Engaging with the Season of Lent

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image Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of the season of Lent. I have a cursory understanding of Lent, but no real personal experience with it. And as I learned through my involvement in formal Zen practice, the difference between having a cursory understanding of something and the knowledge gained from actually engaging with it actively can be radically different. Not unlike the difference between reading a book about swimming and actually jumping in the ocean and trying it out. Your perspective is invariably different. Although I was raised in a Christian home it was a different branch entirely from those that observe Lent. I don’t think I ever heard the word growing up and I became only vaguely aware of it as being some kind of Catholic holiday or such later on. From something I heard in a movie I think.

I will be engaging with the season this year for the first time. Typically from what I gather,the 6 weeks of Lent traditionally involves a taking up, or an increase in prayer, meditation, fasting and alms-giving. But in today’s world can also include giving up a vice of some kind, or donating time to charitable causes, etc. I find the practice of giving up something, or the restraint of a “vice” an intriguing one that can have surprising value. I took a course when I was practicing with the Victoria Zen Centre (now Zenwest Buddhist Society) called “Fundamentals of Zen Practice.” During the eight week course, we would be assigned a sense to restrain. Taste, touch, sight or hearing for 2 weeks, then another would be restrained for another 2. If, for example you were doing “sight”, you would indulge in nothing for pleasure using that sense. No TV or movies, no books or magazines and no computer use (Facebook, searching the Web etc) unless it was strictly for employment purposes. It was an extremely challenging 8 weeks. But used in conjunction with an increased meditation schedule, you caught glimpses, little insights, into unconscious aspects to your personal makeup that you normally never notice. It was hard, but rewarding.

I had been racking my brain trying to decide what I should give up for Lent, then my wife inadvertently let me know the other day. We were discussing my upcoming Birthday plans that she had been working on, and mentioned a potential wrinkle that came up. So I immediately started brainstorming on how we could do this or that, and how I’ll look into a few different options as an alternative. She was quiet. Then said quietly, but firmly, “you have this challenging quirk to your personality in which you always try and micromanage things. Even when someone is trying to do something nice for you.” She was right, I do. So that’s what I’m going to try and give up for Lent. Micromanagement. Also, do something for charity and some alms-giving and reading on a related topic. I will also attempt to restrain my frivolous online time, which can be excessive sometimes. I may update this blog as I go, or might just wait until after Easter and share my thoughts then. I’m not sure yet. But Lent starts now, I will kick it off tonight with my friends at St. John the Divine Anglican Church, marking Ash Wednesday, the official start.

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Spiritual Fitness

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A friend at work decided to organize a team to participate in a Mud Mulisha event this summer and talked a number of coworkers into participating. Part of the idea being that it would be a great excuse to start exercising and get into shape if a bunch of us had a common goal to work towards. A number of us have been hitting the gym and exercising regularly to prepare, and are already seeing some real benefit. It was great idea.

It got me thinking today about my spiritual health.I tend to view spiritual practice as being similar to exercise in that regular engagement in either yields benefits over time, but when you slack off and let either slide, you notice in not too long that you just aren’t in the kind of shape you once were.

I find this to be an interesting back and forth, ebb and flow type of thing. For me anyway. Since I still have personal hangups around the word “religion” , which I do understand doesn’t have to be a negative word and that its all in ones approach to it. But a bias or hangup is hard to kick. So I still prefer the term “spiritual practice” when speaking myself. It eludes to the fact that at its core its about active engagement more than just belief. I must admit that when someone begins a conversation on religion with “Well, I believe…” my internal flippant response is usually “who gives a shit?” I’m much more interested in behavior and action. If your beliefs yield real fruit in your everyday behavior, you have my attention. If your religion seems to be staying mostly at the belief level, I’m really not very interested. Its little more than mental masturbation really at that point.

Of course it can be tricky to casually observe in others at times. Nobody gets it “right” all the time. We all have our quirks, short comings and weakness’. We all have our ego’s get in the way from time to time. But that’s what the practice is all about really. Not eliminating those things, you could try, but good luck. Its how do you relate to them in a healthy, pro-social way? A manner that leads to growth rather than stagnation.

I notice that for me, one of the first things I notice when getting “out of shape” is that the world seems just a tad less friendly, I feel a tad more judge-y, I have a little less gratitude and I take myself more seriously in general than I really should…..

I’ve been feeling a bit out of shape lately. Time to tackle that.