Lent: Giving up vs. adding in

I find myself once again in the throes of Lent. I say throes because the Lenten period, ever since I was a teen and I started practicing giving things up, has been a bit of a struggle. Rightly so, I guess. The whole point of Lent is to mirror the struggle of Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert fasting and praying and being tempted by the devil.

For Lent, some years I gave up my favorite foods, others I did away with certain technologies. In later years, while in college, I started being more mindful of what it was that I was going to do without. I gave up meat for 40 days because I wanted to be more mindful of what I was putting in my body, the animals’ suffering that it took to feed me, and the impact on our environment from simply consuming a drumstick.

In more recent years, when I have been centered and focused enough to acknowledge Lent as a kind of season of recommitting to oneself and one’s purpose in life, and not being tied up by the religious consequences, I have started adding things into my life that I find would be more beneficial to me and those around me. It seems like the paradox of the American culture is that we are a land of plenty and we basque in gifts of abundance almost daily. At least those of you reading this blog. You probably have more than enough to sustain, content, and indulge in if you set back and think about it. However, when we practice being without and denying ourselves things that we once had, we are mostly unhappy, grumpy, and just find ourselves enduring. I feel that this way of giving up is quite unhealthy. We give things up in order to realize we have plenty and we can live without many of the commodities and pleasures that fill our lives day in and  day out.

This weekend I was talking to my roommate, after throwing a dinner party of our own, about how Mennonites would probably host a supper. I told her that traditionally, at least the Mennonites that I grew up around, would host a dinner where there would be one main dish; more than likely, water to drink, maybe some juice if you were lucky; and for dessert, if there was any, a carrot cake or a simple apple or fruit crisp. Nothing too extravagant or special. To me, in those gatherings, we weren’t coming around the dinner table or spilling into people’s houses with the intention of making the best dish with the finest ingredients, instead, we were focused on sharing our everyday lives, stories, and food in the company of like-minded folks.

If anyone has ever used or perused the More-with-Less cookbook you will know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, this cookbook is one that every modern Mennonite has on their shelf. It combines stories of world shortages in food, anecdotes from the U.S. and abroad about food and recipes, and how to eat a well-balanced diet without overindulging or overspending. If you haven’t heard from me or others by now, Mennonites try to live simply and in one with nature and those around them–one value from this group of people that I can totally get behind and have tried my best to integrate into my daily life.

Mennonites aside, I think that the Lenten period can give us all pause as we consider the things in our life that we have in abundance and those people and animals and natural landscapes that are suffering. Recently, while taking a Yoga Teacher Training course that I am in the last month of, it has become clear to me that yoga is also a way of combining sthira, translated as steadiness or ease, and sukha meaning happy, good, joyful, delightful, easy, agreeable, etc.  The literal meaning of sukha is good space from the root words su (good) and kha (space). In other words, practicing sthira and sukha in our daily lives brings about ease and helps us remain in a good space. Practicing ease in good space through the next few weeks, whether we give something up, add something in to our lives, or remain altogether unchanged would probably be good for us all.

For Lent this year, I want the added ingredient in my practice to be writing. An activity that has always been a useful tool to me, writing is something that I use when I am depressed or sad. It has also been an outlet for me when I can’t express my feelings out loud. Moreover, it has been very close to me in my expression of what has been, what is now, and what will become. Writing is, in a way, a practice of being mindful and doing one thing at a time. Let’s see what these next few weeks will hold.




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