March 9th, 2011
Today is Ash Wednesday, and if I had made any progress yet in taking off my pajamas, I would be in church by now, getting my forehead daubed with ashes to remind me that one day I will be ash again. (Although if all goes as I plan, I won’t be ash, I’ll be fish food. But I digress…)
For you heathens non-Christian folks, the next 40 days in the Christian calendar are some of the most solemn ones, leading up to Good Friday and of course the oh so fabulous Easter Sunday on which the bunny comes and hides…oh wait, no, that’s not it. In any case, the idea of giving something up for Lent comes from the concept that Jesus gave up his life for us, so the least we could do is give up something for 40 days out of respect for him. I mean, the man is bleeding to death on the cross so you could forgo that Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar, right?
That’s what has happened in the past. One year I gave up chocolate chip cookies, and given that I was still in my teens and would put away a bag of Chips Ahoy like I was getting paid to eat, it was hard. Forbidden fruit is the most tempting: I never wanted chocolate chip cookies so bad as the day after Ash Wednesday and over the next month. My mouth salivated for cookies. I smelled them around every corner, every glass of milk seemed wan and lonely without the accompanying morsels of chocolate…it was torture.
And then! Easter Sunday came! I went to church! The Lord was risen! And right after the wine and wafers, I was mentally set to gorge myself on the fattest cookies I could find.
Except…I didn’t want to anymore.
The craving was gone. 40 days without cookies had rendered them powerless, and to be honest, I have never had the same relationship with chocolate chip cookies since.
Did that one year with beef too. Boy was I craving hamburgers. Then Easter Sunday came, and the thought of one made me want to puke.
As I got older, though, the idea of giving up food seemed…paltry. I had demonstrated that I could do it and that by the end of Lent, I wasn’t even missing whatever it was I had given up. And that was good, it showed I didn’t need most of these things, but it seemed as though I could get deeper with my spiritual practice than just giving up various food items.
I started to think about behaviors. One year I had tried giving up cursing (rather unsuccessfully, I might add) and realized that similarly unconscious and sometimes self-sabotaging behaviors are often the hardest ones to conquer.
And yesterday, I knew I had it nailed. (Wow. Seriously, NO pun intended).
I am giving up fear.
Or rather, I am giving up allowing fear to immobilize me. I am giving up my current relationship with fear and crafting a new one: I am going to let fear point me towards my dreams by responding fearlessly when it tries to push me away from them.
You may remember that I actually started a bit of this last year. When I thought of taking on bootcamp and started hearing Fear telling me I hate mornings and I would be embarrassed at my level of fitness and blah blah blah blah blah, I listened to all that noise, and while it was yapping, I went to the computer, got on the website, and signed up for a session before Fear could talk me out of it.
And loved it.
I’ve come to realize that in most cases, the louder Fear yaps, the more I need to do the very thing it is begging me not to do. Now, fear is not to be confused with common sense. Common sense is what tells you not to try to beat that red light. A lot of people don’t listen to common sense either, but that’s a whole other post. What I’m talking about here is that niggling voice in your head that tells you that you will fail at something you really want to do. The only thing Fear is really afraid of is failing, or looking bad, or not being good enough. I’m not afraid of that anymore. I’m more afraid of not trying at all.
So, as I said on Facebook yesterday, I’m paying homage to the life that was given for me, by living MY life to the fullest. Believe me, giving up fear is a hell of a lot harder than giving up cookies. But at the end of it, I hope that my life will be that much closer to being the life that God wants me to live, and the life Jesus gave his so that I could have. I’m not one of those pious Christians who believes God wants me to be miserable and unhappy and weeping all the time. And personally, I don’t know if I believe in a literal Hell; I think we do a damn good job of creating Hell here on Earth in our own minds. I think God and the Divine Power of the Universe wants us to be happy…but we spend lifetimes trying to overcome all sorts of misery, much of it self-imposed, to achieve it. So many of our obstacles are in our own heads…and so often, the life we want to live is within our grasp, if only we would reach out to claim it.
When Punksin was born, I bought a refrigerator magnet that says “Do one thing every day that scares you,” good advice from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. I bought it to remind myself of the example I wanted to set for my daughter, one of a fearless woman who went after her dreams. I’ve faltered a lot on that path but I’ve been making my way back to that mindset slowly but surely.
So that’s what I’m giving up for Lent: the self-sabotaging immobilization that Fear brings. When Fear speaks, I will pat it on the head and tell it that all will be well, and I will go and at least attempt the thing it tells me I cannot do. And every day, I will do one thing that scares me. Some of it may seem silly to you (why would signing up for knitting class be scary?) but we all have our personal fears and demons, and we all have our dreams that have been on the shelf not because we lacked money or opportunity, but because we thought we lacked something inside. I may not be THE best at everything I set my mind to, but I will damn well try to be MY best. I owe that to myself, and to the Universe, and to all of those who made sacrifices so that I could live a life that is blessed today.
Praise be to God. For reals.