Lent 2018: C’est Fini.

I don’t ever really know what to expect when I observe Lent. I know what I would like to see happen and I know what I would not prefer to happen, but I’ve learned that expectations should be left out of it. In my experience if you go in with even a modicum of expectation, they’ll be fire bombed from orbit. It’s always better to not have them.

I’ve also discovered that, as the Lenten season progresses, I find myself feeling more and more helpless and hopeless. I always start off with some slight hope that my observance will be pleasing – to the gods, to the ancestors, to God, whomever really – but by the end of it all, I feel very much as if I’ve been marooned in the desert with nary a drop to hydrate myself with. It’s simultaneously frustrating and the whole purpose.

Forty whole days of sacrifice is hard. The point is reinforced over and over again through strategic points in those forty days. I’ve often wondered if the reinforcement of that point is something everyone goes through or of it’s something I, myself, go through because of my mental illness. The mind is always tricky and the constant belief that I have failed can be overwhelming.

In every instance, I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. I may not have had my eyes fully opened the first time this happened, and to be fair things were drastically different for me back then, but the constancy of my mind telling me that I’ve fucked it all up is even more draining than I can convey.

I often wonder if Catholics go through the same thing. I don’t have any I can really ask; all the ones I know intimately have long since lasped from that faith. I don’t think that they do to be honest. They have the ability to reach out to a deity who is not mine and feel the comfort therein.

I’ve thought about that too. Beyond asking the ancestors for some succor, what if I were to reach out to that amorphous deity or His son? In every instance, I am always reminded about why I turned away from the monotheism of my youth. I turned away from monotheism on purpose and while I’ve discussed some of those reasons here, not all of them have come up. I can say that the idea of reaching out to a deity who is not my own especially after my many years’ journey since I left is not a viable option.

Thus the hopelessness and helplessness.

It is, to be sure, why I always want to stop observing. But the ancestors are clear: if I am to have my way with venerating them, then compromise is part of that plan. And thus this compromise.

May we have communion with God in the secret of our hearts, and find Him to be to us as a little sanctuary. – Charles Spurgeon

This year, I gave up two remote concepts as opposed to anything realistic. When my mother finally asked me what I had given up, she sounded disappointed in my answer. My coworkers (who have always found it interesting evidently to ask what sacrifice I have planned for Lent) also seemed particularly disappointed in my response. This only made me realize how much outsiders always seem to view Lent as a physical sacrifice of X, Y, and Z thing. They never think of it really as bettering yourself.

But that was the point I was hoping to achieve. I had found my failings in the last few months after Advent and knew that I needed to step back from the obvious and move more towards the ambiguous. I needed things that while expressed in physical representations were more nebulous and vague than what I had done in the past. Besides after last year’s destruction, I felt I was owed, I guess, a little break from those types of things.

Sloth and gluttony are both part and parcel with my depression. Recently, a conversation with my son (who has a tenuous grasp on mental illness at 10 though he is starting to get it) pointed out that he thought my inability to do much after work was a direct result of laziness. I realized then that that was exactly what I thought too. I wasn’t taking into consideration my own limitations due to my mental illness. After a whole day of being on the go from the moment I wake up, I was more than entitled to take time out to rest.

The problem is, as many people know, the work/life mix that seemed easily found years before is no longer viable. But with all the other concerns that come along with working a 9 to 5 that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet, the work/life mix is difficult to achieve. Even with the knowledge that I am very much like most people in my very same circumstances, I did at least try to move beyond sloth and gluttony as much as I was capable.

The end result was less that I was capable of doing more but the realization that there are two other people in this house who consistently do less. After twenty days and an impending burn out, I made it clear to both of them that I needed help not simply because of mental illness but also because my job takes up most of my energy all day, every day. I need help and oddly enough, the call was answered.

Upon thinking about this, I thought back to The Empress card from the ancestors. They had reminded me that I needed to take care of myself too no matter what end game I was hoping to achieve. Self-care isn’t my strong suit in any way to be honest. But I needed to both better myself while simultaneously taking care of myself.

I think they were hoping I would speak out and ask for help.

I did so a few times these past forty days, not just at home but elsewhere too. I had found my limitations and knew that no matter how hard I would prefer to be able to move past them, those limitations were the end game for me. It was either, help me please, or continue to suffer in silence and run headlong towards the inevitable break down.

I can’t say for sure but I would assume that finding your limitations and being vocal in your inability to get past them is a step in the path to bettering yourself. The ancestors, anyway, seemed pleased with it.

While the hopelessness and helplessness of the previous month or more hasn’t completely faded from me, I am hoping that it will continue to lessen as time goes by. I would like to assume that this is a turning point; a moment in time where I remember that human beings, myself included, are not perfect and are not robots. Sometimes we need others to step in and help out.

It is the resurrection that makes Good Friday good. – Ravi Zacharias

I can always see the end coming when I make my yearly appointment to donate blood. This has been something that I have been doing for years, as long time readers of this blog can attest, and it has always seemed very fitting for me to continue the trend though the connotation has much changed.

