We struggle with them, but they are a blessing. No, I’m not referring to our children. I am thinking about our appetites.
While we often think our appetites for food or any kind of pleasure are insatiable, I have learned that this is not so. There is a point at which we can feel satisfied and content. At least for a while.
Pleasure potentially flows to us from unending choices of food, people, books, places, and activities. Sights and smells, memories, and dreams lived and yet to be lived. And whatever our limitations, there is some form of pleasure that we can enjoy.
If we know how to enjoy.
Being able to take joy from an experience is sometimes not as simple and automatic as we’d expect. Consuming a favorite food can potentially reward us with renewed energy and spirit. But what happens if we overeat, leaving us fatter, but not fuller, for the experience?
Central to being able to experience pleasure from anything is our capacity to receive it. For example, if I eat an ice cream cone with the intention to fill a desire for that specific pleasure, but I cannot taste it, I will not be able to experience the pleasure I wanted from it. My capacity to delight in that pleasure is not available. The experience of pleasure is directly related to our capacity to absorb it, to appreciate it.
As humans, we use small pleasures to move us along in our daily lives. There are many joys in the simple act of ordering a drink or food, including the delight of deciding what to sample and then taking the time to savor it. Getting a manicure is another joy that leaves us distinctly pleasured, even if there are a handful of diverse reasons why we agree to sit still while putting our hands in someone else’s. For some, it is the clean, well-groomed feeling, especially if the nails are left unvarnished. Maybe it is the hand massage that is the better part of that pleasure. Or the visual delight at looking at well-dressed nails beneath a dainty ring that lifts us above a tired, sagging spirit. These hybrids of self-care and relaxation satisfy many of our pleasure needs.
Finding pleasure in a pandemic is more limited, but possible. While the pandemic has closed off the pleasure of a café date and even a manicure, some pleasures have only been made possible by the pandemic.
Pandemic-induced pleasures are the things in life that wouldn’t have attracted my first thought, not even a second. Just last week, my husband and I went chasing a sunrise. Driving up a mountainous local area at 5:40 in the morning, in our pajamas, we watched a day being born in the Baltimore sky. I am not a 5:40 a.m. person, not to mention a pajama party person. The last time I saw such an unearthly hour with my eyes open was when I was laboring with my children. And while there on the higher ground, I found myself still enough to actually watch a bird lift off the ground, and to delight in its chirp.
Rivaling that pleasure is this one: the new phenomenon of virtual organizational affairs. For years, I have been voicing my vision for “dinners without walls or halls.” I cannot overstate the joy of not having to don a dress and hop around in heels and hose while smiling at people I don’t really want to be with.
And then there’s the crown delight: eating a piece of cheesecake. This snapshot of pleasure belongs to one day of the year, my Scorpio birthday. And even though it is not my birthday yet, I am taking a pandemic-induced pleasure of sharing the experience, sans the cheesecake.
On this once-a-year day, I make an elaborate ordeal of visiting a local café that sells individual slices of the most decadent, chocolate-laced cheesecake, costing $10.75 per slice. That one piece sits proudly atop a small china plate like a prized jewel, attracting my total adoration. As with a diamond, I evaluate it for the 4 c’s: cost, creaminess, calories, and cut. Yes, it has all in abundance.
With my husband sitting across from me, I take my knife and cut it into pieces – a few of which I lovingly give him. After all, part of my pleasure will come from giving him pleasure, too. I lift the fork delicately to my coral-painted lips and begin to taste the deliciousness of life. In these moments of bliss, I stretch out pleasure well beyond a mere 2,500 calories. I am grateful that I have prepared myself to maximize, to taste fully and in exquisite balance, the pleasure of this moment. Because eating quickly, mindlessly, and a moment more than enough would undermine the totality of one of my most special earthly pleasures.
Yes, staying in the moment, especially a pandemic moment, takes a certain form of submission and discipline. But it is the wise, loving kind that pays back manifold. Although patience is not my virtue, I have taught myself to be patient with my cheesecake because it yields a pleasure that I cannot otherwise obtain. This is the cost of pleasure.
Incidentally, if you tell me that being fixated on this particular piece of cheesecake renders me the most physical, hedonistic person, I will argue that it does just the opposite. Staying in a loving relationship with food, and with myself, is one of the most spiritual pursuits I know, Being fully present, in the moment, and knowing how to experience the joy of the physical, to be grateful for it, and to be gently but deeply uplifted by it so that I can move on … that is the essence of pleasure.
While I would not suggest that we unnecessarily mask our usual pleasure routines, I am the fuller for having been redirected by the microscopic Corona to seek pleasure in the areas that typically have been less visible to me. Looking for the smaller pleasures have brought largeness to my life. And as the pandemic takes our leave, I hope the lesson of enjoying small pleasures lingers in my life.