The party is well and truly over. The last parade has rolled, and the Mardi Gras beads are stashed in the closet, where the cats will find them later. Now comes the silence. Lent is a season of meditation, repentance, making amends, and repairing the world. Every culture has its own expression of this intent; it is the Christian custom to launch this experience by giving up some warped or indulgent habit, by wearing ashes and by “remembering that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return”. Genesis 3:19. If you were depressed to begin with, this is pretty stark and unnerving stuff. If you live with depression, you already struggle to tolerate yourself, sometimes just getting by; Lent should never be allowed to collaborate with that demon. Instead, it can help us become more mindful of the hidden, haunting beauty our crazy life, and to become willing to nurture it. I have a great idea for those in search of a truly revolutionary spiritual practice in the midst of a rough year. Give up depression for Lent. Go ahead. I dare you. You don’t have to be a Christian.
Being willing to heal is no small feat. It might involve sacrificing an image in the mirror that has been with us forever, miserable but at the same time so familiar that we think it’s inevitable. You know: it’s that secret belief that you are lacking in creativity, too weird to find or keep real friends, doomed to financial failure, unattractive, or damaged goods, and hence unworthy of love. Depression is insidious, and works its way into our sense of who we are, and what we can hope for; in doing this, it works to fulfill our most discouraging expectations. This seems like the right type of thing to purge, in the spirit of Lent. After all, meditation is a discipline of letting go of debris, tuning the strings and restoring harmony, so that we can hear the music of our life journey. But being willing to give up depression means a step into unknown territory. Who would you become, if you were able to relax those negative assumptions that came with depression, on a 40 day trial basis? Do any of us dare find out?
Lent is an unwelcome reminder that our life is fragile and temporary, and to not put things off. Those of us who know depression, know that we’ve got closets full of miscellaneous forgotten souvenirs of a weatherbeaten journey. What if, instead of some conventional plan to deny ourselves chocolate as a gesture of striving for simplicity, making ourselves just a little extra unhappy in acknowledgement of our failings, we instead make Lent an occasion for internal archaeology? The reflection we are forced to do when we let go of depression can reveal astonishing gifts, just as well as painful memories. Some depressed people actually find the gifts harder to tolerate. Giving up the security of our self-defeating expectations, about who we are and what kind of life is possible, takes great courage. Give it up. Then comes the tricky part: going back to the mirror. May you be willing to be surprised.