Originally this was a devotional act. It made sense to me that Sekhmet would like it if I, as her devotee, would donate blood in her name. People who read this often were horrified at the prospect, focusing wholly on her destructive aspect and the blood soaked pre-world where she vamped her way through scores of hapless human beings at Re’s say so.

They always seemed to be forgetting entirely her healing prospect. And to be sure, donating blood is an act of healing. Not only can the blood be used for someone who needs whole blood, but it could also be used in various trials that require whole blood for the testing. Previously, in my experience, people were too focused on the word “blood” and not what the donation is used for. And since the health organizations are horrifically discriminatory against the lgbtq+ community at large, I often go to try to make up for an entire swath of the population who can’t donate due to that discrimination.

The funny thing is that blood donation as slowly morphed to a devotional act for Sekhmet to an act of remembrance for my ancestors.

A little known fact is that my mother used to donate blood before she started on medications that leave her out of the running. An even lesser known fact is that my maternal grandfather did the same thing. It seems appropriate that I continue the family tradition. I even brought my son this time so he could watch and start to think about whether this is something he would do when he’s old enough.

The sacrifice of some blood on Good Friday is a fitting ending to the season of Lent.

Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life. – Janine di Giovanni

In my final homage to both the ancestors and Lent, I spent time with them this morning. I sat in reflection of what the past 40 days were like and gave a very heartfelt thanks that things were easier this year than last year. The specter of my last Lent had stayed with me for about half the forty days before I was finally able to release it.

I asked the ancestors as I always do what I could expect now that I’ve come through this most recent season. They slammed me with The Magician. This card heralds the start of The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana and speaks to the beginning of the path ahead. While standard Rider-Waite iconographic interpretation discusses the fusion of the spiritual and mundane as well as hints at the use of all four alchemical elements present in Tarot, the deck I use for my ancestors is a little different.

The imagery of the Antique Anatomy Tarot is a little less obvious than the standard Rider-Waite imagery. The alchemical symbols for earth, air, fire, and water are present along with the symbol for Mercury, associated with The Magician card. But that is where the similarity ends. There is no overt symbolism related to the fusion of both the spiritual and mundane… except that there is. It’s just a little more intuitive than other decks.

As I sat there, focused on the metaphor of The Fool’s opening salvo for the journey ahead, I couldn’t help but wonder what more could be coming my way. A fusion of mundanity and spirituality has been something that I think many of us hope for but often fall flat of the mark that we set for ourselves.

The ancestors whisper of trust and care, of love and progression. They murmur of intuition and dreams, reminding me that a meat bag like I can achieve what I want most. I guess we’ll have to see.

Advertisements

Lent 2018.

The Lenten season decided to sneak up on me this year. One moment, it was the New Year and a decision about observing Lent was weeks ago; the next moment, it was only in a few days and I had to decide whether or not I could face it again. After last year’s fiasco, the ancestors couldn’t really blame me for being leery of the prospect.

The funny thing is that, even with how awful things were last year, once I was able to look back and take stock, I could in fact see how it worked to better develop my relationship with them. I spent more time with them during Lent and I found myself relying on their advice more heavily than I would typically. On that end, we could say it was a bit of a success.

And as always, I really don’t want to disappoint them. They aren’t able to take part in these little rituals anymore. It’s for them that I say an occasional Hail Mary or Our Father. It’s for them that I pay homage to saints and have begun adding certain saints’ feast days to my celebratory calendar. It is with my ancestors in mind and the knowledge that through me, they can reconnect with their physical representations of faith that I do these things.

So, as much as I definitely wanted to say, “oh no, I think not,” this year, I knew that I wouldn’t. No matter how awful things were last year, I could remind myself that the the point in the season is about deprivation, about preparation, and about reflection. I spent a good deal of my time last year doing all of those things and at the end of the day, even with the awful fallout, I can say that it definitely wrought change even if I didn’t really expect it to.

With that reminder in mind, I thought about what I wanted to give up. I have a habit of choosing really big things and then getting angry with myself for not following through or forgetting or just generally not going a full 40 days of deprivation.

I think, in all the times I’ve observed, I’ve been successful exactly one time. On the flip side, I can say that last year was a success in and of itself, just not in the way I had expected.

I’ve decided to get down to brass tacks this year though. I’ve decided to tackle two of the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth and gluttony.

sloth

Thou seest how sloth wastes the sluggish body, as water is corrupted unless it moves. – Ovid

One of my major failings – and I have many – is sloth.

I spend my entire work week having to complete things in very specific and predefined timelines. If I don’t meet the expectation that we have given the client for whatever item I am working on, then our value/add goes down in their eyes. And of course, I hear about it from the Big Boss.

So all day, every day, I am working with the knowledge that I have a finite period of time to see to whatever it is that I am seeing to.

Almost in response to this constant pounding nag that I have only so much time to do something, I tend to put off everything else in my life. I have to send out mail? Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. I have to flip my bookshelves because they’re bending again? Meh, I’m not in the mood so I’ll get it tomorrow. There’s a sink full of dishes and no bowls left? You know what, I’ll just get to it tomorrow.

