by Troy Chapman
(published February 3, 2007)
I was walking to the hobby-craft building the other day. The day was bright and cold and the wind whipped through my thin coat. I had my eyes on the ground, hands in my pockets, and was just plodding along thinking of this distance between me and my destination as something to be endured.
Then, in a moment of grace, I asked myself a question: How many pine trees line this path — and why don't I know that? I've walked it too many times to count, yet when I've looked in the direction of these trees I've just looked through them. I lifted my eyes now and actually tried to see.
There are five in the front row along the road, young jack pines I guess. The last one in the row is unusual, a pine with two trunks like a maple. I've only ever seen (or noticed) single trunk pines. Actually seeing these trees was a treat and I felt more alive as I continued on.
We tend to think of sensuality entirely in sexual terms and also as something opposed to spirituality, or at least somehow in a different direction. But "sensual," in one sense, just means "of the senses," and it's very compatible with spirituality. It's about being in our bodies more fully and enjoying the connection we have with the world through our senses. This kind of sensuality awakens me and feeds me spiritually. I think of it as "luxuriating" — simply enjoying whatever my senses are feeding me as I go about my daily business. It's the simplest thing.
I'm lying on my bunk right now and the pressure of my body on the (admittedly hard) mattress is enjoyable. So is the hard plastic feel of the pen in my hand and the sight of blue words appearing on white paper. It feels good.
Yet most of the time I approach this kind of being as a guilty pleasure, as if I shouldn't be "wasting time" enjoying myself in these simple ways. After all, my life is lagging way behind what I wish it was, there's war, and at least one or two genocides going on, corporations are taking over the world, babies are dying, addicts are overdosing, evildoers are plotting... Whoa! There I am, back in my head again, busily turning life into ideas, memories, worries, and other intellectual property. I'm experiencing the same things but taking no joy in them.
This is pure puritanical pathology, but deeply ingrained in me and our whole society. The idea that sensuality and physicality are somehow mere vehicles to be endured so my intellect can live in this inhospitable environment — a sort of spacesuit for my ego. I say it again (because it feels good on my tongue but also because it's true): pure puritanical pathology. Another part of me is wiser. It likes being alive; it likes flirting; it likes eating olives (which I haven't had in years); it likes breathing, moving, and being in this body. Why should I apologize for that? Why should anyone?
We shouldn't. So this month I want to celebrate the blessings of our senses and the art of luxuriating in the bounty they present us every minute of our lives. