Today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. Wikipedia defines Ash Wednesday as the “Christian practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God” and Lent as “a time of sacrifice for Jesus”. I didn’t know that this religious holiday was today until a 20 year-old came into my office with ashes on her forehead and lamented that she is giving up chocolate, again, for Lent and expressed how much this pains her. So I asked her, “why”?
She was surprised by the question and said, well, um, because I like chocolate a lot. “Yes,” I said, “but why are you giving it up?” Well, um, because you’re supposed to give up what you like the most for Lent. “Yes, but why?” Well, um, so you can appreciate it more after 40 days of not having it. “Okay, but why are you doing this? I mean, what is the purpose of Lent, why was it created?” Well, um, I don’t really know but it’s part of my faith and that’s how I grew up. “So you just do it because that’s what’s always been done?” Well, um, yeah, I guess so. I suggested she just keep eating chocolate, Jesus would probably be happier to know she was enjoying herself.
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Ritual can trap our attention better than anything I can think of. But it also demands a very high price. That high price is morbidity; and morbidity could have the heaviest liens and mortgages on our awareness. ~ The Power of Silence
Don Juan said, in The Fire from Within, that rituals are necessary at one time in every warrior’s life but only for purposes of luring one’s first attention away from the power of self-absorption, which keeps his assemblage point rigidly fixed. The obsessive entanglement of the first attention in self-absorption or reason is a powerful binding force, and ritual behavior, because it is repetitive, forces the first attention to free some energy from watching the inventory, as a consequence of which the assemblage point loses its rigidity.
The downside of ritual, however, is that it can trap the attention and over time the assemblage point becomes fixated on the ritual instead of seeing the ritual as, perhaps, a means of shifting the assemblage point. As a result, the ritual becomes empty and meaningless and freedom is further hindered as a result of the amount of energy spent performing the habitual ritual.
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