Why Lent Came Calling (Day 1)

Fasting and Prayer

I recently watched a documentary called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, about a man who documented his 60-day juice fast.  He’d felt at the end of his rope health-wise, and was subsisting, at the age of 42, on an artillery of pills for a myriad of ailments.  On his journey, where he traveled across the United States telling his story while drinking his green juice, he came across a few most unlikely candidates, who latched onto his journey and made it their own.   These were people who, like him, simply felt as though they’d somehow, somewhere along the line, lost self, lost purpose, and rather than living were merely surviving.   I remember as I began watching it, thinking, “well, this isn’t new information for me, but it’s always good to get a reminder.”   But then there came a moment that truly got my attention, and made me obsessed enough to watch this movie two more times before sticking it back in the mailbox.  Not only did these participants’ health turn around (how could it not, when you’re talking about concentrated, mega doses of micro-nutrients a day?), but something in their entire psychological and spiritual paradigm shifted.   A serious reboot of mind, body, and spirit seemed to have occurred.  And lately that is something I’ve been feeling an almost desperate need for in my own life.

Something’s been wrong.  I’ve felt overwhelmed by finances and survival, and though I am an artist to my bones, I’ve been creating very little.  The novel that released almost a year ago now has barely received  much marketing nurturing from me.   I would tell myself that I believed in a universe that would take my deserving labors into it, and would not let those labors just flounder in the sea, no matter how unmotivated I may have been.  I was clearly ignoring whatever the universe might’ve had to say about effort.  Even this blog hadn’t been given any love since my last post three months ago.  My own health, fitness, and wellness is okay, but I want more than okay.   And I’ve begun to isolate socially and emotionally from those I love, or even just like.  And I realized as I watched this movie that I, too, felt I was merely surviving, and no longer living.

I’m a big believer in synchronicity.   I encounter it constantly, and always experience moments of absolute bliss when it occurs.   So, right as I was obsessing over this movie, I also happened to read a quote on Facebook, credited to Homeboy Industries, an interpretation of Lent that spoke directly to my own practices of meditation and turning inward.

“The giving up of something you enjoy is to quiet the mind and recognize how caught up we are in what we think we need.  Lent is a time of reflection and centering and to remind ourselves that what we need is inside of us.”

Amen.

I’m not Catholic, and have never observed Lent before (born and raised Baptist, now living largely with the tenets of the Buddha Dharma).  But my own spiritual approach has always been completely inclusive of any rituals that resonate with my heart and soul from all the traditions.   So, what the hell, let’s participate in Lent this year.  Of course, I came to this resolution ten days into Lent, but I also realized that for me it wasn’t about the number of days, but simply about participating in something for however long I could, somewhere during this stretch of time called Lent.  It was a symbol.

From the moment I decided to participate, I knew that a juice fast was going to be the chosen sacrifice.  Lent and this documentary couldn’t’ve both been roiling in my head at the same time for any other reason.  And for me, it seemed too easy just to give up wine, or coffee, or chocolate, or whatever (the typical choices I always hear about).   I wanted it to be something truly challenging, because if the ante wasn’t high enough then I just didn’t see any kind of genuine transformation being a part of the deal.  So, I decided to do 10 days of a juice fast, inspired by Joe Cross’ adventure, coupled with an intensive meditation.   To quiet my mind, and invite the truth to show itself to me.  To actively seek to forgive myself whatever realities I’ve clearly felt needed punishing.   To feed my body with only what it needs, and not what I think it needs (in this environment that I’ve created of learning to self-medicate and to numb).   To get really, seriously, ridiculously focused, which the ritual of juicing pounds of vegetables every day, and cleaning the multi-parts juicer everyday, and getting in lotus position everyday, and saying “no” to every waft of food that comes your way everyday, will give you.  There’s no meditating in the movie, but I decided to include meditation because suddenly the age-old tradition of “prayer and fasting” was very attractive to me.

I am open to the possibility that if I’m feeling the need for further, come Day 10, I’ll extend the fast beyond that (I can tell you now, it won’t be the 60 days that Joe Cross accomplished).   And am resolved that if I do make it to Day 10, and don’t crumble at Day 5, it will be a triumph beyond words.  No other options exist.

I chose a day to start, and even got a friend on board to do it with me, so that a sense of community, of a support system, of checking in every day and keeping each other honest, would be set firmly in place.   And today is that day.   Leading up to today, I experienced the weirdest and widest berth of emotions about it.   Dread – that I would not succeed, that I would bail after Day 2 because my caffeine and sugar addiction would get the better of me and have me climbing the walls.   Hope – that I might actually come out of this 10 days changed, transformed, bettered.   Anxiety – that a social commitment would challenge my ability to stick with this; because, what are we if not social animals who congregate over food and libations?  And honor – to be entering into this ritual that I see as sacred space.

My first instinct was to share this journey publicly.   Facebook here I come!    Then I thought, no, not this one.   This one requires quiet.   Then a third thought came to me.  That if I blogged about the journey (no, it’s not a travelogue to the Himalayas, or across an ocean, merely an internal one), then I would be made to stay honest, to commit, to see this all the way through.   Otherwise there’s just public humiliation, and we all know how fun that can be.   But there was something deeper to the thought, as well.   A connection.  Sharing my journey means opening my heart.  Maybe even inspiring someone else who may be feeling lost.   Just as a Netflix DVD changed my world one night.

