Ash Wednesday is a strange day, especially in New Zealand today as we remember the anniversary of the Feb 22. quake in Christchurch. I’ve been writing about the Phoenix mythology lately, as well as fire and it’s all imagery that suits the beginning of a Lenten season. Burn something to ashes, taking it away, seeing what arrives in it’s place. It’s important to remember the role ashes play in cleansing of any sort – fire to sterilize, soap made from ashes since soap was first made. So Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and time to give something up.

I caught up with a good friend this week and we were talking about all manner of things, including the Lent season and what I was thinking about giving up. At one point he called me an epicurean. It’s not really an insult, to my way of thinking – although I couldn’t tell if it was mockery or envy in his voice. In colloquial terms, to be an epicurean is really to be known as a bit of a foodie, which is me to a T. But dig a little deeper and the word really originally meant someone who was passionate about the sensuality of life, all the senses – not just those to do with food and drink.

Getting ready for Lent, I think my friend is right. This season is about restoring balance and enjoying each of the choices I make – what I put in my mouth, what I spend time in, what sensations I experience – the lack of something I enjoy the aroma, taste and texture of, the impatience of waiting, the discipline of self-control, they are all part of the sensations of life. I love and savour each one. Experiencing each of those small pleasures is made more exquisite by their absence for this season. The anticipation of enjoying them again, the space and time I fill with something else in their place. The opportunity to regard all my choices again.

I said on Sunday night that I have a rhythm to my day – it starts usually with heading into the garden to water my herb garden. As I pass by the coriander, basil, parsley, chives and mint – each aroma wafts over me. The smell alone wakes up my taste buds, clears my head. Then I eat breakfast, make coffee. But there’s something about starting my day with awakening those senses… Lent is a little bit like that for me, awakening the senses again by taking something away for a while.

Western philosophy has dampened down some of the sensual elements of our life – but to me life is nothing, spirituality is nothing if it doesn’t embrace touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. We were made to live and enjoy this corporeal life for a reason – sensation is everything. That’s really what it means to be an epicurean – to understand that life is sensual.

I’m giving up alcohol this year – not an easy choice for me and therefore, the one that had to be made. Not because I’m an alcoholic but simply because there is no part of my life that will go untouched by this choice. For my hospitality to be properly expressed usually means feeding people, along with bottles of beer, wine, whisky and more. I gather with my friends at the bar, I love the time I spend with hospitality mates and I write about booze for a living. So work, play and life all gets changed around for 40 days. Wish me luck.