A few weeks ago, I mentioned the book Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke, MD. The subtitle “Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence” is a raw, honest look at high-dopamine stimuli. In reality, we have been battling for balance in an “age of indulgence” for centuries: dopamine stimuli have always been a part of our biological makeup, and the need for asceticism has always been present. However, it would be naïve not to pay attention to the impact of our current dopamine stimuli: drugs, food, and the medley readily available 24/7 through our smartphones—gambling, shopping, pornography, gaming, social media, etc. The ease with which these can be consumed is startling. 

As we prepare to begin the season of Lent, our virtue for the week, self-control, is fitting. People in Silicon Valley and elsewhere participate in dopamine fasts to practice self-control and master their impulses. In the Catholic Church and other Christian faiths, meanwhile, we enter into a period of time where we embrace the forms of penance for our own spiritual growth and for others. The three forms of penance—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—enable us to die to self and be a gift to others. We recognize that our way to human flourishing is through communion and respecting the dignity of our own bodies. This is not self-reliance, but a response to God’s grace that enables us to joyfully master our desires by using reason to govern our will. 

While the world may look at us with disdain or curiosity as we bear the cross of Christ on our foreheads, we know that this is our journey, our way to follow Him, who is the way, the truth, and the life. 

And guess what? While you embrace these forms of penance, you are also participating in a much-needed dopamine fast, and your brain will rewire itself and heal as a social organ. It is truly amazing how our good and merciful God created us to heal and experience order, harmony, and the joy of relationship. We are created, male and female, in His image and likeness. 

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