Happy Ash Wednesday (if you observe)!
Today marks the first day of Lent, which occurs 46 days before Easter, one of my most cherished celebrations as a child, as it involved family, friends, and community, so much Naija food, real live bunnies for us kids to play with, and a mystery hunt involving multi-colored chocolate-filled egg shells!
Lent was also the period of each year I remember seeing my mother — a devout Christian, prone to bouts of depression — at her happiest and most centered. During Lent, as tradition dictates, my mother fasted, eating only once a day for the entire period, and praying two – sometimes three – times a day for everyone, from a friend she’d recently quarreled with to my younger brother who was still insisting his only ambition was to grow up to be a taxi driver.
When my mother couldn’t fast, she’d give up something instead, such as her favorite snacks — Nigerian groundnuts, roasted chicken, wine, etc. — or a behavior she felt guilty about, like gossiping. And, of course, whe would of course encourage my two siblings and I to do the same. So eager to please Mommy, we would each proclaim our challenge for the next 40 days: my sister may have given up Saturday morning cartoons, my brother, drinking soda (a cop out, as soccer would have been the truest sacrifice), and I would give up hanging out with my friends (many of who I detested anyway) or complaining about my life. ( I was quite the Daria).
Since my childhood, my spirituality has evolved into a hodge podge of Buddhist philosophies, astrology, a myriad of self-growth frameworks, and a constant reverie about the earth and its elements. But, I’ve also retained elements of the Christian faith that resonate with my values of self-reflection, personal growth, and gratitude; hence, lent is one of them.
For as long as I can remember, I too have “given up” or “gotten off” a variety of privileges and guilty pleasures — chocolate (my vice), meat, carbs, dairy, alcohol etc, and it hasn’t been in vain (in case you think that’s where I’m going with this). What I’ve gained from fasting and denying myself physical pleasures has certainly encouraged a heightened sense of awareness of the many luxuries I take for granted (at least during the lent period, and shortly after). But if I’m being completely honestly, my denial of physical pleasures has most noteably resulted in physical benefits i.e. a healthier, reduced-carb, vegetarian-ish diet, which has done wonders for my physical health overall, but admittedly also triggered periods of anorexic behavior (which I struggled with for years) justified under the guise of “discipline.” I wonder how many people who have struggled with body issues like me are using Lent as an excuse to express hatred of their bodies in the name of spiritual love, and I worry. But, I digress.
Last year was the first year I didn’t participate in Lent season. Why? Well, for one, I couldn’t figure out what I could give up other than food to make me feel appropriately challenged (and without interfering with my work e.g. Facebook… I’m never giving up Facebook), but more importantly, I struggled to maintain the belief that I could truly cleanse myself, spiritually — not just physically — from such a contrived approach. Could I really attain a higher level of enlightenment (or even happiness) from denying myself Season 5 of Dexter? Or weeknight cocktails (again)? Or sacrificing “date nights” with my partner (she veto-ed that idea by the way). Was the meaning of Lent, simply to give things up?
I received an email from my mother today reminding me about Lent; she hoped as always that I would be participating this year. In the minds of many people — not just Christians — self-denial brings them closer to the divine. But I find myself facing the same predicament as I did last year: questioning the purpose of denying myself physical pleasures when it’s within the spiritual realm I seek clarity, centeredness, change, and positive intention.
All the years I spent starving myself for 6 weeks each year don’t compare to the bliss and serenity I feel from continuously reflecting on all the blessings I have in my life — and most especially, all the LOVE I am surrounded by. For instance, in 2010, I began a tradition of posting Morning Reflections. I wrote between 2-4 morning reflections nearly every single day for a year — about love, relationships, friendships, the power of positive thinking, activism, and much more — and the transformation I experienced has been un-matched.
So, for Lent this year, I am trying something slightly different; in place of denying myself physical pleasures, I am committing to posting positive reflections and affirmations, daily, and ridding my mind of toxins.
In “giving up” the mental vices that block me from being in touch with my inner divinity — negativity and ingratitude — I do believe I’m still keeping with tradition, just in a way that aligns with where I am spiritually, and more importantly, can be shared with others.
I invite you all to join me in experiencing 40 Days on Love, by commenting under my daily reflections on my Spectra Speaks Facebook Page. Or (if Twitter is your drug — I mean, platform of choice), I invite you to share your positive reflections (including images, quotes, links etc) using the Twitter hashtag #40daysonlove. I’ll retweet from my handle @spectraspeaks.
I’ll be focusing my own shares (and writing a weekly roundup of #40daysonlove updates) based on the following breakdown, but you don’t have to stick to this — please share organically if you wish! I just tend to be all over the place when I don’t filter my content:
- Week 1: Self Love
- Week 2: Relationship Love (i.e. Family, Friendship, Romantic, Earth)
- Week 3: Community Love
- Week 4: Healing Love
- Week 5: Career / Work / Hobby Love
- Week 6: Spiritual Love
Remember, the hashtag is 40 Days ON Love #40daysonlove; let us experience, together, how our bodies and spirits feel and interact with each other when we intentionally begin using life’s most potent drugs — love — to transform our lives. The sharing’s already started — check out the first tweets on Storify. I hope you join us!