Why are you are ‘giving up’ biscuits?
Wednesday the 18th of February, 2015 – is known to many millions as Ash Wednesday. I have no idea how many Christians will make ‘Lenten vows’ today after their pancake splurging last night. However Christian or otherwise, old habits, traditions and culture seeps far and deep into the psyche of a nation.
I overheard some very young kids on their way to school the other morning checking in with their friends as to the veracity of their proposed sacrifice. They were sizing each other up and making running adjustments to their own vows and I believe I could hear cogs turning as one of them worked out that it was ok to ‘give up’ crisps but continue with a well known energy drink and what seemed like a very complex but not all together concrete junk food plan until Easter Sunday. How very innocent it all seems and how very like children us sensible adults are.
“We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.”
Advent, Patrick Kavanagh
I am quite fascinated with abstinence and fasting. The opening lines of Kavanagh’s poem Advent has for decades resonated with a personal desire to simplify and live a more mindful life. It is no accident that most religions in the world use abstinence in some form or other as a method of communicating their ideology. It is highly effective. Without the distraction of or the fleeting and false comfort of a large doughnut or glass of wine, we may actually begin to tune in to ourselves – our real selves and just be, rather than do. We can begin to really listen to ourselves and check-in and in so doing, relieve ourselves from the constant clamour and expectations which rain down on us like a never-ending shower.
The subject of abstinence is highly evocative. Many, including myself for various reasons take care to separate their fast and abstinence from that of the traditions of the Christian and other religions. Blind faith combined with fasting and abstaining does not, I believe serve the humanity of the individual and may well leave us as feeling powerless and vulnerable. Signs of a similar tension and unease are currently being played out by the controversy over the alcohol giant, Diageo funding the ‘Stop Out-of-Control Drinking’ campaign and those at ‘Ireland Unlocked’ who believe that the drinks industry has no business telling us how much or how little we drink’. I welcome that many respected people on both sides are daring to look at the subject of alcohol abuse in Ireland as this raises awareness and subsequently creates solutions. I suspect a rational and valid fear or anxiety around ‘the element of control’ is present and I believe that this is a healthy discussion and debate – with great dynamic depth. The Ireland Unlocked campaign are asking ‘why’ and ‘who’ – and these questions are both vital, necessary, honest and healthy in order to introduce an element of healing with real and lasting societal change in Ireland.
Some years ago, in a conversation not totally unlike the aforementioned children’s discussion on the way to school, a friend of mine was speaking about ‘giving up a particular brand of biscuits’ for lent. She was an adult at the time and she was speaking with great conviction and sincerity. I listened. She then stopped mid-sentence and started to crease with laughter. I think it dawned on her that perhaps working out the ‘why’ she was giving up her favourite snack was more important than the ‘what’ or the ‘which’.
We will never really get to know ourselves if we don’t attempt to abstain from a substance or behaviour.
Only ourselves can work out what substance (biscuits, coffee, heroin, alcohol, hash, marshmallows) or what behaviour (overeating, gambling, pornography), if removed from our life will assist us most in becoming centred and whole. In Buddhist Vipassanna meditation, the term ‘annicha’ is used to remind us of impermanence and that whatever ‘craving’ we are experiencing following the loss of a behaviour or substance from our system – will pass. However, we will only experience this warm and healing consolation if we actually sustain our fast and stay with the challenge.
Good ideas are usually simple ones. Good ideas last the test of time. Fasting and abstinence may sound ‘old hat’ because they are… they are approaches as old as the hills. However, own your fast, own and take responsibility for your choice. Make sure it serves you well and that the reasons ‘why’ you are committing are clear to you. Fasting and abstinence may be used to ‘self-punish’. Questions and reflections are key. Are you being punitive with yourself? Why are you being punitive with yourself? What are you really feeling when you are experiencing a craving? Who are you doing this for? Is somebody expecting you to fast or abstain? I know…far more questions than answers.
This abstinence stuff, although at times may seem like a nostalgic nod to an Ireland of the past with black tea without sugar and a meatless 40 days – is a powerful way to find inner peace and develop loving kindness towards ourselves and others.
So no matter what you ‘give up’ take some time to work out ‘why’. The results may astonish you.
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