What are you avoiding?
How the practice of memento mori leads to being more fully alive
This is The Meadow. Michele's biweekly-ish essay for those seeking to be more fully awake and alive in the world.
What is the one thing you are avoiding?
If you are like me, there's something that deep down you know you need to know but you don't do it. You postpone it, you take shortcuts, you tip toe around it, but you don't do it.
I'm not talking about the things you think you "should" do (exercise more, eat less Cheetos, stop surfing the Internet). I'm talking about that one very specific thing that your conscience, when it's not being distracted, is whispering to you to do.
And you will. Someday. Or at least that's what you tell yourself.
For me, this thing is fasting. The voice telling me to adopt some kind of regular fasting practice has been increasing in volume these past few years. Because for me, eating just a little too much is one way that I cushion myself from the world. Protect myself from discomfort. I have rebelled against any form of dieting or food restriction my entire life.
I hate it. I do not like being hungry. It will lead to an eating disorder, I tell myself. I will starve. My metabolism will slow down so much that I will become obese. I will be mean to my kids. I will do it later, when they are grown.
Sometimes, though, I finally consent. But on my terms. Ok, I say, I will try it. I will fast overnight, delay my breakfast. Or give up meals on Ash Wednesday. And I do these things, dabble in fasting here and there.
But here's my dark secret--I undermine fasting by feasting as soon as the fast is over. I then avoiding fasting for weeks and months after even the tiniest bit of deprivation. There's no way I'd make fasting a regular part of my day or week. That's crazy talk. That's for other people, not for me. I'm Italian, food is too important to me. I'm anxious, food is calming to me. I don't have any other vices, I need a little dessert in my day. Yet, deep down, I know in my gut that I am being called to some kind of regular fasting practice. During Lent, yes, and then some modified form afterwards.
And I don't want to do it. I don't want to be hungry on a regular basis. I have no will power, I say.
But here's another secret: I did 30 days of intermittent fasting a few months ago, and it was the best thing I have done for my spirit and my health in a long time. I chose something really easy (16:8 fast--a 16 hour overnight fast and then eat in an 8 hour window). I only did it for 4 days per week, leaving my weekends open. Even this very mild fast was so very very hard, particularly because it lasted a whole month. But I also experienced so much freedom. I was happier than I had been in months. I felt lighter, more alert, more open and kind. The grumpiness only lasted a few days. I missed food, especially my beloved breakfasts, but when I got too hungry, I got down on my knees and prayed for help to overcome temptation. And that kept me in a lovely place spiritually--instead of being self-sufficient, I opened myself up to supernatural help, and that very act of opening, of trusting the goodness of God to provide what I needed, exercised a muscle long dormant. The muscle of trust. The act of faith. Turning to something larger than myself.
Still, I was glad when it was over. But to my surprise, the benefits of the fast quickly dissipated after the 30 days was over. I regained the weight I lost, I became "cloudy," and anxiety crept back into my days. So, when Lent approached, I knew I had to take up this practice again. And I didn't want to. I've tried twice to backpedal on my commitment I made, but a few days into Lent, and I'm sticking with it, kicking and screaming (internally at least). It feels harder this time, as if I know deep inside that it's not just a temporary 30 days, but may end up being a lifestyle.
This morning, though, as I remembered my death (memento mori, my Lenten focus this year), I realized that when I die, I don't want to look back at a life lived in a fog, regretting not doing the thing I was called to do. Rather, I want to say I died while fully alive.
So, I'm keeping my fast until Easter (still moderate--16:8 with weekends off). I don't know what I will do after Easter, but I sense it will be some modified version of this for a while (maybe 14 hrs fasting:10 eating?). And I will keep turning to God when I get hungry and grumpy and needy because where else can I go? I will trust and hope that all this is leading me somewhere I need to be.
I invite you to join me--not in fasting, but in listening to that quiet voice within you telling you the one thing you don't want to hear. Saying, This is the way, walk in it. Because that is the way that leads to a life fully alive. That voice says different things to each of us, depending upon our unique circumstances, but it does call each of us to somewhere better than we are now.
Memento Mori. Remember your death. And may we all choose to live NOW, fully alive.
Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash
I look forward to your thoughts and comments. It feels wonderful to connect with others who share a similar commitment to waking up and living life more fully alive. I want to learn from your experiences, and I hope what I write is of some help or comfort too.
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