We’re twelve days into Lent. I began ‘Lenting’, along with other ‘Lenters’ on March 6th, and will complete the forty-day fast on April 18th. I’ve never attempted Lenten abstinence before, and would not have done so this year if it had not been for the inference by my therapist that I was neglecting my spiritual life.
Mr. Jung (let’s call him that), commented just minutes before my session was up that there were three legs to personal health and development: mental, physical and spiritual. Sure. Merely considering those three areas of our life is not enough for growth; thinking about being active is not worth anything if it doesn’t result in action. I’m on that… being active. It may not appear so, but I am working on it, I promise. And I’ve definitely got the mental health aspect down pat— seeing a therapist is mental flossing. And I journal daily— brushing. And I talk openly and honestly to a good friend— rinse and spit. I take care to address the brain plaque that accumulates so easily.
I spent almost twenty years fully immersed in a church. Now I don’t. Go to church, that is; I don’t participate in any kind of religious service. But I do spend a vast amount of time considering faith, and I do read religious/spiritual texts. I’m even writing about it all. And I wrestle. With past beliefs and current expectations; I don’t have much clarity.
Thinking about being active is not worth anything if it doesn’t result in some kind of action, Mr. Jung insists again as I’m leaving. Does spiritual health require some kind of participatory action? I am unsure. So I decided to do something, and see if I notice any growth. Lent.
I’ve suspended all my social media accounts. Lord God. It was that or give up coffee for forty days. If spiritual growth is the goal, nixing coffee would surely result in demonic visitations, and I’m just not up for that shit yet. Hence, no Facebook, no Instagram, and no Twitter. And also, no News Apps. And… as of tomorrow… NO CANDY CRUSH. FFS!
Mud milkshakes. I would sit in the garden and scoop mud into jars, then run over to the garden tap and fill those jars with water and stir it all with a stolen teaspoon. Little me would then place the earthy concoctions in rows on top of the verandah wall and forget all about them while I got very busy making mud pies. Later, when the fun and distraction of playing with mud had passed, I’d feel a little revolted at what I found when I looked at the jars— murky water, and loamy sediment collected at the bottom. There were always interesting bits though, floaters. Small pieces of bark, or twigs or bugs, and tiny shredded leaves; I hadn’t noticed those bits of debris when I had mixed the milkshake.
I wonder if anyone will miss me? That was the thought I had as I deactivated my accounts. And then I didn’t think about it again. The first five days weren’t hard, apart from wanting to post a funny comment my daughter had made, I didn’t think much about social media at all. Then I realized I was consuming an inordinate amount of news. Day six saw the removal of the news apps… and an increased level of binge watching began. Removal of Primevideo and Acorn TV, and a lack of interest in any of the remaining unwatched movies or shows on Netflix (one can only watch Derry Girls so many times!) left me with vague withdrawal sensations. Thus began the Candy Crush onslaught. How fast do five lives dwindle?! Urgh. And so tomorrow, that final distraction will be eliminated… with a full thirty-two days left. If holiness is what I’m seeking, then this is what I’ve found— holy shit.
Lent is not for sissies. The murky jar that was my life all stirred up with social media reveals thus so far: Nobody misses me. Lol. Also, I’m surprised that I miss nobody in return. More accurately, I feel concern that I don’t know what is going on in certain people’s lives, but it’s become clear that a private message reveals a more accurate knowledge of their lives than checking their Instagram account or seeing their name in my Facebook feed. I’m communicating better. I do miss the social commentary— the little quips people make about life are a pleasure I feel I’m lacking. And I miss all the articles I read everyday. Information junkie, for sure.
I have almost completely lost my ability to focus. Even when I’m reading I can maintain no more than ten minutes of unbroken attention before I reach for my phone or my laptop. I’m ashamed to admit it. Being on social media, for me at least, is not a way to satiate my overwhelming need for attention (as the accusation has circulated). It has become the distraction I use to underpin the argument I have with myself that I don’t have time— time to write, time to walk or exercise, time to engage with my life. Is this spiritual growth? By admitting this, am I getting closer to some sort of awakening?
Today is Sunday. Sundays are a cheat-day in the Lenten Calendar. While blogging is not exactly a digital social interaction, it does allow me to comment publicly about my life. A cheat in my mind. And even though I can’t imagine many people will read this (I have no platforms to share it on), I am aware that there is a certain payoff for having written, that is, being read.
Working on my novel, going out for a walk, going to a Sunday morning service all have no immediate payoff for me. I can spend three hours pouring words into my novel and not a single person will read it. I won’t go out for a little hike wearing a size twelve, and slip into a size ten when I get home. These exercises offer zero instant gratification. And normally, I’m okay with that— I get my kicks from Facebook or Instagram. Alas, now I’m left to slog on without a pat on the back… or a smack on the bum. It’s archaic.
I lead a relatively small, uninteresting life. Yet, my mind is such that I observe beautiful, astounding things most days. And I have a need to talk about it. This need to communicate is a source of great angst for me. Why should people listen? I hope that the next thirty-two days will help me think more clearly about what it all means, and how to proceed.
The bits of debris that seem to be rising to the surface, the floaters in the proverbial milkshake jar, all resemble words. I can tell you this: watching someone communicate clearly and purposefully makes me emotional. Being able to articulate, in pen or in person, in such a way that leaves me feeling like I’ve done justice to the thought I was trying to express, is as close to holiness as I’ve ever come. And this whole flipping exercise is about the pursuit of holiness, isn’t it? Perhaps what I’ll discover after forty days is that the thing I’ve given up is the very thing that I need? Perhaps a clearer, more focused commentary is what will be the result of Lent? Or perhaps, I’ll just carry on as before, scrolling into oblivion. Who knows? It’s all mud right now.