The problem is that tomorrow never shows up because by then, the task has become insurmountable. Instead of dealing with things when it’s time to deal with them or when I realize it needs to be done, I continue to push it off in the hopes that either someone else will do it for me or I can nag someone else into doing it for me (with limited success).

When no one bothers to step up to the plate to do it, I end up doing it anyway and am disgruntled by how much harder I’ve made the task for myself. And yet, I continue to do this.

Tomorrow is a day that never comes and the cycle flourishes.

The best part is that I know what will happen when I tell myself I’ll deal with it later, but I don’t bother to stop putting myself in this untenable position over and over again.

I have a variety of reasons why this is a thing. If it’s because the chore in question is related to Big Adulting Stuff, the reason is quite simply that I am too anxious to do the Big Adulting Stuff. So, it’s better to ignore it (wrong – as I know) than to actually do it. If it’s the smaller things, then the only reason is because I’m exhausted and I frankly don’t want to have to deal with it.

As tired or anxious as I may be that doesn’t mean life doesn’t keep happening.

So, in an effort to continuing in this vein for yet another year, I’ve decided to take into consideration the fact that what happens when I get home from work tends to mean that I am not going to do whatever needs to be done.

During dinner, I get sucked into Internet or TV. And then I’ll read because I don’t want to deal with the things waiting for me. And then I’ll write if I have time or continue to binge watch whatever I was binge watching earlier that week. I have a lot of things that drag my attention away from where it needs to be, so I’ve decided to limit that.

Television off. Phone on vibrate unless I’m using it to listen to music. Books and laptop are not allowed out until 7:30. That gives me an hour and a half to deal with whatever thing I’ve been putting off that needs to stop being put off.

Gluttony

Gluttony and idleness are two of life’s great joys, but they are not honourable. – Julie Burchill

Another major failing of mine is a form of gluttony.

When I think of the word gluttony, the image those most often comes to mind is a Roman banquet of epic proportions replete with periodic stops at the vomitorium to make room for the next course. I can absolutely and confidently say that I am not like that – in fact, I’ve been losing weight fairly steadily since I flipped my diet last year prior to my gallbladder surgery.

But, I do have a tendency of eating out more than my budget can handle. And I have a tendency of blowing my monthly budget out of the water with idiot mistakes… like going out to eat more often than I should. To me, not following the strict budgeting I’ve put into place for myself in an effort to achieve a Big Adult Goal this year is a part of gluttony.

In a way, gluttony ties back to my slothful tendencies. As I was thinking on these two things to give up, it occurred to me that, very easily, the two go hand-in-hand. While I may not consciously push off cooking dinner, I always have a host of canned responses as to why I don’t bother. The phrasing of those reasons tends to be me highlighting how tired I am because of work and how I’m just so hungry right this second that I need to get something immediately instead of waiting.

I’m lying to myself every time I do this and I know that I am. Every Tuesday, or thereabouts, the kid and I make dinner together. (Usually tacos.) It doesn’t take me that long to get that dinner finished and every Tuesday, I come home “starving” and desiring to just dip into a bag of Cheetos or make something quick that I can eat that much sooner.

But because this important to my son, and to the S.O. when he comes home to leftovers, I know that the canned responses are, in fact, bullshit. It’s a carefully coordinated and class act, but it’s all bullshit for as far as the eye can see.

So, I will be saying good-bye, generally anyway, to junk food and fast food. Going out to dinner for a pre-planned [and therefore budgeted] meal with the S.O. or my son is one thing, but going out three nights a week because I don’t feel like taking the half hour it may take me to cook dinner is ridiculous.

And this way, hopefully, I’ll be able to, you know, stick to that budget that’s been crying at me every month when I look at my bank statements. That way, I can ensure that on top of giving up, I can continue to give back to the community and various causes as I was doing last year even if it’s just a few bucks here and there.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. – Luke 9:23

After my last fast food hurrah with my son yesterday, I took the time to clean and rearrange the ancestors’ place of veneration. I sang songs and made sure that I had everything set up with all the appropriate symbolism that goes into my relationship with them on a daily basis.

I sat down with the ancestors briefly (since I had to help out with the annual Valentine’s Day hoopla for the kid’s school) and asked them what sort of advice they had for me going into this. I reminded them about the concerns I had going into last year’s Lenten season and that, to be honest, I didn’t really have the same concerns but that they were there nonetheless. I pulled The Empress card in response.

Among other things, The Empress is about nurturing and creativity. These were two things that I failed to do for myself last year. Instead of nurturing myself and pushing myself forward, I was too busy beating myself up for every perceived mistake. Instead of going into the season with creativity and excitement, I went into it with a heavy heart and just about set myself up to fail.

As always, I don’t know what the next 40 days will bring, but it certainly will be interesting. Hopefully, when things get a little tight or I start getting down on myself, I can reflect back on The Empress and remind myself that success in something like this is measured less by the tangible and more by the feeling left behind.