The three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all have times of fasting and self-denial (Rosh Hashanah, Lent, Ramadan), and self-denial also features in Buddhism and Hinduism in different ways. (If you want to think more about all that, try this.)
But I'm not any of those religions - I'm a Unitarian Universalist. And UUism doesn't have a tradition of intentional self-denial or a time to intentionally re-focus your life. Why we don't probably makes perfect sense if you look at the evolution of our traditions (part of the whole point was that both Unitarians and Universalists held up the idea that people were good, as opposed to the Calvinist ideas that are decidedly more pessimistic about human nature), but understanding why this is so doesn't change the fact that I feel drawn to some sort of fasting as a spiritual practice. And, strictly because I come from a Christian family, if feels most authentic for me to adopt a modified practice of Lent (in other words, it would feel like cultural misappropriation to me to try and adopt a Jewish or Islamic practice, when those traditions are further from my understanding and are not present in my family).
So I will be observing Lent, starting tomorrow on the traditional Ash Wednesday. The point of this, for me, is to practice self-denial, self-restraint, and self-control, or as Simple Mom beautifully wrote, "Say No, to Yourself". It's all about a pause to make sure that I am living the life I choose to live, in accord with the deepest callings of my heart, and not just living a life of unthinking drives. Matt Kinsi had a nice perspective on Lent and UU's when he called this the triumph of ego over id.
I have done Lent in the past, and given up sugar, which at the time was a real addiction for me. I wasn't sure I could do without it, and I was a cranky bear at first. But it was liberating to realize that I did not need sugar, and that I actually felt much healthier and had a clearer mind without it. I have a healthier relationship to sugar to this day, finding that I can partake in moderation but also can go without.
This year my husband and I will be giving up wine, and actually all forms of alcohol (with an exception for St. Patrick's day). We will confirm to ourselves that we do not need to have a glass of wine in the evening to unwind. We will spend this time practicing more intentionality in how we relax and how we unwind. I'm glad we're doing it together, too, and this might be a great time to be more intentional in how we relate to one another as partners as well.
We will be donating the money we would have spent on alcohol to a clean water charity (World Water Day is in March too, and that seems like a nice coincidence). Turning Wine into Water.
Self-denial. Self-control. Reflection. Renewal.
It's all perfectly timed for this season, isn't it?