Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Denial and Permission.

Four Lents ago, fours-years-ago Kirsten wrote a blog about using Lent as a time to do something to thoughtfully and significantly impact your health and well being. As we enter Lent this year, the 40* days leading up to Easter, I am echoing that call, with some new suggestions. First, let's talk about self-denial...

Catholics, the Lent proponents who governed my spiritual childhood, love the word "no." They love to deny themselves pleasure of all kinds, so the default Lenten sacrifice tends to be giving up something you like for the season. This can be a very good thing, but only if the thing you're giving up is a real sacrifice for you, and giving it up will challenge you to grow and improve your quality of life. Here are some examples:

-Say you spend a large portion of your income on alcohol. Not only are you drinking a lot, but you're also funneling your money away from things like fun vacations and healthy groceries. A worthwhile Lenten sacrifice would be to stop drinking for the season, contributing to the health of both your body and your finances. You could take the money you would've spent on alcohol and donate it to a cause that moves you, or put it in savings for something fun. This same example could cover any addictive substance, whether it's illicit or prescription drugs, or food drugs like processed sugar and caffeine. Exploring our relationship to the things that alter our brain chemistry is a powerful practice that can help us get to the root of addiction and be that much more free. Speaking of which...

-Emotional Fasting FROM: Do you ever feel like a slave to an emotion? Bound by fear or anxiety? Blinded by anger? Soured by disgust? Crippled by sadness? All feelings are valid, but if we experience too much of one, we lose emotional balance. This is where Rasa Sadhana comes in, a Tantric-based practice in choosing not to get involved with the Rasas (emotions) of Fear, Anger, Disgust or Sadness. If you find that you're experiencing too much of one emotion and it's affecting the quality of your life, you may choose to use this time to fast from that feeling. This is not accomplished by suppressing it- that never works. Whatever we resist, persists. Instead, you would undertake a practice in mindfulness; take a deep breath, note when the feeling surfaces, what triggered it and how it feels in your body. It's pure observation and zero judgement. This exercise helps you to become the master of your mind and emotions, giving you a moment of pause to choose what comes next. Will I give in to this emotion, allowing it to take me over? Or, will I greet it warmly, learn why it's there and let it pass through? Will you stew in it or will you let it flow?

Since I'm a big proponent of pleasure and the cultivation of good, I like to take the Lenten season to commit to a daily habit that will change my life for the better. Denial can grow you, but so can permission and devoting care to yourself and your elevation. Here are some examples:

- Emotional Fasting ON: The other side of the Rasa Sadhana coin encourages us to experience more of the Rasas of Love, Joy, Wonder, Peace and Courage, particularly if we feel deficient in any of these areas. Emotional fasting FROM and ON can easily go hand in hand. Personally, there are times I find myself overcome by fear that limits my life in important ways. I'm committing this Lent to gently confronting my fears by feeling them but going ahead and doing it anyway, thereby activating my courage, and experiencing the joy of accomplishment and the peace of having one less fear. If you've been feeling beleaguered lately, like everything is hard and nothing is working, try taking this time to bring more joy into your life. Ask yourself what would give you pleasure and do it. If you are having a hard time feeling love for someone (especially if it's yourself!), you could undertake a practice of loving kindness meditation. If you're feeling particularly jaded, take some time to slow down and experience the wonder of life from a child-like perspective. There are lots of options, lots of things to try on and refresh your outlook.

-Health! Do you never eat vegetables? Maybe you use this time to figure out how to get them into your daily life AND enjoy them! Do you never workout? Maybe you use this time to get a gym membership (and use it...) or start some other kind of exercise routine. Are you a Type A stress case with an ulcer? Maybe you use this time to begin a practice in meditation and yoga. Do you stay up way too late writing all the time? Maybe you use this time to put yourself to bed at a reasonable hour every night like an adult (ahem). There are things you can give up that greatly increase your health, but it's not enough. This must be partnered with gifts you give yourself to take the space of what's been given up. Junk food is replaced by clean food. Excessive TV is replaced by reading a good book. Getting wasted to numb difficult feelings is replaced by going to professional therapy. Give yourself MORE, not less!

-Attitude of Gratitude: This is sort of an emotional fasting on, but I think it's worthwhile to single out because of its potency. I don't know about you, but daily recognition of all the ways that I'm blessed fills me with such a deep feeling of happiness and contentment. If you feel your life is lacking, perhaps your Lenten devotion could be to record at least three things a day for which you are grateful. Write them down for later review! Nothing helps me feel full more than clearly seeing how much is already there. If you're able to read this, I guarantee you have a lot for which to be grateful...education, sight, electricity, a smartphone or computer, an internet connection, a bit of leisure time, etc etc etc.

-Devotion of Time, Talent and Treasure: Perhaps what you give up can be for the benefit of another. Maybe you give up time to volunteer with a non-profit whose work speaks to your heart. If you don't have time, but have excess money, maybe you donate to that non-profit which you'd like to support.

-The Creation of Beautiful Things: Do you have a neglected passion? Do you love to make music or paint or sew? Write or quilt or woodwork? Maybe you can spend the Lenten season rededicating yourself to your creative life and putting more beauty into the world. You can also tie this in to volunteerism by giving your time to teach your talent to someone else, or donating the proceeds from the sale of what you make.

Of course, I ain't yo mama, and you can do or not do whatever you want. I understand that the somberness of Lent is meant to honor Jesus' suffering and sacrifice on the cross. However, if we're getting Biblical, Galatians teaches us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free...not for self-denial, UNLESS it serves to grant us more freedom and well being. The ever loving spiritual teacher that I believe in would be honored to have this time dedicated to our upliftment and that of others. Let's make the sacrifices of Lent weighty, giving them the power to truly transform. Or not!

What comes next is up to you.

*during Lent, Sundays don't count, so technically it's 46 days. Sunday is a spiritual cheat day. Jesus coined the term "Sunday Funday." Get hammered and eat all the doughnuts you want, you heathens.

"He gave the cup to his disciples and said, 'Take this, all of you, and play beer pong with it. It's Sunday Funday. Let's get weird. Do this in memory of me.'"



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