Traditionally the excesses of Mardi Gras were a way to prepare for Lent. It’s a way to ‘get it all out of your system’ before the austere season commences. Lent is a time of abstinence, discipline and preparation for a miraculous, joyful occasion. As a Catholic school girl, we were obliged to eat fish on Fridays and declare what it was we were willing to give up for the sake of our Savior. We were even forbidden from uttering the word “Alleluia” until Easter morning, when that word could be proclaimed with a true depth of meaning.
I readily abandoned the practice when it was no longer a requirement but I never forgot how good it felt when I successfully abstained from candy bars as a 2nd grader. I thought it would be an impossible task but it wasn’t. And it made the chocolate bunnies in my Easter Basket all that much more sweet.
About 15 years ago, I returned to the practice of giving up something for Lent. I have given up small things like chocolates or popcorn at the movies. This was not because I had resumed a regular practice of the Catholic faith, but because I realized that it was a practice of discipline that appealed to me. It is a way to examine the little excesses or the habits that have crept into our daily lives. It's also good timing for a sort of spring cleaning for our bodies and minds. This ritualistic rite of abstinence is not so very different from the yogic form of discipline known as tapas. Tapas is a niyama or moral observance described in the ancient Hindu texts. Here is a modern interpretation from Kripalu:
I cultivate discipline. I have a realistic and balanced schedule for my work, spiritual practice and personal needs. I am disciplined and also relaxed. I do not drain my energy by over effort and overwork (or over playing) My purpose is clear, my mind is decisive.
A major shortcoming of Lent is it’s transient nature. The practice of giving something up that you enjoy is good practice but when it’s preceded and followed by a practice of gorging, it seems a bit counterproductive. These extremes of excess and austerity are antithetical to a balanced lifestyle promoted by yoga and necessary for ideal health of mind and body. Yoga reminds me to practice discipline every day but with the right frame of mind, Lent can be a boost to the practice.
This year, I have decided to give up sugar for Lent. I have given up sugar for longer stretches before but lately I’ve been aware that I’m developing a certain craving for the sweet stuff. Now is the perfect time to interrupt a burgeoning habit. So tomorrow night, I might have a small dessert to celebrate Mardi Gras and on Easter Sunday I will treat myself to one exquisite chocolate truffle to break the fast.
What about you? Do you observe Lent? Are you going to celebrate Mardi Gras? How do you practice tapas in your life?
Let the good times roll!