So, here I am.   Day 1.

I awoke with excitement, and immediately went from my bed to my meditation altar, lit my candles, drew my mantra for the day, and then closed my eyes and did what I do.  Sometimes meditation can completely cocoon me in the comfort and warmth of meaning.  Other times I can be quite antsy and distracted.  It happens.  Every day is different.  Today I was cocooned.  When I was done, I walked right over to my kitchen and juiced up the pile of vegetables and fruit I’d bought the night before.   I was stunned at how little juice that huge pile of veggies actually made, and instantly realized I’d need a lot more vegetables every day to make this work, and to keep me from feeling starved.   But the juice was tasty (I made enough for all of my meals today), so the first effort has been a triumph.   Today’s combination is spinach, kale, celery, apples, a whole lemon, and copious amounts of ginger.   I made sure, as I prepared for this day, to collect as many juicing recipes as I could find, so that the creature of habit in me wouldn’t end up making the same thing every day, and growing bored, and quitting.

So far, so good.   No panic seems to have hit.   I’ll call my friend who’s doing this with me a little later on to see how he’s doing.   But I’ll check in at the end of every one of these ten days, document where I am, and promise to be honest about how I’m feeling.   There are sure to be some cranky moments, but if I keep clear and present about what I’m trying to accomplish, I think the crankiness will be kept to a minimum.   Or it’ll be the steepest mountain I’ve ever had to climb.  Either one works for me, because I’m ready to take this on.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, offers a thought that does my heart good as I go forth into Prayer-&-Fasting Land.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, anything from your house to bitter old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”

That’s good enough for me.   See you all tomorrow.

 

 

P.S.  Speaking of synchronicity, the very next day after reading the Homeboy Industries quote on Lent, I was driving to Union Station in Downtown LA, and drove right by a large building with “Homeboy Industries” in big, bold letters on top of it.   I just had to stop in to find out about them.   Wow!  Check them out, if you’re so inclined.  Homeboy Industries

And while we’re at it, check out:
Reboot With Joe

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

So, This Bindi Thing…

Head shot you tube copy 2

For years I’ve worn the jeweled ones. Colorful ornamental drops that nestle between the eyebrows. The first time I even thought to do so was after seeing a White woman wearing one at a party. This was years ago. Though the bindi is of Hindu derivation, and comes from ancient tradition, and I’ve obviously seen Indian women wearing them since I can remember, I was struck by this non-Indian woman daring to be brazen enough to do this tradition that was not of her own culture (the truth is, I have no clue what this woman’s background or experience was). The point is that it opened up something in me. I realized that most people, at least that I’ve ever observed in life, attach themselves to rituals, causes, and agendas based upon very compartmentalized associations.

How many people march in Gay Pride parades that aren’t gay? How many African-Americans associate themselves with Jewish causes? How many Caucasians walk around sporting African kufis on their heads as a simple matter of fashion and personal taste? Of course the answer is never none. There are always those treasured jewels who believe in a world beyond their own personal demographic, who embrace that above all else this is a human culture, and not just a racial one, or a gender one, or a sexual preference one, or whatever. The movie Cloud Atlas dared to challenge that notion by its very casting (an Asian woman portraying a Mexican. A Black woman portraying a White woman. A woman portraying a man. A White man portraying a Chinese man). But the bottom line is that in most cases, because we belong to a certain culture, race, gender, etc., we must know our place.

I’ve always been someone who’s done ODD.  It’s been an inadvertent skill, not one I particularly chose, but one I’ve been sort of stuck with, as a kind of dubious blessing.

One example that is a complete tangent from this discussion of the bindi, but will set the tone for you of my proclivities toward being otherly, and is just one, among the many things, that branded me for life and set the mold for quirky. Quirky has been with me since childhood, for better or for worse, much of which ended up being for worse, as adolescence defiantly insists on an adherence to conformity. And the example that rings loudest is the time as an early teen that I picked up a dead bird and brought it home. I found it lying in my path as I walked the grounds of my junior high school on my way to class. It was beautiful. A perfect blue jay. So beautiful in fact, and unmarred even in its death, that I was drawn to pick it up. It had a warmth to it, and I placed it in my purse. I carried it there for the rest of the day, precariously aware that if I moved this way or that, I could accidentally squish it and squirt guts all over my wallet and tampons. When I got it home, I placed it in one of my mother’s Tupperware bowls and put it in her freezer. When my parents asked me why I would keep such a thing, I told them I planned on having it taxidermied some day. I truly wish I could go back in time and notice their faces at this out-to-lunch pronouncement, and have to give it to them; they were always great sports for my idiosyncrasies. And there my bird stayed for years, nestled between the rib-eyes and the popsicles. It eventually saw its fate when Mom and Dad separated, and as my dad was preparing to move out of our house he unplugged the garage freezer (the extra one in which we would store pounds of meat), forgetting that my frozen bird was in there, and Birdy was maggot food before anyone discovered it. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.

