by Michael Maciel
If you give up something for Lent, it should be something meaningful. Like candy to a kid. Sweet pleasures, lackadaisical attitudes, indulgent binges – these are good places to start. You know the saying: No Pain, No Gain. It’s the law of every gym, whether it’s written on the wall or not. Every muscle fiber screams it, even as it submits itself to being torn apart.
It’s hard in a hedonistic, narcissistic society to brook the notion of giving something up when you don’t have to. Something about it just seems wrong (unless you grew up Catholic, of course). After all, isn’t life meant to be enjoyed, taken full advantage of, every good thing maximized in the face of one’s imminent demise? Life is short, is it not? Why do things that make it harder? Isn’t this Vale of Tears difficult enough as it is?
Here’s what the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, had to say about Buddha’s “All life is sorrowful”:
“All life is sorrowful. There is, however, an escape from sorrow. The escape is Nirvana, which is a state of mind or consciousness, not a place somewhere like heaven. It is right here in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas – joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”
Cosmologically, Lent is the time when the life forces begin to surge. If you’ve ever been on a farm in the Spring, you know what I’m talking about. The days are getting longer (in the Northern Hemisphere) and everything that lives is firing up its engines. In just a few weeks, they’ll be in full roar. You’ll be revving up shortly, too. The only question is which direction will you be heading when you pop the clutch?
The problem with modern religions is that they have lost touch with their cosmic underpinnings. Lent is real, not just in a theological sense, but in a literal, scientific sense. Life is surging—everywhere! Are you going to take the bull by the horns, or are going to be skewered by them? Because let’s face it, nothing ever goes wrong when you just let it all hang out, right? Spring is when letting it all hang out gets injected with a full dose of steroids. The habits you form now will be supercharged, whether they’re good ones or otherwise. As they say in Alaska when you’re about to set out on a dirt road with frozen tire tracks: “Pick your rut wisely. You will be in it for the next fifty miles.”
All processes are at their purest and most powerful in their beginnings. In astrology, it’s called “applying.” When an aspect first comes into play, that’s when it’s forming the patterns through which it will function. Once the arc of development has hit its zenith, it’s too late to change it. Its trajectory is already set. We live in a yearly cycle, both physically and spiritually. And the Power of Life is at the center of our Solar System directing it all. Growth is painful. Birth is painful. Crowbarring yourself out of your fifty-mile rut is painful. But oh the joy when you discover that you are finally working with the cycles and not against them!