Fat Tuesday.

I had forgotten today is the day before the beginning of Lent, the day before one of the holiest seasons for Christians.  Then I was looking at people’s blogs and realized everyone was posting about ashes and pancakes and stuff.  I felt ashamed for a moment for forgetting one of the holiest seasons of the year.  But then, that’s what Lent is all about – helping us to remember.  Helping us to live a little more faithfully, and perhaps a little more prayerfully, every day.  Lent is a season of preparation yes, and of remembrance, yes.  But most of all for me it has significance in helping me to slow down the hectic pace of my life and just breathe a little bit.

A part of what Lent is all about for me is taking some time to re-evaluate.  This is not necessarily tearing down the various pieces of my life and examining them.  I do that enough on my own, worrying over what I could or should be doing.  It’s more about being generally more aware of my surroundings, possibly enjoying them a bit, and giving my mind the space to think differently for awhile.  I think this is why prayer and meditation and ritual are so important in a variety of religions.  It is in that sacred space, that time set aside for worship or other religious purposes, that allows the mind to function.  Note I said mind, not brain – this is about ontological levels of thought, rather than physiology.  I feel like the mind needs that different level of functioning, that freedom to wander, to ponder, to consider slowly or vibrate to a different pitch which religious practice gives.  I’m not sure what this different level of functioning is, or what it looks like under scientific conditions, but it’s there.  It’s there in studies that show a meditation practice promotes general health, or that prayer can induce healing for the prayer or prayee.  It’s the same kind of mind stretching that makes people say it’s good exercise for the mind to do crossword puzzles or suduko.

I’m also not saying that such a benefit is dependent on religious practice only.  The same sort of stretching is no doubt a result of a variety of activities – art, or dance, or music can probably create it.  Maybe even a good book can cause it, or a solitary walk in the woods.  As Maude says, “Ahh, life!”

Ultimately though, that still leaves me with a question about Lent.  Specifically about the day before the official start of Lent, which seems to no longer be on calendars.  The day goes by a variety of names:  Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day.  In some places it grows out to a longer-than-a-day gala event:  Festival, Mardi Gras.  Though I’m no historian, I’m pretty sure it all started with the Catholic church and the fasting that must be done for Lent – people had to get all of that old milk, eggs, and flour out of their houses before the start of the Lenten Season.  What else were they going to do?  They had a big party with lots of pancakes.  The question is, how do I fit this gluttonous, celebratory holiday in with the rest of Lent, which values reflection, solemnity, and fasting?

It all goes back to that different level of mind.  Those who practice meditation know just how distracting it can be to attempt to empty your mind.  There are always distractions crowding in, many of them unavoidable.  One common habit to overcome this distraction is to focus on a single object, idea, or word.  That focus can be intense enough to drown out other voices – gradually the focus is allowed to fade away.  The same thing can be said of Fat Tuesday – its bustle, its complications, its joyful an boisterous nature are all meant to be enjoyed and loved for what they are – a spontaneous and needed release.  And then, gradually, the focus on that joy can fade away, leaving us silent, calm, and aware, ready for a different state of mind.

More Bad Things About Water

I just noticed in the news today (stupid blog, making me read current events) that three states – Florida, Alabama, and Georgia – are fighting over the use of a federal reservoir.  This brings up related water issues.  First, what is the demand rate really like?  Are we running out of water? We do tend to use quite a bit that we don’t need, not even considering the resources spent on water purification and waste treatment.

It reminds me of the Colorado and its dams, fueling the great southwestern desert.   I mean, who other than an American would have the great idea to build huge gambling establishments in the middle of the desert, where everything must be brought in from the outside (including water) for the benefit of the patrons.  Best of all is the Colorado River Compact, which splits up all that water and determines use allowances by state.  Of course, they set the whole thing up during flood years, so now every year surrounding states are allowed to pull out more water than is accumulated.  Way to go government, for observing that one!

I don’t like ending on a depressing not, though.  Check this out instead.  It will at least make you chuckle…

Dreams

One of my co-workers told another co-worker that she had dreamed about him last night.  She said, “something bad happened to you.  You need to be careful,” in all seriousness.  My co-workers reaction was this: “it was the most uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever had with someone.  She is c-r-a-z-y.”  Despite the fact that the whole thing crosses questionable office etiquette lines and leads me to wonder about the gullibility levels of certain of my co-workers, I too had an unusual dream last night.  I feel an irrefutable need to share.

The dream started off with everyone I knew on a plane.  I do mean everyone – it was a big plane.  For coherency’s sake we’ll say it was one of those big tank-carrying planes, the c-5 galaxy.  Anyway, either there was already a bomb on the plane (Speed 3), or someone evil was trying to crash the plane or use it for nefarious purposes, so we built a bomb to blow it up first.  After we all jumped out with parachutes and life rafts.  Of course, the bomb accidentally went off early and everybody died, except for me and my dad, who happened to be near me and the door.  We grabbed a raft and hit the air.

There’s a moral to a story here.  Dreams about death are probably not to be shared.

Camphor.

As a result of continuing bouts of illness, Mike and I have recently tried a new product – Vicks Vapo Steam.  This stuff you put in your humidifier during the night and it steams the medicine pleasantly out into your bedroom.  It smells like the VapoRub, but I was surprised to find that it’s made up entirely of camphor.  I didn’t know at the time what the rub was made of (it turns out that the active ingredients are camphor, eucalyptol, and menthol), but camphor just didn’t sound right.  it sounded like something close to castor oil, or some kind of insect repellant.

It turns out that isn’t far from the truth.  Camphor is sometimes used as a moth deterrent.  It’s also used as a rust preventative and in embalming.  And as medicine.  Though it isn’t used orally, the stuff is pretty universally happy for you.  It’s an antimicrobial.  It also works as a local anesthetic, a cough supressant, and occasionally in small doses as a treatment for ‘minor heart symptoms and fatigue’.

The whole use against fatigue may explain why some Chinese students use jin long feng you jin,  (Golden Dragon Oil) to stay awake during study – it also contains camphor.  Several products contain both menthol and camphor.  Along with Vicks Vapo Rub, these are Bengay and Tiger Balm.  There’s supposed to be an anti-itch cream that uses camphor as well, but I couldn’t quickly find out which one it was.  Just be careful – ingested in quantity, the stuff is highly toxic.