Internal Preparation for Lent: Living Deliberately

The sleeping loft in Innermost House

The prior blog posts about retirement may not seem to have much to do with Lent, but in a way, they are related.  They both have to do with withdrawing–in the case of retirement, you are withdrawing from the working world; in the case of Lent, you are  imitating Jesus’ withdrawal into 40 days in the desert. Both concepts are about preparation and readiness. Both concepts ask you to think about how you are living your life.

Every year I do something for Lent.  I find it to be a great spiritual discipline, and I always learn something about myself.  Even though learnings may be barely meaningful (hey, I really don’t mind coffee without sugar!), other learnings run deeper as we strain to listen with the ear of our heart, as I did last year when I lived for a few weeks in a beachside poustinia.

So, what to do this year?  I’ve given it a lot of thought, and this year I’ve been inspired by a few people who are represented in the following books or blogs:

See a connection there?  All have lived (or still live) close to the bone.   They all live or have lived below what the Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of the poverty line.   Yet, they call themselves rich in other ways.

Some people go that route to protest how we spend our taxes (like Jim Merkel and Dr. Jackie Benton). Some want to retire early, and so lived on a very small portion of their income (like Jacob Lund Fisker).  Some are in search of a deliberate life (like Thoreau, Diana Lorence, the Nearings). And every time I read their stories, their philosophies, and their experiences, I’m both inspired and jealous.

So, this Lent  I plan to take on some of the practices of the people above, recognizing that it’s impractical and overambitious to just jump into their lifestyle from my vantage point of a typical mortgage-owning, business-owning habitant of suburbia.    But I am going to try to inch closer to the mindset of those who have chosen this path.   Internally, I will practice detachment and mindfulness.

It is a crime against life to not be constantly aware of the natural blessings and challenges of life.  Yet we make it hard on ourselves to do that because of the layers of mental and spiritual clutter we’ve heaped on top.  It’s like going to a banquet table and the filet mignon is hidden under a pile of Cheez Doodles.  OK, I’m vegetarian, so that’s not the best analogy for me.  So, let’s say living mindlessly is like passing violinist Yo Yo Ma in a subway station on the way to work.   You can’t really hear the divine strains of music because of the screeching of the trains and the bustling of the crowds.   And you’re not even paying attention because you’re busy going somewhere else:  sadly, you walk right by. Anam Thubten’s book, No Self, No Problem, is one of my nightstand books, and this is his analogy:

If we want to create space in a room and we begin by bringing in a lot of things from outside of the room, it will not work out.  The room will become stuffed with junk.  So how are we going to create space?  We should begin by just getting rid of things.  We simply get rid of all the junk.  Get rid of all the things that are not necessary.  In the same way, to bring about contentment we need a consciousness that is like creating space.  It’s not about having more, accumulating more. Rather it is about letting go of this and that.  When we let go of everything we see that the space we wanted to create is already there.  In the same way, inner contentment is already there and that is true happiness.  There is no enlightenment other than that.

The only thing I would add here, from a Lenten perspective, letting go and creating space also puts us in readiness mode to transform and transcend suffering and sorrow; makes us more able to make sorrow redemptive; helps us see that we can love the sorrow as much as the joy because both are parts of living and being. So for me, Lent will be an effort to cut down on the meaningless and pay attention to the meaningful.   Be more detached from thoughts and possessions.  Be more mindful, awake and aware.  Instill daily practices to support that.

Next Post:  External Preparation for Lent:  Giving Deliberately

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The Greening of Letting Go: Jim Merkel, inspiration for radically simplifying

radicalsimplicitybook2When it comes to inspiration for reducing the number of possessions we come to depend on in our lives, the one that comes to mind for me, because his book is one of my “nightstand books,” is Jim Merkel, author of Radical Simplicity:  Small Footprints on a Finite Earth and founder of the Global Living Project.  I was so disappointed to have missed him in a weekend workshop retreat at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania in January, that I just looked up his website to see where else I may be able to catch him this year, and I’m thrilled to see that there are a couple of opportunities this spring, particularly if you live in the Northeast.

April 6 in Haverhill, MA, a talk on Radical Leadership

May 15-17 in Albany, NY, a 3 day retreat  focused on lifestyle choices, simplicity and ecological footprints, acknowledging our true wealth, (family, relationships, soil, water, etc) and living a richer life.

Jim Merkel’s story

Merkel had a conversion experience during the time of the Exxon Valdiz disaster, while working as a military engineer and arms trader.   Realizing the responsibility that each of us bears for disasters like this, he quit his job in order to be the change he wanted to see in his world.

He downsized drastically, and determined to live in an income level under $5,000 a year and has done so ever since.  Today he spreads the word around the country.  

For him, letting go meant letting go of habits that will eventually mean the destruction of the planet.  In place of trying to fit these new habits into a culture that supports opposing values, he preaches a shift in global living that replaces power with equity, exploitation with respect, and consumption with sustainability.

In the book he makes a case for a different model for society, and offers very practical information for shining a light on our own habits and how to make a difference in our lives.

Read this book if you are interested in:

  • Exploring some thought-provoking models for a society that supports living lightly on the earth
  • Learning exactly the negative environmental impact that use of every one of your possessions represents
  • Determining your current footprint on the earth so that you can make quantifiable changes
  • Challenge yourself to make these changes

My favorite parts of this book were:

  • Chapter 1:  Building the Case for Global Living
  • Figure 6-7:  Ecological Footprint Quiz (you can also take a version of a footprint quiz online at http://www.redefiningprogress.org)
  • Chapter 9:  Applying the Tools (you actually should  read Chapters 5-6 first, but they’re pretty weighty if you’re not a numbers person)

I would have added Chapter 7,   The Second Tool:  Your Money or Your Life, but I’ve long ago read and reread that book, so I skipped that chapter.  (By the way, the third edition is now available with updates.)

One of my favorite quotes from this book:

Our intuition doesn’t need a factual basis to know what to do; it is a way of knowing without the use of our rational minds.  Intuitive information is like an internal compass, guiding us in considering the well-being of the whole.  Does your intuition and spirituality influence you to share the Earth?  Most spiritual paths include kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and reciprocity.  If your scientific mind looks deeply into natural phenomena, while our spirituality embraces all life, and we pay attention to our intuition, our personal ethics will influence how we make day to day choices.  As we get out of theory and down to practice, some ethical questions might be:

  • Could Earth support all the world’s people at my standard of living?
  • Do other species or people suffer because of my lifestyle?
  • Do good things come from each dollar I spend?
  • Do other species have inherent value?
  • Should my race, gender, strength, taxonomy, education or birthplace allow me to consume more than others?
  • Are wars being fought over resources that I use?
  • Do I support corporations or industries that damage the environment or exploit workers in sweatshops?
  • Is my lifestyle in alignment with my own values?

This gets to the heart of why we should let go of our stuff, let go of our bad energy habits, let go of wants that don’t help us or our planet.