Yesterday marked the first day of Lent, the six week period leading up to Easter, which is observed all over the Christian world. If you're not familiar with the story, the Bible states that Jesus went into the desert for forty days to fast before he started his public ministry. It's a season of reflection, a time during which a lot of people tend to give up things such as chocolate or Instagram (I have attempted neither of these and it will take a lot of persuasion for me to consider them!) Whether you're a God-fearing evangelical or a staunch atheist, the whole idea of a period of reflection - I think - is pretty important. Reflection, more generally, is something I've always enjoyed and deemed significant, and not just because ya girl is on track to becoming a teacher (teachers luuuurve reflective activities, lemme tell you.) Lenten daily practices can actually be a really great way of connecting more with your community, with the wider world and with yourself and your own spirituality. The pastor at my church (shout out to Mike - woo) has put together forty Lenten daily practices that I thought would be great to share with my readers. These are split into seven categories (one for each day of the week), and are as follows: 1. Action and appreciation for life This practice is all about being grateful for the world around you and thinking about how you can contribute to its maintenance and growth. Whether it's doing physical exercise, choosing a cause to learn more about or writing five things that you're thankful for each night, taking an active and appreciative role allows you to connect more with yourself and your surroundings. Take a moment to think about everything that has come before you. So many cataclysmic events have taken place in order for you to sit here now, reading this blog post. Nature breathes life around you, and in turn you take up your own space within nature. Though we're a tiny speck in a vast universe, it's true that our miniscule actions can have a ripple effect. As you start to adopt an active and appreciative attitude, your awareness naturally grows. 2. Prayer and contemplation Prayer plays a super important role in pretty much all major religions, and even amongst those who don't necessarily believe in a higher power. The very act of prayer is about realising that you, ultimately, do not hold the control that is needed to keep the earth finely balanced. Some might say it's a state of meditation. Either way, our thoughts hold power. This practice is about attuning your thoughts to those who you know, those you you don't know, and those who you're very close to - in short, everybody. Do you ever take the time to think about your co-worker, the one who sends those annoying e-mails? Do you ever think about the man in the corner shop? Maybe only fleetingly - but they're fully worthy of your energy and attention. They're only one e-mail or street away from you, after all, connected to you in more ways than you probably realise. 3. Consider your consumption We're living in a world in which we are encouraged to gorge ourselves silly without necessarily considering the consequences. These practices are more direct and sometimes challenging, such as limiting the amount you talk about yourself in a day, not looking in the mirror, pledging to refrain from buying any new clothes (or an alternative) for six months, limiting your screen time, considering your use of products with palm oil in them...the list goes on. How can you focus this attention elsewhere? What can you do with this time that you'd normally spend consuming and indulging? Any tweaks made are good tweaks - sometimes it's not about going cold turkey, but changing your perspective. 4. Being generous We love to see it! This may be the easiest to achieve, although maybe you're not used to giving away things that you own, or taking time to send random messages or words of encouragement to people. Life gets busy, right? I've found, however, that by investing time and energy into doing something for someone else, it actually gives me a sense of calm, too. Practices include giving five people compliments in one day, setting aside items from your wardrobe to give to charity or buying an Easter egg for someone you know. Maybe you already do things like this in your daily life. How about someone you don't necessarily know very well? 5. Abstaining from something People traditionally associate Lent with abstinence, and this can be a really useful practice. A lot of people take this time to fast for so many days, but you don't necessarily have to refrain from edible things. You can fast from reading or watching the news, from complaining and negativity or social media. Abstinence helps you to realise how much you may rely on something, and how it's possible to live without it (that's if you succeed, of course!) It helps to put things into perspective - maybe we didn't realise how something was impacting us so much, and it's only through abstaining from it that we understand. 6. Connecting with people Ahh, people...we love 'em and we hate 'em. Can't get rid of 'em though! Connection is an important part of the Lenten practice - sometimes it can feel quite isolating but of course we're living in a very interconnected world and every action that we take will always directly or indirectly affect someone else. This practice involves helping people, researching what's going on in your local community or even just being sociable. 7. Being creative Perhaps my favourite category! One of the amazing gifts about life is the very fact that we have all been given gifts - a multitude of them. Gifts are often best when shared, so how can you use this creativity for good? You could read or write a poem, do some art or help out with a local gardening group. Focusing on something creative is also, in itself, a very reflective practice - sometimes meditative. These are just some ideas of things to integrate into your life for the next forty days, but you might want to consider them for the long-term, too. Last year I tried being a vegan during Lent (click here to read all about it!) but I realised it was sadly not for me. That's okay though - I'm still glad I did it, and kudos to all those vegans out there because that sh*t is hard! Life is also pretty hard right now. My hope is that this time can put things into perspective for us all.
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