I've often commented on the use of religious devices and festivals as tools for self development. And I think if we cut away the dogma and ritual from them we can see that there were/are valid reasons for them.
Many religious devices compel putting aside time for meditative practice (i.e. the Sabbath) and others such as the fasting periods of Lent, Ramadan and others provide a realisation of our attachment to things (namely food, largesse and our vices.)
In the case of fasting practices after we strip away dogma and ritual we can see that the intention to give up some of the things we have become attached to helps us to realise just how attached we are, and in doing so we can recognise how our vices may be controlling us and affecting the way we act, and the way that we are. We also become aware of how little we actually do need in order to be happy, and how living with less can actually free us from our drive to possess and consume more and more.
This is the reason that I do Lent every year. I find short term fasting and abstinence is a great way to recognise patterns of behaviour and attachment. And I think that this was the original reason for this festival, and in fact many other devices and tools used in any of the world's faiths.
Lent is a Christian period of fasting lasting (generally; there is some variation between denominations) between Ash Wednesday (in 2012 this is the 22nd February) through to 'Holy Thursday' (also known as 'Maundy Thursday) - the Thursday before Easter.
Traditionally Lent involved a commitment to 3 practices:
3. Alms giving
The fasting or abstinence aspect of Lent is what most people nowadays associate with the period.
Traditionally this was very strict, and involved variations of abstinence from meat, dairy and eggs and in many cases alcohol, although often these were in most cases allowed on a Sunday. In modern times, particularly in Protestant circles Lent has become a time in which to give up a vice or a luxury.
Either approach can hold a lot of value in our process of greater self-realisation and growth.
Last year I stopped drinking coffee for the Lent period as I had already committed to 6 months off meat, dairy, eggs and alcohol.
This year I am going to engage in a very strict period of fasting, meditation and contemplative exercise, mimicking the oldest traditions of Lent.
My Lent Challenge
Abstaining from meat, dairy, eggs (except on on Sundays)
In addition I will be abstaining from alcohol, coffee, and all sugar and gluten (which I don't really eat anyway)
At least 20min of meditation per day
Donating 10% of any income derived from this time frame to charity
Who's up for a pretty tough challenge?!
Comment here or at my FaceBook Page and let me know what you are giving up...or if you'd like to join me in the challenge above!
[Note: Due to my friends at Wok+Wine hosting their latest awesome event on Thursday the 23rd I will be starting Lent 2 days late on the 24th Feb!]