Today is Ash Wednesday for those of you unaware of the Christian calendar. That marks the start of Lent, the 40 days leading to Easter that commemorate Jesus’ days of testing in the desert.
Lent’s also that time when people tend to “give something up.” And this year, I’m figuring, it’s got to be a “go big or go home” type gesture. After all, the Pope gave up the Papacy for Lent. Try to top that, right?
I’ll admit that even while growing up in the Catholic Church I didn’t give things up much for Lent. My church was, I now realize, pretty liberal. So why would I even consider it now?
As with too many things these days, because of Tim Miller. (If you want, this could be the point where you imagine my raising my fist and shaking it while shouting, “Timji!”) This from his latest blog post:
Although I never observed Lent growing up with my family, I have been fascinated by it since I started practicing yoga and every year make a point to give up something during that time that I have great attachment to, but at the same time recognize as something that doesn’t really serve me. It is an exercise in self-discipline. My experience is that when I practice good self-discipline, I feel better about myself. It’s a simple concept: self-discipline builds self-esteem.
In yoga terminology, self-discipline is known as “Tapas” which means to burn or heat. In sutra II.42 Patanjali says, “Kaya indriya siddhi ashuddhi kshayat tapasah”—The fire of self-discipline removes impurities and brings mastery to the body and the sense organs. Tapas is sometimes translated as austerity or mortification, which suggests suffering and self denial and a basic attitude that the Body is the enemy of the Spirit. The sutra talks about bringing mastery to the body and the sense organs.
He continues from there with more Tantric Shakti/Siva discussion. It’s worth a look.
But back to the “Timji!” moment. Tim neatly ties this tired (for me) Catholic tradition into our yoga practice, even going so far as to cite my favorite yogic concept: tapas.
How then can I not think about taking this moment for a bit of added tapas?
(Side note: I looked to see if there was any connection between the ash put on Catholics’ foreheads today and the ash from Hindu ceremonies. A fairly quick check around the always reliable Internet didn’t turn up anything compelling. Some trace Ash Wednesday celebrations to the Sixth Century, a good 500 years before the Crusades when I would have expected some cross-pollination to happen. There could be a more organic sharing, of course; there are mentions of ash in the Bible. And, yes, the anti-Catholic Church websites I found clearly think that marking one’s forehead with ash has relations to Hinduism, the mark of the anti-Christ and paganism.)
But back to the question at hand: What should I give up that isn’t serving me?
Chocolate has got to be the most-often renounced substance during Lent. (Facebook is a close second now, I’m guessing.) I could quit my few pieces that I have most nights. But this doesn’t seem really significant.
Alcohol may be another interesting choice. I’m still wondering how much not drinking in India contributed to my losing 10 pounds. The problem with this is that Lent includes the Confluence later this month, and what about the big party in our room? So kind of a no-go.
Then a good choice occurs to me: yoga, by which I mean my asana practice. One just has to read other posts on this blog to see how it isn’t serving me. I would be giving up a significant part of my daily life — it might be something I do roughly 1/24th of my time, right? Cutting out asana would allow me to take a considered look at why I do it and what it is giving me or taking from me. As Tim writes in his post, “With tapas we clean our bodily temple and quite literally ‘come to our senses’ by cleansing the windows of perception to cultivate ‘viveka’, or discernment.” There are even traces of William Blake here.
Is there any better way to come to your senses than by giving up yoga? Not that I can think of, and so I think we have a winner.
Note that nowhere here did I mention giving up coffee.
Posted by Steve