An idea I used in my grief therapy when someone felt stuck and unable to access their feelings of grief was to suggest “intentional grieving.” I suggested they not wait for the sadness to hit, but to do some things that invited the sadness. I encouraged them to do something that would put them in the position of thinking about their deceased loved one. Some of the ideas students came up with were to look at photos, listen to “their songs,” or go back and visit “their special place.” One student simply put on the green t-shirt her brother had given her. That was enough to help her get unstuck, to re-engage with her loss.

Of course, the goal is not to wallow in our grief. The goal is to keep the grief moving through us, fully embacing the feelings that accompany loss as well as embracing the necessities and possibilities of life now.

Lent for me is like “intentional grieving,” doing something that creates a self-imposed crisis. Because I live so much of my life in default mode, I need something that will help me pay attention. The discipline of giving something up or taking on an activity does just that. But giving something up is not what is important. That only requires will power. For me, Lent is not about the activity taken on or given up, it is about noticing what happens when I consciously engage in the behavior.

One year, the realization was, “Oh wow, look at how I feel when I don’t automatically eat when I’m bored.” Another year it was noticing the change in me when I wrote notes of gratitude. It sounds simple, but a regular, self-imposed deviation from a routine creates a small crisis that I must then pay attention to. I am forced to ask, “What now?”

airportThe goal of the disciplines is not to accomplish the task; the goal is to create a space in my daily life for being focused, for paying attention, for being mindful of that moment.   As I sit here (in the Miami airport) engaging in my Lenten discipline of writing, I am aware, as I am each time I do this, how easy it is to abandon the task. I convince myself I am too busy, there are other things that need my attention, that I need to listen for my flight to be called, etc.

Nothing is keeping me from this task except my own resistance, and noticing that is the whole point for right now.