On February 9th masses of people around the world will celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnival on “Fat Tuesday.” In Catholic tradition, Fat Tuesday initiates the week before Lenten begins, which starts the religious rituals that lead to Easter, this year celebrated at the end of March. Historically, Lenten marked the beginning of personal restraint before Easter. Followers of the tradition began fasting, eating only fish and refraining from meat, eggs, milk and cheese.
So traditionally for Catholics, Mardi Gras is a religious occasion of feasting before fasting. For many others, it simply signifies a special day to party and parade in masquerade and flamboyant costume, indulge in food and drink, and let loose. People love to party and Fat Tuesday is as good an excuse as any! Gathering for a happy festivity with others of like mind and inclination to play music, dance and express oneself through costume can be wonderful ways to release tension and stress, part of creating a balanced life. Enjoy!
However, this year I also invite you to deeply consider the restraint that precipitates the Mardi Gras celebration.
It makes me think about being a child, growing up in a Catholic family. I was not asked to eliminate all of the foods historically requested, but rather to give up one food item or habit that normally brought me pleasure until Easter arrived. I recall this as a terrible request to make of me, and I’d try to think of something that was sort of pleasing but not my favorite … because, of course, I had to announce what I was giving up and then held accountable to my commitment. If I slipped up and indulged I felt tremendous guilt.
Reflecting on this, I wish a different focus could have been placed on this practice. That giving up something could be considered an acknowledgement of abundance, of recognizing all one has in spite of one small, temporary retraction of something pleasurable.
Many of us on this planet live in a kind of over indulgent abundance, where most everything we want, let alone need, is at our fingertips. Rarely do we have the impetus to refrain from anything unless illness or personal disaster dictates it. Intentionally choosing to give up something that we find pleasing or fun asks us to initiate self-discipline and have better awareness about a personal habit or activity that we most likely take for granted.
Reining in, through a choice of abstinence, brings our attention to how the particular food or activity has served us … or, if indeed, it does serve our highest good. This kind of awareness can lead to an attitude of gratefulness and greater appreciation for what we do have.
I wonder if this was the intention for this season’s festivities right from the start but, like many activities in life, over time participation becomes rote. We do it because it’s there and available, rather than because we choose it with intention and meaning.
An intentional shift in perspective or habit, even if temporary as the tradition of Lenten asks followers to do, shakes up the status quo and disturbs one’s comfort zone. From my experience, such times are wonderful learning opportunities and can open the door to positive change.
So, this year, consider Mardi Gras not only a time to let loose but to rein in. Let this celebration bring you into greater self-awareness and be a change agent to help you create a more balanced, integrated life!