Lent replicates the time Jesus spent alone in
desert for a period of quiet, a time of reflection and commitment. 40 days is transformative. Enough time for something to take hold. Most every tradition has help the number sacred. The great prophets of this world all experienced the transformative power of making space for a 40 day period.
- Moses was on Mt Sinai 40 days and nights when he received
the 10 commandments.
- 40 was the number of days that Prophet Ilyas
was tempted in the desert by Satan.
- Muhammad prayed and fasted in the cave for 40 days.
He then had 40 followers to spread the religion of Islam.
- In Islam, Prophet Ilyas spent 40 days in the wilderness before the angel appeared to him with God’s message
- Hindus, Muslims and Christians all observe 40 day periods of fasting and reflection
- The infamous floods of Genesis and Noah’s ark lasted 40 days and nights
- Hebrews roamed the desert for 40 years before being led to the promised land
- David defeated Goliath after 40 days of him
challenging the Israelites.
- Jesus went in the desert for 40 days of quiet and wrestled with demons before he began his ministry (which lasted 40 months.)
I’ve done a variety of programs committing to 40 days of observance. Cleanses, Kundalini kriyas, and a 40 day commitment of Ayurvedic self-care. I can’t explain the mystery of this number, but I can proclaim the efficacy of doing something consistently for 40 days. Did I ever miss a day? Of course. That’s life. (Imperfect.) But 40 days proved to be a magic number, each time instilling something valuable.
Did you know mindful meditation is the only thing that can build new neural pathways? A teacher of mine uses the analogy of rain coming from a roof, forming a channel in the sand. Storms keep coming and we reinforce that groove in the sand with a hard wired reactive default setting.That channel becomes well-worn.
When we meditate we practice a new way of being: calm, focused, and embodied. And as we do this, we lay new tracks in the sand, alongside that super pathway that we’ve traveled down so often.
Then one day, it happens. You are triggered by some inane comment or cut and you find yourself having a different sort of response. Rather than reacting and flying off the handle, you respond differently, in a new way. With a breath you find space, a moment between stimulis and response, a breath. You are in charge of your thoughts and emotions, they are not in charge of you. In this gives you control, not over your circumstances, but over your response. And as a human being how you choose to respond to life is just about the only thing you have control over.
Mindfulness brings us back to the experience of being in the present, as beings, not do-ings. When you are mindful you cultivate awareness. Clarity comes as you begin to take small breaks from the endless chatter in your head, (aka monkey mind,) and you begin to embody the idea of being a human being.Our systems were not designed to be in the overdrive that modern conveniences have enabled us to be. Meditation enables you to tap into an inner stillness, a well of peace that runs deep, free from your inner dialogue.
It is often said that with technology we are more in need of it than ever. There have always been life stresses–big ones like saber tooth tigers, world wars, and plagues, but perhaps not so much a time when our attention was so fractioned, or where the reach of information, often full of fear, so great. This overload is happening simultaneous to our culture being as far away as ever from religious roots. The bathwater of religion has been muddied with crisis and scandal, and we seem to be throwing out the baby too, as any devotion to ritual, quiet and communion with the divine that were central to these traditions fade away.
Perhaps this explains our young people so spiritually and emotionally adrift. Societally the pressure to “be productive” is ever present, and stands in contrast to getting out of our heads and enjoying the moment.
Mindfulness and meditation are cdenerign practices. In every religious traditions that center refers to our hearts, the place where God, the divine, our soul lives. Interesting it is one of the few things technology can’t do for us.
Research now backs up what has been passed along for centuries, that finding peace in there, quite literally getting out of our own heads, will change your perspective, your health, your life. Advances in technology can now measure brain function and nervous system response; it can do just about everything besides meditate for you. That, you see, is your peace to pursue.
For the next Forty Days, be a bit mystical. Be inspired. Try, every day, to build 20 minutes of peace into your life. Observe what happens. Be in the classroom of your mind. That’s the most convincing science there is.
(But, if you like scientific evidence, here is some):