Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent - What to give up? How about the ways we think.

I was raised a Christian and figured, since that is what I got when I was born, it was as good as any other religion, so I have, throughout the years, returned to it. Had I been born into a Buddhist family, I'm sure that would have been perfectly fine, too. One of the more meaningful seasons for me is Easter, especially the idea of Lent. But I have come to see it in a new way in the past several years.

When I was little, Lent meant giving up something you enjoyed - like candy. Even though I didn't eat much candy or drink pop as a kid, you were asked to give up a "vice" - something not so good for you. As an adult, it might be drinking, or candy, again, or soda, or cigarettes, overeating, or swearing. I never really did any of it with much gusto, but a seed was planted that seemed to withstand the ravages of time, waiting for just the right conditions - soil, water and light - to appear. Finally, I hit on the vice I needed to give up.

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that I could actually give up a way of thinking. Not a material vice, but a mental one, a psychological one. For example, if your habit is to be self-critical, what if you gave that up for Lent? If it is to criticize your children or your partner, what if you gave that up for Lent? If you are a procrastinator, what if you gave that up for Lent? If it is to be pushy and bossy, what if you gave that up?

For me, I had a tendency to be fearful - especially about about my work, my ability to work and create a successful business. I was also incredibly fearful of flying. I could be afraid I wouldn't have enough money. I could attach my fear to almost anything. You can do the same with anger or depression or anxiety. So, a few years ago, I started giving up fear for Lent. For forty days and forty nights, you become absurdly aware of how much time you spend running that habit.

And day by day, Lent by Lent, year by year, it began to leave, to pack its lonely bags. Hasta luego. No fun hanging out with me anymore. I had no use for it. Once in awhile, it growls at me, wonders if I want to come out to play. Sometimes, sure, I take the bait. But mostly, I see it for what it is - a really bad habit. One that I do not miss.

Year after year, those habits of the mind are worse for us than all the candy we ever collected at Halloween. So, I'm sticking with fear again this year. And heading out to slay a few more dragons.

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