40 days is a long time, long enough that by the end of those days you can feel like you have either started to break free from something or begun to cultivate a new perspective or skill.
I see the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday as a time to personally reflect, and develop oneself in a way that draws you closer to your Inner Truth. Clearing away any distractions and then developing a more intimate relationship with God (or Universal Consciousness).
Most all cultures and belief systems encourage abstaining in some shape or form and it’s usually suggested as it will bring about clarity, focus, and a deeper faith and commitment to the necessary task at hand, or the greater connection one desires.
Through a yogic lifestyle one is often encouraged to both reflect on the relations with oneself (Niyamas) alongside the relations with the world (Yamas). Like the Ten Commandments in the Bible, these are pillars in the truth of yoga. Many only see yoga as poses and breathing, but yoga is a life language as to how to become the best version of yourself and ultimately achieve Samadhi (fully integrated consciousness). Acting in truth and honesty alongside the practices of abstaining and self-study, we seek a deeper truth and a relationship with God (or Universal Consciousness) to become the best version of ourselves.
Deborah Adele says that “the Yamas and Niyamas are yoga’s ten ethical guidelines and are foundational to all yogic thought. They comprise the first two limbs of Yoga’s eight-fold path and provide the toolkit you need for skillful living”.
I love the thought of calling such a practice as skillful living. Does not everyone desire to live a life that he (or she) feels masterful in, that the tools in the toolkit are understood and beneficial to use on a daily basis, not just during a 40-day period?
It is through yoga that I have better understood the practice of 40 days (of Lent). And it is through a greater understanding of yoga that 40 days of anything has become more attainable whether it be to abstain or cultivate.
Often in yoga, with the guidance of a guru (teacher) one will work to purify themselves for a decided length of time. 40 days is often viewed as just the beginning of refinement to the self:
- 40 Days to change or break a habit.
- 90 Days to confirm a new habit.
- 120 Days the new habit is who you are.
- 1000 Days you have mastered the new habit.
Through yoga it is believed that it takes 40 days to begin to rewire the brain and retrain the nervous system. So over the course of the 40 days of Lent, if you were to look at it from a yogic perspective, one would not gorge themselves in candy, soda or junk food in celebration that they made it 40 days without. To simply go back to their old habits and ways like nothing ever happened. But rather that time of abstaining would have also been filled with self-reflection, meditation and a cultivating of new patterns to fill the void of the old ones. And then after that initial 40 days, if your ultimate goal was to actually change the self-one would press on beyond Easter Sunday and work to continue on refining themselves and exploring the cultivated connection with God until they would feel they have mastered the new habit or skill.
Did Jesus not go out into the Judaean desert for 40 days alone with his teacher? And wasn’t it during that time that he abstained from food and water; during which he was said to have been tempted by evil? But it was also during those 40 days that he chooses to meditate to deepen his connection to God and overcome evil.
And Jesus wasn’t the only one to practice or abstain for 40 days; Moses was forty days alone with the Divine Presence on Horeb. Elijah fasted forty days in the wilderness before the vision and the voice came to him.
These followers all have one very important thing in common: each of these men for 40 days (weather they knew it was going to be this long or not) were put in a position that deeply challenged themselves, taking away that which makes their lives easier in order to hear the word of God.
In today’s modern yogic world one will often embark on a 40-day journey on the mat for a slew of reasons. But like the practice of Lent, those 40 days should be a time to both abstain AND cultivate. Coming to your mat for 40 days suggests that you are purposefully replacing time you would otherwise be spending doing something of lesser value and replacing it with something of greater good. To me my practice is my prayer, I deeply connect each and every time I arrive on my mat. And the continual arrival every day without missing asks something of us deeply when we would otherwise turn away.
When Jesus went into the Judaean desert for 40 days, through yogic practices we would have said Jesus went into the desert to practice tapas (self-discipline and inner exploration) with the means to hear God (surrender to God- ishvara pranidhana) as the other men in the Bible did as well.
And could this self-sacrificing act of a 40 day fast also have paved the way for others to walk in similar truths and desire to gain clarity, purify the self, and come to hear God?
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked why he fasted, he said he had been inspired by memorable quotations of noteworthy human beings who’d fasted before him two of which were noted as Moses and Jesus.
I think back to a time when I couldn’t even go one hour without acting in a life strangling addiction that had literally overtaken every inch of my life. I understood the need for lent and what it was largely supposed to do for me, but lacked the skills and toolkit to be able to actually follow through on such an act.
And I am neither saintly nor holy, but rather a woman trying to live her life right, learning from each day and sharing what I learn along the way. When I think about what 40 days can offer me I am now excited at the challenge and look forward to what clarity I can gain from continually working to refine myself with such a practice.
Lent may be a Christian/Catholic deemed practice, but having developed a real understanding of yoga I am able to use Lent to truly self-sacrifice, and with that, fill this new found time with more worthy ways to connect with God and live my life right. So at the end of these 40 days, my hope is that I have started to cultivate yet another new skill in exchange for letting go of another aspect of myself and my life that is disconnecting me from my purpose, my calling and my Higher Power.
No matter what your faith, belief or purpose for practice. To dedicate yourself to 40 days of something that brings more meaning, value, and presence to your life and connection to your Higher Power, seems like a good idea to me.
See you in 40 days!
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