However you perceive Lent, be it a religious holiday, a spiritual renewal or as a period of reflection and preparation, it is an opportunity for habitual change. We have 40 days to refine, polish, improve or develop ourselves using this time for a much needed self-audit that may actually prove beneficial and teach us something about ourselves.
Fasting and abstinence are common ways people celebrate Lent, some will reduce or eliminate guilty pleasures which we deem unhealthy, indulgent or hedonistic. Refraining from submission to a weekday takeaway or gorging on chocolate may be something that could be considered a viable option for health change.
From a religious perspective, the Bible discusses ‘Works of Mercy’, effort to help the needy. Not only will doing good for others make you feel good (known as the ‘helpers high’ with the release of the happy hormone Oxytocin), we also create an environment of behavioural mimicry. Altruistic acts are contagious, when we witness an act of kindness we are more likely to replicate that behaviour and so that act of kindness is not only felt by the giver, it also has a positive effect on the recipient as well as resonating with witnesses of the act.
Whilst recognising the benefits of these worthy causes, Lent can also afford us the opportunity to turn our focus inward with the prospect of improving both self and relationship awareness. Like many people, I allow other’s opinions; judgments and criticisms of me dictate my mood. I catastrophise, I ruminate and I allow this to permeate into other areas of my life. This is what I would like to change for Lent and hopefully make it a habitual change. Such self-perpetuating attitudes can become toxic and unfulfilling, however the reality is that such attitudes are a choice,people can only take from you what you allow them. If you allow others to define who you are, you are giving them the power to dictate where your path will lead.
Although the message of choice seems simple, cultivating awareness of thoughts, emotions, and urges as they start to arise requires attention. Some practice mindfulness as a step towards avoiding the conditioned reactions we have all historically been victim to. We have the ability to create space between the situation, our thoughts and our emotions about the situation, which affords us the opportunity to respond appropriately. As Viktor Frankl (an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor) once said,
“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and freedom.”
There are many ways to look after your emotional health, mindfulness being one of those ways. When I find myself in such situations, remembering this simple mantra keeps me on my own path…
I know that I am not my worst mistakes.
I know I have nothing to prove.
I know that dark moments are transitory and valuable.
I know that I matter.
I know that positive feelings and actions multiply.
How will you perceive Lent?