Hedonism

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I just got back from a three week trip to Italy with my beloved.  

 

It was delightful to try restaurant dishes without much care as to how far the ingredients were ranging outside of my usual diet.  To pause my fitness routine to allow more time for tramping around the medieval towns and the countryside.  To stay up or sleep, to drink a tot of wine at lunch or a glass of prosecco spritz in the afternoon.  To have a caffeinated espresso one or more times a day.

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The temporary cessation of one’s routines, and with them one’s disciplines, seems like something to be desired.

 

I suspect many of us feel some tension between what we know or believe to be healthy versus the lure of what feels indulgent.  That’s why I’m writing this, in order to explore that tension, both its truths and its illusions.

 

There are different ways that indulgences are attractive.

 

It’s pleasant to do what’s easy.

There’s a delight in letting go of effort.  It takes effort to show up to train.  It takes effort to find a restaurant that might serve something really nourishing.  It’s pleasant to go with the flow and not try.  I like letting go of that effort.  

 

This is one the ways the culture and environment we’re embedded in could support us more.  I would love it if it weren’t so hard to find a restaurant that makes nutritious food.  And I know that people with standard 40+ hour work weeks are not supported in taking time for exercise.  I would love to see a cultural shift around both of these.

 

It’s fun to try new things.

Novel sensations or experiences can enrich our lives.  I love trying new foods and flavors.  For the most part I just want to try them, not make them a part of my life.  Though sometimes the exploration leads to something new that I want to hold onto.

 

It’s nice to be comforted.

There are things that are not novel that we like repeating, like ice cream.  Addiction is a strange thing, partly physical, partly psychological.  I refer to someone more knowledgeable than me to explore that subject.  Although one thing I’ve learned is that, over time, we can change what we’re comforted by.  Substance took on meaning for us at some point, and different substances could replace them once they too become drenched in our emotional associations.

 

If this pursuit of pleasure and ease holds real appeal…why not do it all the time?

Is it just my inherited ideas about morality and virtue that keep me striving to be healthy?

 

I could quit my challenging fitness routine, embraced a European attitude toward alcohol (“A meal without wine is breakfast.”) and reintroduce all the tasty ingestible substances that I determined weren’t supporting my long term health and well-being.  It would be sort of like being on vacation all the time, right?

 

But there are reasons why I eat what I think is nutritious, get plenty of sleep and spend time exploring my physical abilities.

 

Some pleasures have no consequences, like soaking in hot water on a cold day.  While others damage us and reduce our capacity.

 

Even in the short term one’s mental and physical capacity are reduced.  For instance, working out after a lunch time glass of wine, or trying to solve a challenging problem after a night without sleep.

 

If these indulgences were continued as a way of life, the accumulated negative effect on our abilities would cause the world to shrink around us.  

 

It is not fun to watch one’s abilities shrink.

 

For example, if I pass below a certain threshold of physical fitness, then making the 150 foot climb straight up along countless marble and cobblestone stairs to the bar (cafe) from our rental, would change from being something that I don’t give a second thought to, into feeling that it’s really not worth the trouble for a brief chat with the barista and a coffee that takes about 10 seconds to drink if you try to take your time.

 

I know that if my capacity, my ability to think, do, feel and express, decreases then my world will shrink around me.  

 

There is a true joy in exploring what we are capable of.  

 

For that reason we continue to strive to build our strengths, do more, express more, step into challenging roles of helping others and the world.  Our capacity isn’t just for our own benefit.

 

I don’t think that life is meant to be lived according to any rigid tenets of virtue.  I think it’s for us all to explore what the good life looks like.  Few substances could be called truly bad, it’s more about how we’re in relationship with them.  Likewise the difference between a good or a bad action is often what’s in our heart while we’re acting.

 

Retreating into comfort has a place in our lives, as does pushing ourselves.

 

I think the most satisfying path is practicing restriction but indulging periodically.  This means that when we do indulge we can truly savor the treat in a way that we wouldn’t be able to if we made it available all the time.  It’s psychologically less burdensome than saying, “I will never….again.”  And yet it still allows us to strive for our best.

 

 

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