July 31, 2010

Pleasure as a Spiritual Pathway

At the end of each of my yoga classes, as we settle in for the final relaxation, I tell people, “Enjoy the relaxation.”

I’m sure the full emphasis of that goes unnoticed – just as when someone says “Have a nice day,” you don’t sit there and think what a memorably enjoyable day would be like. So I often add, “Savor the way your body feels right now. Enjoy the breath. Take pleasure in feeling your body settle onto the floor.”

Because if there’s one person who’s attuned to the here and now, like most spiritual traditions exhort us to do, it’s the hedonist.

Now I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill hedonist who loves to lounge at the spa or wear satin or relish a gourmet meal. I’m talking a hedonist on steroids here. So focused on extracting the maximum pleasure from the present that each moment is a quasi-orgasmic interaction with the senses. Walking down the street for a hedonist-on-steroids means displacing herself slow enough to feel the pleasure of the way her muscles move. Or taking in the cacophony of cars and birds and people and horns and jackhammers — and filling up with as much wonder as if she’s immersed in a serene Alpine vista. Smelling the manure from the flowerbed, enjoying the asymmetry of the sidewalk, relaxing upon feeling the sun in her face, taking the time to really see the man selling the homeless paper in the street corner, or the group of teenagers passing her by, or imagining how that cup in the old woman’s hand would feel, or perceiving the sensations of the man wearing the cast on his forearm.

“Enjoy the relaxation” in this context is the same as “enjoy your yoga practice” – because our hedonist is not there to practice yoga so much as to enjoy the pleasure of feeling her body in every pose, and adjusting every pose till it becomes pleasurable.

Though our hedonist could lose herself in the world of the senses, hers is not a typical experience. For her, the senses make her more alive, more present. This is no passing fun or pleasure that she’s engaged in; this is a full immersion in the moment that includes being aware of being aware, to borrow a phrase from Eckhart Tolle about what it means to be awakened. In this sense, as humorous and as oxymoronic as it may sound, hedonism is not just a spiritual pathway… it may also be the only spiritual pathway.

And if you’re searching for people to light your way, the gurus in this particular pathway are easy to come by:

  • Your friend who’s just had knee surgery and needs to walk very slowly, feeling everything out
  • A small child
  • Your dog
  • Your parents visiting from out of town for the first time and who absorb all the things you take for granted
  • A photographer friend with unusual perspectives on common objects
  • Any comfortable-in-their-skin poet

The last one may be a little harder to find, at least in the First World, so it may be up to you to embody it.

Hedonism as a Spiritual Pathway is cheap but it’s not free. Cheap because not only are there no churches, mosques, synagogues or temples to go to, but the level of fulfillment to be savored from each moment, each breath, each sensation, is bound to put to shame the momentary rush of buying and acquiring, so our hedonist is likely to do less of the latter. Not that it can’t be part of our hedonist’s experience, it’s just not as fulfilling as seeking out the pleasure in the present moment.

And it’s not free because it requires one currency: time. You can’t be a Hedonist-on-Steroids if you’re rushing or if your life is crowded. A prime example of where having less in your life is more.

So, how about it? Join me in the Church of Hedonism? Services are at ten. And ten-oh-one. And ten-oh-two. And every other minute of the day.

Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Ricardo das Neves  |  Contribution: 12,810