Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fat Tuesday

No pun intended. I love Fat Tuesday. One of my fondest college memories is of piling into a car and driving many hours to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday. (I still think about you every year Jen and Nick). Bacchus is alive and well and visits the French Quarter annually.

In my 30's, I started liking Fat Tuesday for a new and completely opposite reason -- it's the day before Lent. As a child, I was always asked to give up something I liked during Lent. I'd usually pick something fairly harmless like "pizza" and then forget and break my resolution at first chance. We always talked about it, but it generally got the same respect as a New Year's resolution. My grandfather was the only one who kept to it. Every year he gave up his nightly cocktail during Lent.

First Efforts
Fast forward to my mid-30's. As the bloom was leaving my rose, my bad habits were starting to have more of an impact. As such, I decided to use Lent as a tool to tame them. This practice eventually led me to my quest for weight loss several years later.

The first year I gave up alcohol. This was hard, but I made it. 47 days is just about the perfect amount of time for giving up something. It's long enough to be a serious challenge but not so long as to feel like forever.

The next year was caffeine. Surprisingly, this was the hardest Lent I have had to date. I had no idea I was so addicted physically and tied emotionally to caffeine. I thought after alcohol, caffeine would be nothing, but it was brutal. Even after I had gotten the caffeine out of my system, I still craved it psychologically. I had been using it to raise my spirits throughout the work day. (A friend put this rather well-- "Drinking coffee is kinda like having a little party at work." ) Without coffee and Diet Coke, I came face to face with all the stuff that I hated about my work day and life.

I had a few off years. One year I chose sarcasm. (That was a great idea!) It lasted about 4 days. One year I chose coffee and alcohol. Didn't really work strangely because it was hard but not hard enough. Giving it up just felt annoying; there was no stretching involved. I had done both before.

The Big Year
Three years ago I gave up consumerism. This was my first blog (which I later removed). I gave up everything that wasn't really necessary. I didn't eat anything except for basic foods -- no sweets or snack foods. I didn't drink anything except for milk and water. I didn't buy anything except for groceries and the occasional item. No restaurants. No trips to Barnes & Noble. No TV. No movies.

Not surprisingly, I found that I had a great deal of time on my hands. At lunch time, I took to walking. In the evenings, I found myself often confused as to what to do. I already had a good number of books to read, but I also was exhausted. Even though I have a post-graduate degree, it took me a week or so to come up with the idea that if I was so tired perhaps I should sleep.

So I did. I slept a whole lot during that Lent. Two or three times per week, I would go to bed at 7:30 PM and get about 10-11 hours of rest. In my late thirties, I did something that I no longer really thought was possible -- I got well rested. The combo of being well rested and not giving into consumption impulses was quite eye-opening for me. In a way, it was a waking up experience. I had been covering up exhaustion with consumption, and the message to consume was firmly implanted in my brain. I attribute this to years of TV and our culture in general. My solution to most problems was to consume, if not alcohol then coffee if not coffee then food if not food then movies if not movies then ...

Running for Jesus
Last year, I chose an affirmative Lenten goal. Rather than giving up something, I chose to do something active; for Lent, I ran an hour every day. This worked out pretty well. It was not the best choice from a fitness perspective (i.e. not enough recovery time), but it was good for developing a will to do things.

Reaching Nirvana
This year I am choosing another affirmative goal. Each day of Lent I will meditate for half an hour. I have been trying to develop this habit for about 15 years now with little success. Unlike last year, I will not take Sundays off. I don't get the sense that one needs to take a day off from meditating to "recover". Being that it's Fat Tuesday today though I guess I'll ... what would the opposite of meditating be? Hmmm.

Returning to Earth
Easter will be big this year. In addition to being the end of Lent, it will be the end of another quest I have had for myself. On April 7, 2006, I laid down a challenge not to drink any alcohol for an entire year. (The exact time is fuzzy because my resolve was accompanied by a hangover.) It just so happens that April 8, 2007 is Easter, so it will be a very Happy Easter at my house.