What are you giving up for Lent?
This question always takes me right back to schooldays in the convent. Competition starts at an early age, so Lent became an excuse to think of ever more elaborate and inventive ways of becoming special to Jesus.
“Chocolate? That’s so easy, I heard Sophie’s getting up an hour earlier to pray!”
If the soul had a face, it would be sporting a wry smile at this point. The soul understands the bliss of being unique, so has no truck with its poor cousin “special”. It also has a different perception of self-denial – great if it minimises the window of ‘self’ so the soul can at last become more visible on the desktop of life. But self-denial for the sake of suffering? That only serves to inflate self importance even more!
Sheesh! What’s the soul got to do to get heard around here?
Some of the nuns would think this heresy. They liked to teach us about the nobility of suffering, so we reveled in the tales of the martyrs who had been tortured for their faith and did not waver! We stared bug eyed at the illustrations of Dante’s inferno trying to imagine the unimaginable horrors.
Our Judeo Christian mythology contains a four thousand year history of our attachment to suffering, so it’s fair to say it’s quite an embedded pattern in our psyche. But now that evolution has become such a pressing requirement, it’s time to deconstruct some of our beliefs around pain. Namely…
If we suffer, we can expect a reward.
How many people stay in unfulfilling jobs or bad relationships because of some unconscious belief that they are going to be rewarded at some future date? And how many of them turn into martyrs when they realize that reward isn’t forthcoming?
Rather than face the truth (that suffering is optional) it’s tempting to turn it into a virtue.
We can see it in Greek mythology. What’s noteworthy about Hercules is not his strength or courage but his suffering. His quests were called the “Labours of Hercules”.
In Christianity we have a God that suffers – for our sins. The events leading up to his death were called the “Passion of Christ”.
So what would a more conscious, creative interpretation of this phenomenon look like?
1. There’s no denying that food tastes better when we are hungry and central heating seems miraculous when the boiler has been fixed after enduring days in a cold house. Denying ourselves comfort makes us appreciate things more. Subjecting ourselves to pain allows us to feel grateful when the pain stops. But surely we are now grown up enough to develop our capacity for appreciation and gratitude without these primitive tools.
2. Our soul wants to experience an expansive life. It wants to serve, not to suffer. This requires us to make constant, risky choices. In order to do this without imploding, we have to develop better decision-making capabilities.
But… how do we decide anything?
There is SO much advice on how to achieve our goals, but the biggest sadness for most people is that they don’t actually know what they want – that’s the really difficult part.
Achieving goals is just a series of steps:
- Get better at what you do well.
- Buy, beg, steal or borrow resources for the things you don’t do well.
- Stop procrastinating.
Not knowing why you’re here on the planet, or what to do while you’re here is much more problematic!
It leads to all sorts of displacement activity. Problems. Dramas. Addictions. The stuff of life that needs sorting out. Anything but reflect on the real dilemma!
Which brings us neatly to the evolved version of Lent.
Lent is a time for reflection. A time to develop our inner world. To develop the stamina of our soul – the core strength that’s needed if we’re ever going to make a decision that doesn’t scare us. If we’re ever going to answer the big questions. Like…
What would our soul like to experience in this lifetime?
Not our personality! That will just come up with a bunch of stuff inherited from our family, misappropriated from our cool friends, borrowed from the media.
The art of noise.
The voice of our personality is very loud. The voice of our soul speaks in whispers. We have to get very quiet and reflective if we’re going to hear it.
The personality wants fast answers. Even Google is too slow sometimes. Meditating on the big questions takes time. We have to re-think our frame, perceptions, mental models, behavioural habits, context, distorted reality fields, hidden agendas, vanities and fears… if we’re going to get any real clarity.
40 days and 40 nights should just about do it.