Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness
Give me your hand.
– Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Joanna Macy
I’m not a practicing anything, but each year I design a DIY version of Lent for myself. The season arrives on the calendar just as my lofty, good-intentioned New Year’s resolutions fade.
The new year promises a quick fix while Lent is the real deal – transformation through disciplined action. It’s a forty day contract.
Prayer, fasting, and service, the traditional pillars of Lent, provide a container to hold my wandering attention span. There’s a nurturing austerity inherent in the rituals that helps me filter the distractions of everyday life.
Where I live, this penitential season is marked by the pairing of the natural expansion of spring – tender neon green leaves, noticeably longer days – and the measured restraint of deliberate choice.
I feel that true freedom, not the mindless kind that comes with passivity or the jagged edge of defiance, can only develop with discipline. It’s about finding balance through confronting the interplay between sacrifice and renewal, effort and ease, life and death.
Too often I’m like a fish jumping at every bait that dangles above the water – work, teenage drama, the internet, even happiness. We all know the feeling of twisting and flailing on the line, hook-in-the-cheek caught.
Most religions have a prescribed season to examine what catches us. A time to anchor our most spiritual questions back to the body, while simultaneously providing the discipline to tame our habits so that we can concentrate on a higher purpose.
It requires an often uncomfortable, committed, day-to-day effort that seems too big to make during the sweltering heat of summer or the reprieve of a Texas fall and winter. It’s spring where the overlap of Life and Death is the most visible.
The acceptance of duality is at the heart of being fully human and ultimately gives us room to renew, forgive, love and eventually die. As my friend Erika says, “We are not here to struggle, nor are we here to stay the same.”
We come spinning out of nothingness,
scattering stars like dust. – Rumi
In memory of my father 12/15/1939 – 1/14/2017