Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lent's almost over; what have I learnt this year?

Lent 2017: Day 46 - Easter Saturday

Just hours to go until I can sip some alcohol and chew on some meat. After doing Lent for 26 consecutive years, it's become an ingrained habit, and the spiritual benefits accrued increase from year to year. Here are my main lessons learned for 2017...

The Lenten abstinence thing is getting easier each year; some of the food items I used to abstain for for Lent - confectionery, sweet biscuits, cakes, salt snacks - have disappeared from my diet altogether.  I shake far less salt on my food than I used to. I'm drinking less that I did four-five years ago (logging that along with health, fitness and diet on a spreadsheet really helps). Giving stuff up, in itself, is not that difficult.

What's harder is willing oneself to do, to act; much harder than to forego. It's easy to say "I'm tired tonight - I'll go to bed without doing my exercises". Or "It's raining, I'll drive". Pushing yourself beyond that point is a worthy exercise. It's harder than just giving something up.

But even harder than making yourself do or act when you don't really want to is... thinking.

Forcing your conscious mind to take over from your instinctive nature. Switch to making everything you to a conscious act. Switching off the cooker. Locking the front door when you leave the house. Driving to the supermarket. Consider the movement; break it down into stages. Whatever smallest thing you do, do it mindfully rather than instinctively. It's what differentiates us from lower animals.

Write down your thoughts. This afternoon, as I went for my daily walk, I had a good thought, so good I thought "I'm bound to remember this, and put it into practice" - sadly not. Despite the fact that, as ever for the past ten years, I had notebook and pen in my pocket, I failed to write it down, because I reckoned the thought was good enough to make it into my long-term memory. It didn't. Something I only realised when I had another good thought... "What was that previous good thought I had? Can't remember." So I this time I took out my notebook and jotted down the new good thought...

I'd just come across a ditch, dug mechanically across the path. It required a jump. It was not particularly wide; instinctively I'd have taken a few paces run-up and leapt across it in one easy bound. That's what a cat would have done, instinctively. But me, I stop. 1) Assess the risk. The ground's a bit wet. What if I slip while taking off? Would I still clear the ditch? What would happen if it went wrong? Something worse than muddy hands and trousers? Bashed camera? 2) Apply one's experience. Have I had accidents like that before? The conscious approach wins out. Apply awareness to the process. 3) Think it through, do it right. I jump. I land safely. Gratitude.

Washing my teeth is something to which I've striven to do consciously for several years; it's a time to be grateful to my health, to pray for the health of my nearest and dearest; and to spend time to ensure the quality of the process. Bottom, top, front, insides, outsides, left, right. Visualise the fruit I've eaten today - the acids and the sugars, visualise the brush getting into all the crevices, visualise patches of plaque still awaiting removal.

"Why have I gone downstairs...? I wanted to do something - what was it? I forgot." Insure yourself by applying awareness to the act. You get up, wander across the house - WHY? Spending a bit more time thinking it through, you'll not forget.

Doing routine stuff on autopilot is suboptimal. Use the time taken carrying out everyday routines to meditate upon them. Meditate upon the sensations of doing everyday things - the wave of cold air on your face as you open the fridge, the clatter of plates and cutlery as you fill the dishwasher, the smell of the soap as you shower. And feel gratitude for the sensations, for being alive.

It struck me this Lent that the main difference between human beings is not rich or poor, well-educated or poorly-schooled, healthy or ill, but between the mindful vs. mindless. People who, for instance, drop litter or use swear-words as punctuation marks do so automatically, without thinking.

Just as it behoves us to exercise our bodies and keep fit and active, we should exercise our minds through the application of thought to everyday actions. My mother's favourite motto, quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem, ("whatever you do, do it with intelligence and with the end in mind" - Ovid) is but the classical way of saying "apply awareness to everything you do".

[Blogging note: as Lent comes to an end, I see I have had over 23,000 page views this past month rather then the 9,000 at the end of Lent last year. Must be doing something right then!]

This time three years ago:
Another attack on the car industry - from Forbes.

This four years ago:
Bicycle shake-down day

This time five years ago:
40 years on - Roxy Music's first two albums

This time seven years ago:
Twenty years, ten months, six days
[Duration of Poland's 2nd Republic/time between restoration of democracy and Smolensk catastrophe]

This time nine years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Easter!