“There’s nothing worse than a converted whore,” my Serbian ex-boyfriend would often say.
Eccentric, intellectual and bordering on insanity, he was an exceptional glass blower. In hindsight, perhaps we mirrored each other perfectly. Young and not so innocent, I moved to the Netherlands in my early thirties. We’d met during my first week there, when I spent much of my time roaming art galleries in the quaint capital Den Haag, The Hague, trying to acclimatize to my new location, which would become home for the next eight years.
Fast forward to February 2012.
I’m on Day 5 of my “Lent-ing” as so aptly put by a friend. Somehow the “ing” brings conscious action to the choice one makes to eliminate certain things from their lives for a pre-determined period of 40 days. My list consists of coffee, chocolate and alcohol (i.e., beer and wine in my particular case).
Why on earth would anyone want to give up these indulgences?
While not in a position to speak for anyone, I can certainly speak for myself. I began this practice many years ago during my time in the Middle East. As a token of respect my Muslim colleagues, friends and host country, I observed Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is considered the holiest, whereby Muslims across the world fast from dawn until dusk. Though I did not fast, in their strictest sense of the word, I refrained from alcohol consumption during this time.
I fondly remember Iftar, the moment just after sunset when one would break-fast, starting with a single date and a glass of water. This was followed by a delectable feast of dried and fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, bread, lamb, chicken, fish and a smorgasbord of desserts. For 40 days, there was a celebration each night that often lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
Upon sunrise, strict fasting, including no water, would resume.
In Kuwait, where I first experienced Ramadan and where daily temperatures often exceeded 45 degrees Celsius, I was gob smacked by my colleagues’ commitment to their faith.
There is a certain sacredness that one senses when an entire population engages in such a ritual.
In Khartoum, Sudan, another example, I recall being on the streets moments just before sunset and I noticed where cars and trucks would suddenly stop and there were banquets of food laid out right there in the streets. A Sudanese friend later explained that for truck drivers for instance, should Iftar find them away from home, they could just stop and join a community wherever they were. Wherever you are, there you are.
My indulgences, seemed tiny—½ a cup of black coffee in the morning, a tiny piece of dark chocolate to pick me up in the afternoon. In the long run, rewards like a class or two of wine after a stressful day at work, were starting to have a cumulative, dependent effect.
For anyone who has attempted to rid themselves of caffeine, especially the one associated with coffee, you know the symptoms all too well—headaches, extreme lethargy and for some, even nausea.
In my case, it was keeping my irritability in check that was my greatest challenge.
As I watched myself on the verge of spiraling on Day 1 as someone entered my office with yet another inane question, I heard myself say to this person, “forgive me, but I’m not drinking coffee for Lent and today is the first day and I’m a tad irritable.”
Immediate compassion—or so I chose to interpret—swept across this person’s face. Here in Central Africa, present a seemingly religious explanation for anything that appears out of the ordinary and there is an almost immediate reverence that which is bestowed upon you.
My boss who was seated in my office at the time, smiled and commiserated by saying, “Ah, I couldn’t figure out where all of this angst was coming from in response to a pretty straight-forward question.”
We both burst out laughing. When the going gets tough, laughter is the best remedy!
With each passing day, I feel as though a heavy cloud that loomed above my head is lifting. My eyes are slowly starting to feel brighter and perhaps—now here’s the cherry on the cake for me— my asana practice has virtually transcended itself to a whole ‘nother level.
As I flow graciously through my vinyasa, combining movement with breath, I am keenly aware a renewed openness that I feel. This morning, as I ran through the forest gazelle-like, I felt totally and utterly in sync with the Universe.
Even though I still maintain my basic mantra of everything in moderation, one year of moderately yet consistently consuming coffee, alcohol and dark chocolate does accumulate! Already in 5 days that nagging feeling of tiredness that I found myself struggling with is dissipating.
For me, the benefits of my choice far outweigh the perceived deprivation in the long run. On the contrary, I haven’t given up anything. One may argue that it’s just words but lest we forget, words carry tremendous energy and power.
Besides enhancing our levels of awareness, consciously choosing to eliminate people, place and things from our lives that no longer serve us is perhaps the most empowering thing that we can do for ourselves, while also creating space for us to invite wholesome goodness into our spheres.
“Shut up, Serbian-ex,” I’m starting to hear your nagging whisper!
*For more about Lent in Western Christianity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent
Editor: Brianna Bemel