This week brought a valuable lesson about emotions, and the power we allow them to have over us.
Specifically, I'm talking about fear -- and how I've decided to deal with it by using a somewhat unexpected inspiration.
Confused? Allow me to expand my thinking...
Thanks to my Catholic upbringing, this time of year always brings memories of sacrificing for Lent. Every year, as we approached Ash Wednesday, Mom would ask me what I was planning to do or give up -- for the next 40 days until Easter -- out of respect for this sacred time.
Growing up, my sacrifice usually involved a favorite food. I'd sit there while my friends ate their ice cream sandwiches or their nacho chips or whatever other processed cafeteria food I'd given up, and I'd try not to squirm, sometimes even allowing myself to feel a bit pious in the struggle.
Today I've got to hand it to those who continue to practice the tradition, which of course involves much more than sacrifice -- like giving of oneself, taking a positive step in life, attending special services.
Personally it's been a very, very long time since I've even thought about doing something special for Lent. At least, that was the case until this past weekend when Sheila, a Buddhist friend of mine, shared the special way she's practiced Lent in the past.
I was intrigued. A Buddhist practicing Lent? I hadn't realized these things crossed over.
It turns out they do -- sort of. As a Buddhist testing out the idea, it didn't quite make sense to Sheila to sacrifice something that made her happy. Instead, she went the route of sacrificing something that made her feel less fulfilled, less joyful.
So a few years ago, she decided to give up sadness during Lent. No lie. And as luck would have it, her first test came pretty quickly when -- right at the start -- her boyfriend dumped her.
But Sheila stuck with it. As sad as she wanted to feel, as much as she wanted to wallow, every time a lump formed in her throat she simply reminded herself that she couldn't feel sad because she'd given it up. Each time, as she banished her sadness away, she'd even allow herself a little laugh about the whole situation.
When the 40 days were over she did allow herself to grieve because, as we all know, it's always important to feel our feelings. We don't want to deny the emotions that need to be worked through, that reflect a deeper issue, that might teach us a valuable lesson.
But in the end she also realized that the whole experiment had given her some tremendous perspective on sadness. It proved to her just what a transitory emotion sadness is, how it carries exactly the same weight -- no more and no less -- than other emotions, despite the heaviness we might give it in our minds.
It reminded her that we really do have a say in what we feel, how deeply we feel it, and how much control we have to move on from it.
I was so inspired by her story that I decided to follow suit (or blatantly copy her idea -- you decide).
So this year -- I'm giving up fear for Lent.
I'm declaring it to you right now.
For 40 days, I will not allow fear to take over my brain.
Whenever I worry that I'm going to fail or mess up, whenever I worry that I'm going to look stupid in front of an audience or write something terrible -- I will simply remind myself that fear is not an option for me until Easter.
Yes, just like sadness, fear does have its place in life, and I will honor that place. In 40 days I will allow it to teach me lessons. I will allow it to help me set parameters and boundaries.
But for the next six weeks, leading up to Easter Sunday, anytime fear or anxiety or doubt or panic settle in, I will remind myself of this commitment. I will allow myself to laugh at the silliness of it. I will watch as I force the fear out of my brain.
I invite you to join me -- to sacrifice something that has its way with you, an emotion or a habit or a toxic person or situation that takes your energy, your power and your happiness.
For 40 days, join me in waving it goodbye, allowing yourself a chuckle, and promising to see it again at the end of March, when you've undoubtedly gained some new perspective.
Let's do it together. If you're in, comment below and we can keep the conversation going -- perhaps share our progress along the way.
Think about it. It'll be good for you. It'll be good for us.
Here's to borrowing from Lent. Here's to greater happiness...
For more by Deirdre Maloney, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.