Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Food, Sex, Joy

So far I've found that merely focusing on--noticing, tuning in to--joy in my life somehow creates more things to be joyful about. I'm not in any danger of becoming a Pollyanna (I doubt anyone who knows me very well was concerned about that), but I've felt...more content these last few days. And I've become aware of the fact that I sometimes engage in pleasures that then prohibit my occupying that same time with joys. There's nothing wrong with pleasure per se--I think Western religions, Christianity in particular, have given it a bad rap because humans have such a propensity for misusing pleasure. Many people, myself regrettably included, have trouble discriminating between the pleasure itself and its abuse.

 For example, sexual pleasure in itself isn't sinful or dirty or bad (I'm working on overcoming earlier programming in order to really believe this with my whole heart, but I can agree with it as an intellectual, theological statement). Sex can be an avenue for experiencing some of the most profound joys of which humans are capable--anyone who has had really fantastic sex, or even pretty good sex, either alone or with a partner, knows this (go ahead, try and think of something that's more overwhelming, more intense, more FUN than an orgasm. I'm waiting...). Precisely because it's such a powerful experience, it has the potential to be misused and abused. Treating ourselves or others as objects--as means to an end, rather than as ends in themselves--is the hallmark of sexual sin, and while it may be temporarily pleasurable, ultimately there is no real joy in it and it has the potential to be incredibly destructive (see: Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, et al). On the other hand, I fully believe that under the right circumstances orgasm constitutes prayer.

 The same is true of food; I could and someday may write an entire book on this, so I won't get too far into it today, but I think part of the reason for the obesity epidemic (and, in part, the spate of eating disorders) in the United States and other westernized countries is the replacement of joy in nourishment with dull, numbing pleasures that aren't even that pleasurable. A microwavable bowl of Easy Mac or a bag of Cheetos isn't satisfying because it isn't really in its nature to satisfy or nourish; it's eaten mindlessly in front of the computer or TV, gone in a matter of minutes without much attention paid to its passing. It's artificial and requires minimal input of effort on our parts. You finish it and find yourself no longer hungry but still...unsatisfied.  Contrast this with a meal cooked and eaten with friends. There's wine and conversation as the dishes are being prepared, the easy music of knives on cutting boards and spoons in bowls filling the background. Laughing, you move to the kitchen, eat the meal, praising each others' dishes and learning about the latest developments in each of your lives. As you eat, as you talk, you drink each other in. And though you may have eaten less than in the previous Cheetos scenario, you are filled and deeply satisfied. That is the difference between joy and pleasure in the negative sense.

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