Mindfulness is the practice of noticing what’s happening in the present moment without judgement. It’s being aware of your sensory experience: sight, sound, scent, touch, taste. It’s offering your kind attention to your emotions and thoughts, all without analyzing or criticizing. In my Catholic experience, chocolate has been associated with Lent and Easter for decades, and it’s possible some of you have memories of giving up chocolate for Lent and then eating a basket full on Easter Sunday. Mindfulness is a big part of my yoga practice both on and off the mat. And chocolate is a big part of my life, both during Ordinary Time and during Lent. So, I thought I’d share a few mindful Lenten prayer practices that I have found useful at various times in my life.
1. Give Up Chocolate Mindfully
When I give up chocolate for Lent, it’s a big deal. Seriously. Because I love chocolate, the dark kind. I savor it daily. When a person enjoys chocolate the way I do, it really is a sacrifice to give it up. Non-chocolate-lovers might not have a felt experience of this. If that’s you, think of a special treat or snack you really enjoy and imagine not enjoying it for 40-ish days. It can seem near impossible, excruciating, or completely pointless! However, it’s comforting to remember that the point of not eating chocolate (or any food or beverage of your choice) is not so that we suffer, so that we lose weight, or so that we check the box of “giving something up for Lent.”
2. Don’t Give Up Chocolate Mindfully
We don’t have to give up chocolate. In fact, we can choose to eat chocolate during Lent, and eat it mindfully. Mindful eating is a practice of paying close attention to the experience of eating your meal by noticing the details of your food, how it looks and feels, its aroma and flavor. Mindful eating slows us down and allows time to contemplate all the needed resources for the food to grow, such as healthy soil, the the sun and the rain, as well as the many people who made the food available to you: the farmers, harvesters, packers, shippers, and sales attendants. And finally, mindful eating gives space for your lived experience of enjoying it: noticing the shape and color, then the scent, then the texture, then the taste, and as you swallow, offering thanks. This practice has a way of slowing us down to savor, to acknowledge that we don’t stand alone as individualists, but are an integral piece of the interconnectedness of all life.
“This practice might allow
the act of eating to become
a prayer in itself.“
These moments of mindful eating can create space to grow closer to Christ through an experience of profound gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy. We often begin our meals with prayer, and some of us end our meals with prayer, but this practice might allow the act of eating to become a prayer in itself. Try it out with your favorite piece of chocolate after your next yoga practice, or anytime!
3. Mindfully Explore Your Relationship to Chocolate
What happens when we look closely at our cravings? (Remember, it doesn’t have to be chocolate. It can even be cravings for non-edible things like attention or acknowledgment.) Consider this breath practice for Ash Wednesday:
- Identify a specific food, drink, or experience you have everyday. Decide to be curious about your relationship to this item.
- When you notice a craving for it, acknowledge it, perhaps by labeling it with a name. Then pause. Take a long, slow, deep breath. And wait. Does the craving pass? Are there any emotions present here?
- Take four more breaths, and if you like, link your breath with your favorite prayer or favorite name for God. Then, look again. Is the craving still there? What emotions are present? Where do the emotions manifest in your body? Are there any thoughts moving through your mind?
Remember, in the moment of mindfulness there is no judgment, only awareness of the experience. After your five breaths, decide to satisfy the craving or decide not to, remembering that neither of these actions is necessarily bad or good. Mindfulness is noticing, and this noticing might give you interesting information. Stay curious. Breathe deeply. Pray well.
For me, mindful moments are a pathway to prayer. They offer space and time for me to connect to my self, to my God, and to others. And that’s really what the Lenten journey is about – growing closer to others through prayer, through Christ, through a loving relationship with your own inner being. God has plans for you this Lent. Spend Ash Wednesday being open to possibility, open to connection to yourself and God’s Divine presence within you. And from there, move out from contemplation and into doing. In the words of Richard Rohr, ask God, “What is mine to do?” Listen and look closely for the answers and allow your prayer life to become an access road to action.
I’ll leave you with four prayer quotes for Lent gathered by Sr. Melanie Svoboda on her blog Sunflower Seeds:
“God is hiding in the world. Our task is to let the Divine emerge from our deeds.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel.
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” Pope Francis.
”No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” St. John Chrysostom.
“Lent’s not what you give up; it’s how you reach out.” Regina Brett.
What do you think? Do any of these practices sound interesting? Do any of these quotes inspire you? Perhaps you’ll start with the practice of exploration on Ash Wednesday, and then decide how (or if) the other two practices will be a part of your Lenten journey this year. You might like to make up one or two chocolate practices that are unique to your own experience. If you do, be sure to share your experience here.
Happy Fat Tuesday, Happy Lent, Happy Practicing!