On Giving up Chocolate and Gentler Sacrifice

Don’t know about you, but getting into Daylight Savings Time always messes me up for a good week. My body & mind, having drunk in the desperately needed morning light for the past few weeks, feels slammed back into the funk & fog of winter darkness.

Considering the switch coincides with the first week of Lent this year, the timing is perhaps more fortuitous. Even though I’m hardly a practicing Catholic anymore, in recent years I’ve embraced these weeks around the spring equinox as one last dive into the workings of my soul before emerging fully into the bright months of the year. (Though the transition is the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, the energy of reassessment still prevails.)

As a child, the conversation revolved around what we would “give up” for Lent – and it had to be something big, that would hurt, like candy. Chocolate…then wine, as I got older. It was expected but never fully explained.

The 40-odd days of Lent represent the time that Jesus spent wandering the desert and facing his demons, as a preparation for going forth with his mission. Fasts, vision quests, retreats – the idea of stepping away from physical needs & demands in order to strengthen the connection to Soul/the Divine is ubiquitous in spiritual tradition.

Without a solid grasp of this concept, though, my Lenten sacrifice inevitably felt like an arbitrary punishment for something I wasn’t sure I’d done. It perpetuated the idea that a virtuous act and an eventual reward (a new dress & some Easter chocolate) must necessarily involve just that: a sacrifice, a punishment, a price to pay. I’ve recently discovered how deeply held that idea has remained in my psyche, in my cells. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

I’ve come up against that same feeling of being randomly punished the first few times I considered a seasonal cleanse, or tried to give up a certain food for health reasons. I see it in my clients too. I can suggest a woman give up, say, dairy to reduce her fibroids & menstrual pain, then will inevitably have to talk her down from a ledge. Despite the much-touted health benefits of a detox, there’s still a lot of fear around being deprived or you’re missing out, or that you’ve done something wrong.

What is it about the idea of giving something up that reinforces the wall of resistance?

We live in a time of accumulation – the growth of the American Empire is a story of personal wealth. Be it money, property/stuff, fame; more = better. (And we wonder why we’re getting fat in the process!)

With the “pursuit of happiness” geared in material gain, the idea of letting something go can feel like you’re swimming against the current of your purpose. It can feel like giving up on your dreams because you can’t have everything. It can feel like a failure. And so we approach it kicking and screaming.

Albert Einstein made a beautiful observation:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

In the same way, we tend to measure that goal of “personal wealth” from the external. Rather than using the objects & opportunities around us as tools to serve our purpose, they have become our purpose.

Lent, seasonal detoxes, Spring & pre-Passover cleaning: all of it is meant to focus us back into what’s truly important.

You’re meant to use this time of year to re-prioritize your life based on what you learned during the inner quiet of Winter. Get rid of what’s getting stale, like last year’s flour used to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Release what no longer serves you, as you shed the wool sweater that’s now unnecessary.

Plant the seeds for the beauty you want to see blossom in the your life, your relationships, your health.

To help you with just that, I’m giving a free webinar, because what I want to see grow in this world is the number of women with the tools to live their outer lives more deeply connected to who they are inside.

Get in on the conversation right away: in the comments below, tell me what you struggle with when doing a seasonal cleanse. Or tell us your experience of Lent. When you share your piece, you open the possibilities for others.

16 thoughts on “On Giving up Chocolate and Gentler Sacrifice

  1. Pingback: 3 Considerations for Cleaning the Cellular Closet | Whole Health

  2. When Lent comes around or any sort of cleanse, where giving up an attachment is the key, I always try to change my attitude regarding it. Instead of looking at it as “giving something up” or “deprivation”, I try to have the outlook that I am clearing the path for growth and something new, something better. For some reason, I find it more difficult to adhere to when I let myself believe that I am supposed to be suffering through, it is much more pleasant if I look at it as creating new pathways, keeping an open mind.

  3. Hi Cathy! this whole Lent thing is fairly new to me, although I was raised Catholic and Jewish, we didn’t have to do the hard work when we were younger. But the last two years my daughter and I decided to give up sugar (chocolate, cookies, candy, ice cream, etc) for Lent and I simply see it as a way to reintroduce a little discipline into my life – to remember that I can give myself a challenging goal and stick with it (which I have so far, my 14 year old daughter slipped once – but I just read above that Sundays are a day off?? She will love that!). Especially this time of year, when I have thoroughly had it with winter and I feel like I am in eating survival mode!

  4. Ah lent, I’ve given up my share of chocolate! Why do we all give up chocolate? ?

    I never connected the lenten sacrifice with “giving up” food in my diet but it makes sense! Maybe because lent has an end it feels like a struggle vs just simply choosing to eliminate what doesn’t work for you.

    Your workshop sounds great, going to listen in!

  5. i also remember dutifully giving up candy each year (but my mom always let me eat it on sundays during lent! ha ha). i no longer consciously choose an “item” to give up, but i subconsciously feel the renewal that occurs each spring. in the last few years, i’ve wintered in a place where snow and freezing temps have become symbolic of the hibernation of my soul. for me, the sunnier days hold an unspoken promise of what’s to come.

    thank you for your lovely words, cathy. i especially love this: “You’re meant to use this time of year to re-prioritize your life based on what you learned during the inner quiet of Winter. Get rid of what’s getting stale. Release what no longer serves you.”

    • Turns out Sunday isn’t actually part of Lent (as it’s considered a feast day – to reflect on & celebrate Easter Sunday and the resurrection each week)…Even Catholics find a way to cheat!

      And I’m with you: that returning light nourishes me in much deeper ways than I’d ever imagined, but the older I get, the more I crave it.

  6. The best thing I ever gave up for Lent was complaining. It changed my life far beyond those 40 days. And everyone around me noticed the shift. No complaining… it was tough to give up at first, because I was in a negative space when I started, but WOW did it get clearer, cleaner, and healthier FAST… and it has changed my relationship with negative self-talk ever since.

    Great post, Cathy. Thank you for putting this out into the world!

  7. I have just started to eat less & move more/shed my winter coat…kind of a spring cleaning of me! Come April/May…I know I’ll feel great! (Great post)

    • Amazing how it happens spontaneously once the seasons start to shift. Well, the light at least – here in Montreal, winter is hanging on tooth & nail.

  8. You’re giving me PTCSS! (Post-Traumatic Catholic Stress Syndrome) hahahhaha! I don’t give up anything for Lent any more, but I do know there are foods (diary is a biggie!) that I “should” give up for ideal health. I’m definitely one of those women who needs to be “talked off the ledge.” 🙂 I’m very intrigued by the idea of Detox without Deprivation. NOW we’re talking! 🙂

  9. Oh gosh… I don’t know that I could completely give up chocolate!!!!!! I mean… I can for a while… but eventually moderation wins out!!! or else I ‘indulge’ if you know what I mean. Spring is a good time to detox the system … and I must admit, that I have been doing just that… letting go.. when I do it with my blessing 😉 … it always works so much better!!!!! And yes, the whole ‘giving up’ thing, I don’t do that anymore either…loved reading that here … I’d rather nourish. Btw… I think I will go through my cupboards and make sure I don’t have some old flours hanging around. I was just thinking about that when I looked at my spelt flour the other day… thanks for that…. 🙂

    • You may notice that I never actually admitted that I give up chocolate anymore. Some things are sacred! I like your idea of giving up “with my blessing” – something that makes sense to you, not some expectation.

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