Today is Fat Tuesday, more commonly known by its French name Mardi Gras. It is the last day before Lent – an observance in many Christian denominations in remembrance of the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert. If you aren’t Christian, don’t worry, His story is not the most important part of this post. In fact, I’m coming at this from quite the opposite direction. My belief is that we can all learn something from a Lenten “fast”. It doesn’t even have to be something religious or spiritual if you aren’t so inclined. Please read on.
Mardi Gras is commonly a time of big celebrations. In New Orleans there are weeks of parades and the kind of overindulgence and decadence that most people rarely even dare to dream about on a normal day. In New Orleans, of course, Mardi Gras usually lasts from Epiphany (January 6th) thru Ash Wednesday. For the rest of us it is usually only one day. In either case, it’s a celebration I have had a difficult time coming to terms with. From a Christian perspective, though I am not one, it doesn’t make sense to overindulge oneself before confessing your sins, begging forgiveness and taking a forty day fast to become closer to your deity. However, I have decided over the years to think of it from an American standpoint, and furthermore from a human standpoint. (Mardi Gras has quite a history in America, but that isn’t a story I want to get into here.)
I like to think of it as a time to remind myself why it’s a bad idea to overindulge, and also as one last hurrah before giving up something I have become dependent on and probably shouldn’t have. Naturally, no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof, you can become closer to your deity/deities, own spirit and even nature herself by learning to live without something that you depend on more than you should. Mardi Gras is sort of like a New Year’s Eve where you celebrate all of the things you are about to say goodbye to in pursuit of a better Self. You begin to find that Self through Lent.
Lent, even for those of us who aren’t Christian, can be a very eye-opening event. Any sort of a fast will teach us about ourselves. Lent is a forty day fast, so we have a lot of time to learn. We rid ourselves of some of the clutter that we invite into our daily lives by writing it off for forty days. Normally this clutter takes up energy and time that could otherwise be diverted to spiritual or intellectual pursuits. Thus, when we choose to give some of this clutter up, we find that we become more grounded spiritually and intellectually.
This year, for Lent, I’ve decided to give up sweets. Here’s why: food is great, good food is even better, but eating nutritionally void food because it tastes good is an abomination. Occasional indulgence is fine, but eating junk food regularly is disturbing. Why should one person be allowed to overindulge to such an extent while in the few minutes it takes them to eat it, someone else somewhere in the world has died of starvation? It should not be so, but the universe is seldom just. I have found myself guilty of eating junk food, some days almost exclusively, since I became a mother. The temptation to grab whatever quick snack is most readily available before rushing after a busy toddler has proven to be greater than I can handle. This has left me unhealthy and carries feelings of guilt, not to mention a few extra pounds. It also makes me wonder how much I truly know about myself if I am willing to grab junk food rather than make a meal when I feel so strongly about both eating healthily and not overindulging. (I believe that overindulging is a great sin in that excess, in theory, could be shared with someone in need).
On a more personal level, I believe that I need a good kick-start toward achieving the goals I’ve set for myself in 2013. I have a lot that I want to accomplish this year, and I’m off to a slow start, but it is a start. I think that giving up refined sugars, at least for the most part, will help me to concentrate on my goals. I am also anxious to rid my body of the toxins associated with sugar consumption. Most people do better slowly removing something damning from their diet, I tend to be more successful by eliminating something all at once. I find that this allows me to forget about the thing rather than obsessing on it (am I eating too much of it, not enough of it, can I have more now?). Sort of like dumping a boyfriend all at once, rather than trying to be “just friends”. Who has that ever worked for?
If I can get myself to eat healthier in just 40 days, I will have more energy physically to accomplish my other goals. Also, not obsessing about my sugar intake, or feeling guilty about grabbing another handful of cookies instead of making stir-fry, will free my thoughts.
Finally, I’d like to invite you to join me in dedicating the next forty days to improving yourself. Forty days isn’t all that long. By Easter, you could be a new you. You never know until you try. Choose something to give up. Anything, really; but especially something that you overindulge in. Do you spend too much time online, obsess on social networking, watch too much TV, eat out too often, snap at strangers, use foul language or profanity, fail to screen yourself when posting on forums, obsess on your partner or not pay attention to them ? ? ? What do you like least about your habits? If you don’t like the idea of giving up an obsession, you might rather give up some of your time to volunteer. Our time can become too precious to us just as anything else can. If you have ever snapped at a child for interrupting you while you read a book or watched TV, you should know how true this is. Choose to volunteer for Lent – if not every day, then once a week through Lent. Or even determine to spend at least 20 minutes of each day helping someone else out. You don’t even have to leave your house, you can find someone online in a forum or on a social networking sight who needs your expertise or comfort.
Keep a journal, too, just for forty days. You don’t have to write much, just enough so that you can reflect on your progress. You’ll want to be able to look back on your efforts and see how you’ve grown.
In Christiandom practitioners are meant to remember their Lenten fast throughout the year and reflect on it so that they can grow closer to God. We can learn from this practice as well. After all, if we do not reflect on our efforts, we really can’t hope to learn anything from them.
And don't worry, if you are reading this and it is no longer Fat Tuesday, you can begin a forty day fast anytime of the year, you don't have to follow our calendar. In fact, it's best to do something when you feel the time is right for you to do it, not only when the calendar says to. If you don't think you can manage forty days, you can always cut the time down. Or, if you feel you need more time, you can dedicate yourself for more than forty days.
Growing with you always,