. I treat it somewhat like New Year’s Resolutions, but the six week duration makes it a temporary affair. But I always use the period to try out new habits, set a goal, or even just to experiment. Since Lent only lasts six weeks, it is long enough try a new habit just to see what happens. For instance, one year I tried eliminating all sugar and white flour. I wasn’t completely successful, but I learned from my mistakes where hidden sugar was, how easy it is to slip, and how sugar craving would pop up in unlikely places. Because of this, I eat much less white sugar and flour.
I find this tradition fascinating, especially since I wasn’t raised Catholic. My involvement with Lent was actually inspired by a Buddhist friend who decided to participate one year by giving up beer. True to his Scotch heritage, the man loves his hops. He learned a lot from the experience, and the discipline he created he took with him when it was over and the beer returned. The popular conception of Lent is to give up some kind of vice or bad habit, but I think it was more a way of forgoing luxury to strengthen one’s spiritual resolve and conserve precious resources. I have noticed that many religions make a virtue out of fasting for part of the year as a way to build some spiritual strength out of physical discipline. Since Lent falls in the late winter and early spring, it may have had a basis in necessity, when food stores would likely be at their lowest and therefore make a virtue out of necessity.
A little Wikipedia research informed me that there are a zillion different versions of Lent, so I rolled my own. Traditionally, Lent focused on three areas: Fasting, Prayer, and Alms Giving. In practical terms, fasting and alms giving likely helped people survive the leanest month, and the prayer would help with motivation. For myself, I will use Lent to focus on Prayer and Fasting.
In place of prayer, I will use Mindfulness meditation and daily journaling. These reflections might make it onto the blog, or they may not. But I will use the daily spiritual practice in the Lenten spirit.
Traditionally, fasting meant a vegetarian diet, but I already do that. So, in the tradition of conservation and reducing luxury, I will eat the way most people of modest means: Rice and Beans, and Rice and Vegetables. My breakfast will remain the usual oatmeal, but all lunches and dinners will be some variation of the above.
In my own variation of using Lent as an experiment, I will change my diet a little more toward Dr. Fuhrman’s version of superfoods. I just read his new book Super Immunity, and I want to strengthen my immune system. After my recent bout with pneumonia, I learned that my immune system is not as strong as I thought. So the discipline will be to eat five bunches of his top ranked leafy greens every week. I have eight to choose from, so that will most likely be dinner every night.
Copouts and Cheating
Since I make up my own rules, I added a little variation I found used by some traditions. You get to take one day off from the disciplines a week. Traditionally this was the sabbath day, which was conceived of as a mini Easter or resurrection, where one could feast again. I think it was to help people maintain their motivation and will to get through six weeks. I will allow myself the same escape route on Sunday. I can cook and eat or drink whatever.
Making up your own rules? Yeah, buddy! It’s good to be the king.
Anybody else use the Lent season in a similar way? What do you do?