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Lenten mindfulness can improve wellbeing

Published: 
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

For Christians, Lent is a time of restraint and discipline. The website catholic.org says, “For Catholics it should be a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, who laid down his life on the cross for us. There is no greater love than that ultimate sacrifice of Christ.”

Growing up Catholic, our experience involved the spiritual aspect—I especially remember the Way (Stations) of The Cross and the fact that, during Lent, services were held by lay workers in homes in the village, including ours.

The period also included dietary exclusions—we abstained from meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and ate more fish throughout that period. An exciting part of that for me was that my Dad would river fish and, sometimes I was allowed to join in or even have an excursion by myself.

Then the meals of Wabeens, Cascarob, Catfish and others, whose names I do not now remember, served with ground provisions and curried pigeon peas.

All Carnival festivities ended at midnight Carnival Tuesday and as I recall, that also included the absence of alcohol being served at home. The radio stations never played calypsoes in Lent back then and I recall a whipping for singing Mighty Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah, having flouted many warnings to desist.

I do not remember being taught specifically about Christ’s sacrifice so there was no association for me with the Biblical account of Jesus’s 40-day fast or with the sacrifice of dying on the cross, despite the rituals.

And so, throughout the years, while I have wavered with the decision to mark Lent, I always consider it a time for introspection and for doing the body some good through self-denial.

Lent is a period of fasting

Tara Isabella Burton describes Lent as “a period of fasting, penitence, and prayer for Christians around the world…predominately observed by Catholics (and the Orthodox, albeit on a slightly different calendar), but Christians of all denominations can and do participate (www.vox.com).

Writing about the “penitential period of Lent,” Burton goes on to speak about evolving trends in which Christians and non-Christians have “found in Lent something akin to mindfulness: a chance to use the period to practice self-improvement.” This is not in keeping with the strict religious definition, but mindfulness is the persuasion to which many subscribe during Lenten fasting.

Mindfulness is defined “as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

It is about being in the moment wholly and is a practice used therapeutically for different types of interventions.

Abstainance forces reflection

The website mindful.org says “mindfulness has the potential to become a transformative social phenomenon” because:

• Anyone can do it. It does not require anyone to change their beliefs, everyone can benefit, and it’s easy to learn.

• It’s a way of living. Mindfulness is more than just a practice. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do, and it cuts down needless stress.

• It’s evidence-based. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.

• It sparks innovation. As we deal with our world’s increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, resilient, low-cost responses to seemingly intransigent problems.

I’ve pledged (to myself, of course) to abstain from bread (my go-to food), rice, and chocolates for Lent. It is not the denial of these things that work for me.

What works is being mindful and feeling grounded in my resolve in the moment when I crave them—and sometimes it prompts me to pray. This is not a fast of the strict religious focus, but I always feel better for having dropped a few bad habits (and a few pounds).

Abstaining from things I love forces reflection. When the desires arise, I become introspective and I use the time to practise mindfulness. I enjoy feeling better physically and I especially look forward to being healthier from being less distracted and stressed and from living in a consciousness that brings deeper connections with my innermost being.

Moderation in Lent improves my health and wellbeing.

Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI). Write to: [email protected]

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