Lent And The Associated Non-Religious Giving Up or Taking On That I Might Do

7 minute read

It’s that time of year again. No, not the collective day we designate to celebrate all Presidents not important enough to be named Washington which essentially just turns into a reason for mutual fund traders to play golf. I’m talking about Lent, the onset of which is the culmination of that most human of celebrations, Mardi Gras. I’ve never actually been to Mardi Gras and in fact, at the advanced age of 39, probably couldn’t physically consume the requisite amount of Pat O’Brien’s hurricanes to even participate. Still, one has to think that any God-fearing Catholic or hedonistic utilitarian (of which I am neither) should attend Mardi Gras at least once, if for no other reason than to throw beads at bare chested women and either urinate or vomit in public, all in the name of a bacchanalian celebration that is meant to mark the coming of forty days of penitential self denial metaphorically representing Christ’s fast in the desert (I always want to say “fast in the dessert” which strikes me as a great liturgical oxymoron). Lent is a time for Christians to give up something dear as a minuscule reminder of the sacrifice Christ made before starting his public ministry.

And with Lent comes my ongoing quixotic desire to better myself in some measurable or even immeasurable way. In the past, my windmills qua giants have been donuts, The Internet (as opposed to the internet, a mild and less powerful cousin to the personified version I tried to give up) and Facebook. Like Don Quixote before me (much much before me, I had no idea that the novel was published in the early 1600s. No wonder he thought inns were castles and windmills giants, it must have been exceptionally difficult to occupy free time in 1605 with no Internet), I attack things during Lent that I perceive as menacing giants though my attack comes in the form of self-denial and I don’t even pretend to expect to defeat the giants. My seeds of interest in Lent were probably planted young as I remember writing an essay at one point for the Advent calendar for my church. However, it didn’t become a ritual until the past 10 years or so. I blame my friend and former coworker Mark who would do crazy things like give up coffee.

The idea of physical self-denial is obviously strongly tied to Christ’s own physical suffering in the desert. However, my list of physical addictions/compulsions is mercifully short, the donut one notwithstanding 3 years ago (I’ve since given up donuts so maybe there’s something to this Lent thing). So I tend to gravitate to intellectual denial where by intellectual I mean the depravity of Facebook. However, I typically also try to take on a creative endeavor for the days of Lent. I basically have chosen to co-opt the non-random forty days of Lent in an effort to do something like write more or code more or be randomly creative more. I could chose any forty days but Lent works well for my purposes.

This year, as of Fat Tuesday, I have come up with zero things to either give up or adopt as a habit for Lent. I have gone without Facebook several times in past years but at some point, one has to ask oneself if one continually feels the need to give up the same thing, maybe one should give said thing up entirely or get over one’s hangup about the cheapness of social activity represented as an application that specifically wants to collect one’s data and make money off of it. Coffee could have been an option as I had essentially given it up about two weeks ago but I had just replaced it with tea which seems tantamount to giving up heroin in favor of methadone or cigarettes in favor of goofy plastic cigarette Nicotine delivery systems. Christ didn’t go into the desert and give up eating fatty foods. He gave up food. Replacing the habit with something else seems counter to the spirit of the idea. Plus, no caffeine for me means insufferable caffeine withdrawal headaches and who needs that (though frankly a little suffering is probably the point). I am already on a strict paleo diet that has removed sugar and alcohol from my diet, two prime Lenten targets for lots of people. So the list of physical things to give up is short this year.

We’ve already covered Facebook. I briefly considered Twitter but frankly, I actually like Twitter in a way Facebook lacks, namely I can post something on Twitter and not worry much about whether people say anything about it whereas on Facebook, I neurotically expect things I say to be discussed and commented upon, a happenstance that doesn’t actually happen that often leaving me to neurotically wonder if people actually like me, ala Stuart Smalley. It’s difficult to write about one’s neuroses without sounding self-indulgent but let’s just say I’m addicted to the tiny drop of dopamine I get when someone comments on one of my statuses on Facebook. Like previous nicotine (and sugar and bread and candy if my current cravings as a result of Eat Real are any clue) addictions, this addiction is south of the equator of the healthy-unhealthy hemispheres and is probably a reason why I have such a love-hate-hate-occasionally-sort-of-like relationship with Facebook. But this isn’t a post about Facebook so let’s not degrade the conversation any farther than we already have.

One of my constant interests relates to the intersection of attention, concentration and discipline. At one time, I thought discipline was an attribute you were born with like the attributes necessary to play professional basketball or sing with perfect pitch. It’s far more convenient to think that since that absolves you of any of the requisite work to actually develop discipline. But in extensive reading about discipline as well as attention and concentration, I think it’s clearly an attribute that you can bootstrap slowly by increasing the amount of discipline you exert every day. This has always been a difficult task but in the information age of constant and total dedication to acquiring more information, discipline as it relates to attention and concentration is monumentally hard to acquire. Of course, this begins to sound even more self-indulgent as there are many people who wake up each day and do what is required to continue down a path of their choosing. However, I’d argue that they are able to do this because of the long standing acquisition of the ability to be disciplined. Or they are forced to be disciplined by life circumstances, either chosen or unchosen, that dictate they be disciplined because they have five children or they owe the Yakuza a Datsun or they are poor. It is only recently that the artifact of choosing to be disciplined has arisen in our culture. Once upon a time, you got up when the damn cock started crowing (Charlie Sheen is in my head telling cock jokes right now) and you went about the hard work of making a living. The fact that I have a blog and am discussing discipline is probably giving my grandfather an aneurysm in his grave, rest his soul. I”m really not trying to find ways to make this post more self-indulgent but I’m succeeding extravagantly anyway. The topic of discipline as it relates to your status in life is probably the topic for another post entirely.

Ahem. So this Lent, I’m going to try and establish a disciplined habit of waking earlier than I’m comfortable with. As a general rule, I’m up by 6:30 at the latest, weekends included. This isn’t necessarily by choice as I have a cat who demands to be fed at what seems at the time the ungodly hour of 6 AM. However, I tend to wake up naturally these days by 7 for sure. It doesn’t take much effort on my part to do that. So, in the spirit of giving up something substantially difficult for Lent, I’m going to give up sleeping past 5 AM for the next forty days. That’s not an entirely arbitrary time. Assuming The Great Sabbatical is going to end within a few weeks, I looked at the list of things I’d like to do most mornings and in order to get them all in and still be at work by say, 9 AM, approximately 4 hours are required. But 5 AM sounds just crazy enough that it’s a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

I’m not going to take on any specific creative goals. I think getting up at 5 AM may naturally allow me to write more or play the guitar more (though seriously, I have lost all sensation in the tips of the fingers on my left hand and I’m only practicing chords about 15 minutes a night. I’m not sure I’m so interested in the guitar if it means sensation loss). We’ll see how that works out.