One day in the month of April some time ago, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife got numerous phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents. They were all reporting an alarming sight along the beach: thousands of crabs washed up on the sand. When department officials went out to investigate, they discovered not dead crabs, but their empty shells. No need to get alarmed, they announced. It was just a natural process called “molting.”
Molting is a way by which many animals shed their outer layer so they can grow bigger or prepare for their next life stage. It’s part of the life cycle of an organism. It also allows them to get rid of ectoparasites and other harmful organisms that live on the skin or shell of their host. The crab fully exits its old shell and leaves behind some parts of itself in the old shell. Now in its new shell, it must regrow the parts it has abandoned such as legs, or esophagus and so on.
Some creatures don’t molt, they revert to being young again. There is a jellyfish scientifically named “Turritopsis dohrnii” that has the amazing ability to re-assemble its decayed cells to emerge as the same jellyfish in its juvenile larval form to begin a new life, over and over again. They call it the immortal jellyfish.
Why am I talking about molting and age reverting?
IT has something to do with the season of Lent. Essentially as a Catholic, I share the overall Christian message about Lent as a time for spiritual cleansing and shedding off toxic habits and behaviors. However, I prefer to use a natural process like molting as a better handle to make sense of the season, even if only for the sake of lapsed Catholics or even the agnostics who would reflexively tune out when they see or hear Lent, as in our title.
Molting is a good analogy for something one should consider doing, whether it’s Lent or not. In the same way that many do intermittent fasting, detoxification, ex-foliation.
Just like the process of molting, my outlier’s approach to Lent involves shedding off things that are unwanted or unnecessary too but on a more personal, psychological, inner level.
I call it the process of “un-adulterating” myself, as in getting rid of my adulterated parts or pieces of my authentic self.
We call ourselves adults. But do we really understand the original meaning of the word? Because if you do, you might hesitate to label yourself an adult.
It is from the word adulterate whose Latin root word means “to falsify or to corrupt, stain.” The English dictionary defines adulterate as “to make something weaker or worse or inferior in quality by adding another substance.”
That’s how I see myself now. With all the connotations, implications, associations that the dictionary meaning of the word “adult.”
When I was still a child, my identity was simple, and my mind was very open and fluid. I hadn’t formed a complex sense of the self and the world yet.
However, as I grew up, the fluid, open mind I had as a child started to get “filled up” continuously with increasingly complex concepts, ideas, and beliefs about myself and the world. Without realizing it, I began to have layers and layers over my original self, formed through the years through added knowledge, diverse experiences and relationships that then hardened like a shell.
If as they say the child is father to the man, then I would like to go back to my father.
I now ask the question: do I need all this mass of layers? Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated, said Confucius. Why not just live simply from now on? Or simply live, which is even better.
So this Lenten season is a good time to start unloading what I now consider as unnecessary deadweight as in “weight of an inert body,” or “a heavy or oppressive burden.”
Similar to the molting of crabs, I want to shed off my old crusted shell. By doing so, hopefully my original “unadulterated self” will emerge again. Or at least close to it.
The truth is I have started this process of un-adulteration during the pandemic. Gradually I’m beginning to feel a sense of lightness in my being. I am now freeing myself of some dogmatic beliefs, which have stifled me. I hope to become more flexible and fluid again, as I look at the familiar and the commonplace in a different light.
Call it my second childhood, I want to re-cover the empty cup of a child’s mind that is primed and receptive for awakening. Buddhists call it “a beginner’s mind” which enables one to deeply look into life without any preconceptions. Don’t judge, observe.
Part of my shedding and molting is turning down invites, letting go of toxic and superficial relationships and avoiding small talk. I am shying away more and more from social media. I rarely watch the news. I would rather spend time finding my purpose and working at it, to rediscover the authentic core of my being.
Many pieces of me need to be sorted out. I am putting every part of my life in their proper place and context. I am setting boundaries to separate the substantive over the superficial and learning to say “no” more often. I am categorizing the people, ideas, books and films by their influence on me so I will know who and which ones serve to enrich my spirit.
This is why I am breaking out of the closed and orthodox concept of Lent. Notwithstanding my Catholic upbringing, I believe that Lent should not be about feeling good and “holy” after faithfully observing those traditional rituals of fasting and abstinence, visiting 8 churches on Holy Thursday, going through the stations of the cross, going to confession and receiving communion and so on.
The whole point of Lent should not just be about rituals and ceremonies. It is not even about suffering even if that is part of it. The essential message is about resurrection from our “dead” selves and emerging renewed; a decayed life that is made new and alive again like the immortal jellyfish.
So if a non-religious, different but more meaningful way can help you renew your inner self, then by all means let that be your personal approach to a more meaningful Lent.
But if you don’t buy my “molting” analogy on Lent, I just have one question:
Are you truly happy with your present adulterated self?
Keep in mind what Jesus said: “Unless you change and become like little children (unadulterated), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”