The Lentian Detox

Photo: The Man himself. Or, not the man, depending on your religion and point of view.

So, they Catholic amongst you will know that Lent started on Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), preceded by Shrove Tuesday. Not being Catholic, and not even a little religious, these things are very foreign to me. But, in Ireland, they are hard to get away from. I walked into a local supermarket recently to find signs up everywhere advertising ‘Pancake Tuesday’ on the 8th of March. This confused me massively until researching Lent on Wikipedia a few days later I found references to Shrove Tuesday, also known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’, also known as Mardi Gras. Basically, you get rid of all the naughty foods in your household (sugar, eggs, butter, nutella etc) prior to Lent, by making piles and piles of pancakes and then eating them all in one evening. Its the binge before the diet. I was under the impression this was not a good way to start a diet, considering the fact that it basically indoctrinates the binge/starve cycle, rather than healthy, normal eating, but, hey, its sanctioned by the Catholic Church and, by extension, God, so it must be ok.
Walking through Dublin last weekend, I was handed my very own ‘Trocaire’ box, the outside of which read, ‘Your Trocaire box has arrived!!’ making me feel that not only should I know what a Trocaire box was, I should be expecting it, and be expecting it excitedly. I should be running down the street, giving people high-fives, and screaming with joy, ‘My Trocaire box! My Trociare box has arrived!’ A little more internet research revealed that Trocaire was a Catholic charity that runs a big drive during Lent, charity work and donations being the twin generous side to the deprivation/starvation side of Lent. I was a little disappointed, quite frankly, which made me feel guilty, which then made me feel Catholic.
I’m intrigued by the idea of Lent. Its popping up everywhere. The girl at my creative course tonight said she was giving up meat for Lent (which I found a little strange, as being a vegetarian is something I do all the time without even thinking about), but I’m almost certain she’s not Catholic. On the radio today, I heard a man stating he was off ‘alcohol, crisps and sweets’ for Lent. No-one in my household is giving up anything, but they still made pancakes on Tuesday (the binge without the diet! This is my kind of family!) I’ve been doing some research into it and the deprivation thing is meant to be done for a variety of reasons. 1) To allow us to focus on our relationship with God through prayer, meditation etc. 2) To make us take a break from our selfish lives 3) To punish ourselves and remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. Leaving aside the last reason, which I think is a little freaky and unnecessary, and leaving out the ‘God’ (or, reading it more liberally, as in, ‘the world’, ‘the universe’, ‘the eternal mother’, whatever you want to name it), I think it all seems like a good idea, and certainly something that many people could benefit from.
I found an old Irish Independent article (from the Celtic Tiger days) online which asked various celebrities what they were giving up for Lent. The ones that weren’t giving up anything were getting on the high horses and saying that they thought people were doing it ‘for the wrong reasons’. That is, giving up chocolate because they wanted to lose a few pounds, or because they had overdone it at Christmas. I guess they’re right, in that you can do that at any time of the year (and its just called a diet), but I don’t know that, if you enter into the deprivation in the right mind-set (eg, leave off the third reason for doing Lent, the beating yourself up and telling you that you are an awful person and need to be punished, and just go for the, ‘be mindful of your life and your connection to the world’ reasons) it might not be beneficial.
I’ve never been Catholic, but I have been into self-denial for as long as I can remember, so I thought, maybe this year, to get into the spirit of the Catholic country I’m in, I would try to give up treats for Lent (plus, you know, I’ve been eating so terribly that only my big jeans fit, I’m constantly panicking that I’m pregnant, and there’s no way I’m pregnant, unless its the Immaculate Conception X 2, and no angels, not even ones that look like Alan Rickman – one for the ‘Dogma’ fans – have come to visit me, so the point is, yes, I’d like to lose a few pounds too, snobby, high-horse celebrity, or at the very least, stop eating so much chocolate because its not very healthy). So far, I’ve done very badly. I ate very well for the two days running up to Lent, but as soon as it actually hit Lent, it all went to crap. You see, I thought I’d let myself still have alcohol, you know, so I wasn’t going overboard with the deprivation, but of course, what happens when I have alcohol is I get into a very carefree mood and I think things like, ‘Why would I give up treats? I LOVE treats! That makes no sense! I’m not Catholic and stuff! I’m going to have a Nutella sandwich. Or 4.’ Lent ruined. After, oh, about, 22 hours (8 hours of which I was sleeping).
Anyway, I’m going to give it another whirl. I’m not beating myself up about the lapse, or feeling guilty about it (which would certainly add to the Catholic experience, so maybe I should start), but I am curious what it would be like if I managed to do it. And, once again, I’m not talking about the deprivation side of things, that’s just a diet, and I’ve been on enough of those to know that its hell and horrendous and generally doesn’t work anyway. What I’m talking about is the kind of spiritual, mindfulness, which sitting in front of the TV and eating crap doesn’t really encourage.
So, yeah, we’ll see. I reckon I could be a lot more innovative, effective and hard-working if I drank herbal tea all the time and read books or wrote in a beautifully-lit room instead of watching endless re-runs of ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Frasier’ (side-note: The Comedy Channel should change its name to The Unfunny, Extremely Irritating, Canned-Laughter Channel, as all it ever shows is re-runs of ‘Two and a Half Men’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, the title of which only ever makes me want to yell at the TV screen, ‘No they don’t! They don’t! Nobody loves Raymond except Raymond!’), but I don’t know if I’m serene and spiritual enough to pull it off. I’d like to get some fisherman’s pants and wooden beads and incense and go all Elizabeth Gilbert in her India-phase, but I’m realistic that, in spite of how good it would be for me, I’ll probably only manage to be all Buddha-like one day in seven. I wonder if the Catholic church would be happy with me still calling it “Lent” quite frankly, considering the changes I want to make to the festival. Oh well, who cares.
Anyway, I’ve got my Trocaire box on the night stand, and I’ve put the plan in writing, and pledged it to the internet and whatever Facebook friends decide to read this post, so maybe that will make a difference. I will keep you updated on my progress, negative or positive.

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