Buckle your seatbelts; it’s February. Yes, already. If, like me, you thought New Year’s was just a few days ago, you might also be surprised to realize that we’re already several days into the second month of this year.
Ash Wednesday is coming up very soon, marking the beginning of the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. I have never observed Lent as it wasn’t in my tradition growing up, but I have become familiar with it through the years. It is my understanding that it is a time of purification and renewal of commitment to faith proven through sacrifice, prayer, and good works. All of this, of course, in preparation to celebrate Easter Season, specifically the resurrection of Jesus.
These ideals of purification, sacrifice, good works are not unique to Christianity and can be found in all major religions and world philosophies. Yoga is no exception, although there is not a great deal of emphasis in yogic philosophy on penance mainly because the idea of sin doesn’t really exist within Yoga. Impurities, yes. Bad habits, absolutely. Mistaken thoughts, definitely. Bad choices that result in bad karma, most certainly. Original sin? Not so much
Despite this difference, I think there is a lot of common ground to be found between Lent and the yogic tapas, particularly if we choose to see the idea of Christian penance as corollary to the idea of facing karma. Tapas means heat and the idea is to burn off the negative energy that we gather as we move through life in order to move ever closer to spiritual enlightenment. Tapas are not penance, but they can be done as penance, i.e. a means to liberate oneself from bad karma caused by a wrong thought, word, or deed. More commonly, however, tapas are thought of as a disciplined approach to our practice. They are the efforts and sacrifices we make to be self-disciplined as we purify our hearts and minds through our practice, moving closer to our spiritual goals.
So, as Lent prepares the believer, tapas prepare the practitioner, each for their chosen path. Something I find especially appealing about Lent is the idea of this practice being a form of justice. The 40 days of prayer, fasting, and good works are forms of justice to God, oneself, and one’s neighbor, respectively. If we think of doing justice as “appreciating properly”, then we can see Lent and/or tapas as a practice that helps us to fully appreciate and recognize the Divine, ourselves, and all others.
The other thing this has me thinking about it how there need not be any conflict between Christianity and Yoga. It seems that a few times a year this debate heats up – can Christians practice Yoga? To me, the answer is clear. Of course they can! Though they may diverge on certain specific beliefs, the overarching message of both is the same: love, kindness, compassion, devotion, forgiveness.
Wishing you all an enlightening Lenten season, if that is your practice. For the first time this year, I am planning on doing my own 40 day meditation practice during Lent. I have done 40-day practices before, but never during the Christian Lenten period. I’m looking forward to sharing the energy of devotion with my Christian brothers and sisters.