Lent in lockdown – the reset we all need?

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This year, Lent started on Wednesday 17th of February. There’s an obvious question to be asked, and it’s one whose tone has been all too commonplace since the start of the pandemic. How do we find room for the festival in this Covid-riddled world?

The arrival of Lent will have left many of us at a loss. How do we treat the forty days ahead? Do we persist in our stoicism and give up a pleasure we usually rely on? Strictly speaking, tradition suggests we should. But in doing so, we risk inflicting further damage to our mental health, which by now may already be at breaking point.

On the face of it, Lent looks like it could be just another tether to hold us back from doing the things we love – as if we needed any more. It encourages us to step out of our comfort zones, and highlights the virtue to be found in self-sacrifice and self-restraint. By now, this rhetoric is all too familiar.

In a world where we already find ourselves denied many of our usual sources of joy, the added self-abnegation that Lent brings with it may be too much to ask of us.

Throughout the pandemic there has been, quite understandably, a large emphasis in the media on providing resources to promote mental health and self-care, if only we look in the right places. As evidence of this, Headspace have offered a year’s free subscription to those who find themselves either furloughed or unemployed.

There are innumerable articles from the BBC providing ideas about how to keep our spirits up during isolation, or inspiration for lockdown projects. The surge in popularity of the “cottagecore” aesthetic, a symbol of escapism from the grind of working from home, suggests that such campaigns do – in some sense – hit the mark.

However, these campaigns share a limiting factor. Their efficacy is hampered by the fact that they are all equally unable to put an end to the pandemic. Given that none of us are where we want to be right now, it is hopelessly optimistic to expect virtuous remedies such as meditation and constant productivity to be an easy fix. It is no secret that now is a time for self-love. That surely entails that we ought not to be as hard on ourselves as we usually are.

Does this run directly contrary to the spirit of Lent? On the face of it, it certainly appears to. But, perhaps this is too hasty a conclusion.

What does Lent do? It is intended to pick us out of a spiritual rut. In identifying and foregoing the symptoms of a life led on autopilot, we can find new appreciation for the little things in our lives that we usually take for granted.

In a typical year, we might consider giving up alcohol, chocolate, or Netflix. In times such as these, however, these three pillars of our existence can provide precious moments of personal indulgence, precisely the kind of moments that we would do well to keep in our lives. 

We’ve seen that our usual guilty pleasures – those that we’d typically give up in a non-Covid world, that is – can provide little comforts that we’d be wise not to get rid of. So how might we tailor Lent to suit the current environment? To answer this question, we need to go back to the source code. 

What does Lent do? It is intended to pick us out of a spiritual rut. In identifying and foregoing the symptoms of a life led on autopilot, we can find new appreciation for the little things in our lives that we usually take for granted.

An active effort to change how we live, even if just for forty days, can disrupt a process of going through the motions, and shake us out of a state of numbness. This helps us to see the good in little things that we usually brush over without a second thought. Ultimately, this could be an exercise that bolsters our mental health.

One fact about modern society is that there is a huge potential for consumption. Whether this concerns food, clothes, or information, most of us have access to each of these at the drop of a hat, and in staggering amounts.

The corresponding criticism is that modern society breeds individuals who consume in excess without engaging with any of what they consume mindfully. The consequence is that even the things that ought to make us happy simply don’t have the same effect anymore, and even less so because we’ve done them every day without thinking since March 2020. Or as Alistair Green puts it: “Another day another deliveroo (to block out the screaming void)”.

In this day and age, we can be forgiven for tuning out of the news once in a while and tuning into ourselves instead.

It may be too daunting to envisage completely cutting out our weekly retail therapy, or committing not to spend half an hour in the library doom scrolling through social media in despair at the latest delights that 2021 has served up. Instead, we might prefer to think of replacing these activities rather than just repressing them.

It might be a case of taking ourselves for a walk during our essay breaks, in the knowledge that some time away from the screen might actually do us some good. If that’s a bridge too far, it may be worth checking yourself as you catch your cursor drifting towards Twitter or Instagram and using that time to message someone who you’ve not seen enough because of lockdown. In this day and age, we can be forgiven for tuning out of the news once in a while and tuning into ourselves instead.

Lent does not need to involve depriving ourselves; it can also involve introducing changes. Either way, it can be reconciled with the focus on self-care that our current situation has made necessary. More than ever, we all need to look after ourselves; actively rethinking our habits, whatever they may be, is one way of doing this.  

Image by Carolina Grabowska 

 

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