Sunday, March 28, 2010
It's the Lenten homestretch. Today is Palm Sunday and tomorrow we move into Holy Week: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday - Easter!
While the trend now is to do good things rather than give up good things, I find the old discipline helpful.
When I was a kid, I used to give up chocolate or desserts. For many years, I gave up butter. Once, in a special burst of piety, I gave up bread as well.
Why do we do it? I remember trying to explain it to an atheist friend in Mumbai a few years ago and sounding awkward and unconvincing (or maybe I was just embarrassed). One reason is because it's important to see what controls you. Remember the Janis Joplin song?: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose . . ." Sometimes the things holding us back from freedom are so slight it's humiliating.We would like to think of ourselves as large and passionate with sins and passions to match, but in fact we're more likely to be done in by that desperate need for coffee or air conditioning or hot showers than by forbidden love or espionage or a chance to juggle the books at work for a cool million.
This Lent, I gave up wine and computer games. Both had developed into unhealthy and slightly obsessive pleasures . . . especially, oddly enough, the computer games. Or game. I was only playing one: a very silly one whose name I will not divulge for fear that you too will become addicted. For the first few days, I didn't know what to do with my hands. As soon as I went near my computer my hands - all by themselves - would automatically open the game and try to start playing. It was a conscious act of will not to let them. After three days, I had mastered the automatic pilot problem, but even now, there are times when I wander around aimlessly, not sure how to occupy myself. Instructive.
As for the wine-less evenings: very difficult! But the mornings after! No fuzzy, aching head, no metallic taste in my mouth, no trying to remember whether I had consumed two glasses or three . . . and the payoff in terms of productivity has been astonishing. I had had no idea how the edge gets dulled and blunted by too much to drink the night before.
I did cheat a few times (there is a traditional St Patrick's Day dispensation, and then one for those whose birthdays fall during Lent, etc. etc) but by and large I toed the line. As for the computer games - I didn't slip up even once.
But these concrete physical habits, while challenging, are easy compared to habits of the mind and heart. Physical habits can be corralled and observed more easily. You can guard against them by not having wine in the house or leaving the laptop at the office. Your choices are right there in front of you and most of the time you make them consciously.
My third discipline was to STOP COMPLAINING and to be honest, I can't even tell you how I've done. I've caught myself mid-whine so many times it's clear I must be doing it a lot more than I realize. It's all-pervasive! It's too hot, it's too cold, I wish he wouldn't do that, why does she have to call now, can't I ever eat in peace, there goes the phone again, why does he have to put it there, I'm always the one, that makes me sick, that makes me mad . . . as often as not, it's just a voice in my head and Lord, how it does go on! It can almost be funny it's so incessant.
But in fact, of course, it's not funny at all. It's boring and pointless and a damn nuisance. So I have enjoyed the chance this Lent has provided to become aware of it and begin to root it out. Stay tuned for sweetness and light and a totally positive new spin on everything.