Here’s one more. I promise we’ll get back to the bindi thing, but I just can’t seem to resist a circuitous route. While in college, I decided to start writing my first novel, and I actually spent the next eight years writing its first draft. I’m a Black girl from Compton. Yet my story was not what you might expect from that demographic. Mine was not an urban tale of encounters with Crips, or what have you. I decided to write a book about England in the 1930’s. I’d never been to England, or any other place beyond my sheltered Southern California upbringing. But something in me was compelled to do that which would never have been expected of me. I had a very specific agenda to be the opposite of predictable.

I think it’s probably fairly deep-seated. Perhaps steeped in a childhood of being severely outcast. When ostracization is your childhood, you tend to simultaneously and paradoxically try to blend in AND steel yourself by going the exact other way. And today I realize that this has been my engine my entire life. Associating myself with rituals, agendas, causes, even fashion that are beyond my own cultural background.

After seeing that White woman sport her between-the-eyebrows jewel, and being enchanted by that, I started sporting them myself, as much for the statement of otherly as for the beauty mark that they give any woman. What’s a Black girl doing wearing a Hindu ceremonial dot? I actually got annoyed, during the era of Madonna’s album Ray of Light, when she was suddenly shown sporting them along with her henna body art, during one of her endless reincarnations, and thought (the entire Hindu population aside): “Hey, she totally stole my thing!”   My thing, of course, only being a thing if the most famous pop star in the world is actually stalking my life in order to steal things from me.  Yes, I do live inside my own special world.

My line, whenever asked about my bindi, and which is meant to diffuse any real discussions of my reasons for wearing it, because that can sometimes be exhausting, is usually, dryly, “It’s to cover up the bullet hole.” It tends to get a laugh, and perhaps even has the person walking away with yet more intrigue about the mysteries of Angela. Or not. But this is who I am. I store dead birds, and I write books about Fascist Europe as a teen, instead of hanging out with my girlfriends and listening to Heatwave.

What’s silly about my Madonna annoyance, of course, is that I’ve hardly been the only non-Hindu out there sporting these. The bindi became instantly popular once the Material Girl and Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain made them fashion statements. But like any popular trend, which always has a “use by” date, other than the heritage and culture from which it comes, the bindi long ago got replaced as the trend du jour.

So, why am I still sporting mine? Because I have never adhered to the fashion of the day. But that’s the easy answer. More profoundly is that what I never foresaw when I first started wearing them was that I would, years later, come to pursue a spiritual life that is largely Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist, and Yogic practices, and meditation), and the idea of the symbolic third eye, of inner vision and enlightenment, which is the very place from which one meditates, as well as being the sixth-chakra spot of sight and insight, and which has resonated with my deepest heart. To think that a fashion whim, as well as the instincts to be otherly, has turned into a spiritual lifeline.

And so here I stand, present day, and after years of wearing the jeweled ones, or even just applying simple dots by the various means of make-up pencils, ink pens, or fingernail polish, I finally got my bindi made permanent in 2011, thanks to the wonders of the tattoo gun. It’s a part of me now.  Me, the Black chick from Compton.

I’ve always tended to think of myself as Hippie Girl (braided hair, tattoos, nose-piercing, and a weirdly fetishistic fondness for Birkenstocks, tie-dye, and Nag Champa). I collect crystals. I light candles when it comes time to commemorate the memory of someone. I burn sage when I feel the need to purify my surroundings. I rearrange furniture whenever my gut tells me that my home is in a state of discord, which means that I’ve been employing the practices of Feng Shui long before I’d ever even heard of it, and certainly before it became the new thing several years ago. I’ve even begun lately dabbling with the Tarot and palm reading, which, in spite of its popular mis-press, isn’t about predicting someone’s future, but is about locating and identifying archetypal energy and behavior, but that’s another tangent for another day. The point is, I do fully embrace the practices of healing and wellness, both the literal and the symbolic.

I don’t have a clue where any of that comes from, other than the fact that I am the Perpetual Seeker. I search for enlightenment in every hemp-strewn cubbyhole and New Age. But I cannot deny that it’s also a matter of my own brand of defiance against being pigeon-holed.

There is a price to pay for choosing to be otherly (still debating whether it’s actually a choice). It can be lonely. It can create a life of few inner circles. It can foster isolation. But those of us who align ourselves with its principles know that in spite of the possible challenges, we are staking our place in the world by the very practice of discombobulating people’s minds about who we are, and their instincts to compartmentalize us, and ultimately their inability to do so. It may have originated from a deep-seated place, but I have discovered that I quite like it.

More than anything, at this point in my life, my permanent bindi symbolizes the virtues of honor, integrity, grace, and peace of spirit. It is a reminder, every time I look in the mirror, of my pursuits of wellness and wholeness.  The actual work to attain these things is, of course, all on me.

I still like to say that it’s there to cover up the bullet hole. I make myself laugh, even if I don’t make anyone else. I still love it, nestled between my rapidly thinning eyebrows. I’d better.  Because it’s not going anywhere now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.