I've always felt that regardless of one's relationship with The Guy Upstairs or whether or not they believe in him at all; it's still a really good practice to take one of your favourite vices and completely abstain from them for a while. And what better time than the already-existing Catholic-celebration of Lent? It's the perfect time to be saving money that you'd spend on junk like alcohol or videogames (given that Summer holidays are approaching and you're probably still feeling the pinch from the Christmas splurge) and it's even got a great little widely-respected 'Off-Day' where you can throw your Lenten Vows to the wind (Paddy's Day). I think it's a great little workout for your soul (or your karma, your chemical balance of willpower, your mastery of The Force or what have you) and it's just crazy enough to work.
I'll never forget that sullen Wednesday following an awesome Pancake Tuesday, where my Mum announced that I couldn't have any cakes or sweets for five weeks. It was like being told that your dog had died and your best friend was moving to a different country on the same day. I was suitably traumatised and depressed.
I don't recall whether or not I actually followed up with my Forced Lenten Vow that year, but the dark memory of suddenly being forbidden from so many things I enjoyed, remains fresh. Over the years, instead of abstaining from sweet things during the fasting season, I instead opted for a less soul-crushing compromise: I'd only give up soft drinks. To be fair, they are up the air with the worst things you can possibly digest into your body, so it's not like it was a pointless endeavour.
The other vice I'd most commonly avoid in tribute to That-Time-Jesus-Had-No-Eggs or whatever, was videogames. Recognising that isn't really that difficult, if you don't have any brand new games; I always made a point of buying a game on the first day of Lent, so that I'd be itching to play it for weeks beforehand. This made a fairly routine sacrifice, viciously difficult. It also made "Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death" seem like the pinnacle of video-gaming achievement (when really it's just a decent first-person shooter).
Crap, I kind of want to play "Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death" now.
In college, seeing as how semesters go so quickly and life is short, I generally didn't 'celebrate' Lent, opting instead to enjoy the few short years I had there. I did however stop drinking alcohol for an almost an entire Semester (9 weeks in total) to save up for a trip to Canada. Not only was it a nagging, obviously difficult experience, but it also served as a very interesting social experiment. The way certain people reacted or didn't react to my not drinking really opened my eyes to certain tropes we subscribe to while socialising and how much of our relationships are based on alcohol. I thought I'd give that another try this year, just for Lent. But this time, I'm going to do it a little differently, by trying some alcohol-free beers and cocktails when I'm out and about (or when I'm staying in) to see if any kind of Placebo-effect sets in, making it seem a little bit less like I'm completely abstaining.
Also, I'm definitely going to break the Heck out of this for Paddy's Day, in keeping with Irish tradition.
The biggest sacrifice I'm making in JC's name this time around is caffeine. I'm not going to touch coffee, energy drinks or caffeinated soft drinks from now until Easter. This is going to be enormously difficult, given how many cups of coffee I steam through in a day (I usually average at about four or five, not including any other caffeinated drinks I might have that day). To be honest though, I've given up coffee before and while it's very difficult at first (especially in the morning - parts of my body feel as though they're still asleep), you generally feel fresher and don't experience a really nasty lull at about 11am. You still get that nagging feeling a lot like you'd really like a nice strong fresh pot, if you're sitting down working, or reading. The best way I've found around that is to try a range of different Herbal Teas. They obviously have completely the opposite effect that caffeine does, but they're useful for when you have that craving to have a hot drink of something.
I was going to try out decaffeinated coffee, but it seems that most of these actually do still have a few milligrams of caffeine in them and I'm attempting a very strict avoidance-policy. Maybe if I completely purge it from my body, I'll get telekinetic powers like that guy in Scott Pilgrim Vs the World.
At this point in time, I'm really itching for a cup of the black stuff. It's likely that this craving's not going to go away for another little while. But, do you know what? I do feel kind of nice that my brain isn't overloading my body with unnecessary amounts of dopamine and caffeine and that my emotions and productivity right now are all natural and (heh) God-given. Basically, regardless of where you stand on religion or organised religion, I think Lent (or some kind of organised mass-abstinence of vice) is a neat idea. After all, you never know when a medical condition is going to force you to suddenly stop drinking Red Bull or a worldwide zombie invasion is going to completely cut off all production of alcoholic drinks.
With that in mind, I'll bid you all adieu! Leave a comment and let me know where you stand on this interesting time of the year. More content tomorrow, as promised.