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