Why Lent Is More Than Just Cutting Out Meat
We probably all have embarked on a part of our journey with a 21-day detox, a three-day cleanse, a one-day fast, or a vow to reduce -- what Catholicism calls “Lent” and yogis call Brahmacharya.
I’m not here to tell you what do to and when to do it, but rather what time spent like this can bring into your life of value. We have all heard the saying, “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” for those that can abstain from temptation, and I believe this saying is true. For Catholics -- like yogis embarking on a vow of Brahmacharya -- a time like Lent is a commitment vow to heighten one's quality of life by reducing clutter (I’m not talking about house clutter, although that may happen in response to self de-cluttering), negativity and unnecessary distractions. What should be done in place of that clutter is a meditation on the space now available for new thoughts, ideas, and opportunities, which allows you to clean up your life.
Growing up Catholic, I was surrounded with the concept of Lent. I attended a Catholic elementary school, regular Sunday school, church, and I studied theology and public speaking at two Catholic universities. I initially thought of Lent as just abstaining, not eating meat on Fridays, giving up candy, or soda, or snack food. Before doing so, though, have a party and stuff yourself with these things, and when it’s all over go right back to the way you were.
My journey into becoming a yogini (female yogi) allowed me to revisit this Lenten promise I was asked to make, and yoga did, in fact, give me a better sense of clarity as to what the purpose of all this is.
What does Lent mean? Well, the word "Lent" in German actually means springtime, and springtime gives us the sense of something new, a rebirth and renewal. Let’s just look at the word springtime; after a cold, hard winter (if you live where I do!), we all want nothing more than a little thaw, warmer temperatures, and some buds on the trees. But this can be a test itself. In Wisconsin, springtime can waver for weeks on end. We think winter is over, then it snows; or, if it doesn’t snow, it's a muddy mess. But if we can be patient, and learn to appreciate how hard mother nature is working for spring to come, all of a sudden it happens, and the change is complete.
Looking at the Bible, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and meditating; praying and listening to our Creator's word, listening for the sacred sound of Om (remember, Om means "all things Consciousness"). The 40 days of Lent recall the 40 days of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). When we look at the Gospel accounts of Jesus' temptations, we recall the 40 years of Israel's temptation in the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land.
Ever wonder why 40? What does 40 mean? When I think of 40, I think, quite simply, "That is a long time, more than a day, more than a month -- a long enough time to test my abilities and to refine my inner and outer being." The word Easter is derived from the Latin word meaning 40; does this not tell us that Easter is a time of renewal, reflection, and change? It was a time when followers of Jesus had to learn to wait patiently and hold on to his word, and after 40 days the Bible tells its believers that Jesus rose again in celebration for all who believed, prayed, fasted, and practiced patience in that allotted time. The number 40 is one of the most commonly cited numbers in the Bible; it’s an allotted time spoken of over and over, and to me, and from what I have gathered, a time of grace, a time where our faith, belief, and connection to the Self and the desire to raise our own unique vibration is challenged.
When we look to yoga, Brahmacharya -- sometimes narrowly referred as celibacy -- asks us to take time to abstain, reflect and replace with prayer, meditation, good thoughts and actions that which was removed, in the hope of producing more permanent change and growth. Brahmacharya is the Achara, or conduct, by which you attain or reach Brahman (God). It is life in the Absolute. It is movement towards God, or the Atman (Self). It is the doorway to Nirvana (liberation), to a better understanding of the Self. In yoga, when we abstain from distraction we are able to contain all things energy and expand.
Having spent some time in an ashram and interacting with those on such quests, I have observed yogis take a vow of Brahmacharya as simple as no coffee or sugars -- basically, all stimulants, -- in the desire to connect better with God and to deepen their spiritual practice. These vows can last for periods as small as 30 days to 60 days, or even 90 days. Others have taken a vow of silence for up to one year, using that time in complete reflection, meditation, and connection with everything consciousness, allowing no distractions except the temptation to break the vow.
Having observed both Christian and Eastern practices, I think the common threads are the desire to become closer to the True Self, and to deteriorate distractions and illusions about who we think we are and what we think is important, replacing them with time spent reflecting, renewing, and building up a better version of the Self both internally and externally. On a very simple quest, replace time and energy wasted with more family time, putting your efforts towards things that build you and your family up. Get rid of the excuses and defense mechanisms, and replace them with honesty and openness.
Each path is an opportunity to cultivate a desire and need to grow spiritually, to learn to make more conscious decisions and engagements as to how we spend our time, what foods we eat, and the people with whom we surround ourselves. A level of honesty comes forth in this type of commitment, and struggle is bound to happen; like the test of spring, eventually it’s here. It's probably not like we planned, quite possibly making a temporary mess of things, but the blooming that takes place is equal to all the effort put into it.
I am not of one faith, but of many. With this understanding and acceptance I am able to see good and light in all variations of the same offering. So if you are considering partaking on a Lenten promise of 40 days, and if the word Lent is not of comfort, call it a springtime renewal or a vow of Brahmacharya. It all means the same thing. But take some time to consider why you are making these choices and taking this vow, and consider how you will fill the space created. Don’t just stop eating meat; develop an appreciation as to what that purpose is. Rather than cutting out sweets, what will you work towards now that your mind is not running on sugar and your body is going through detox (and it will)? Looking to add more yoga or meditation to your life? Seek a committed purpose as to what it will bring you, and seek a heightened value rather than just more days on the mat.
The wish to grow is upon you; let’s enjoy the journey.
Namaste or Amen -- don’t they mean the same thing?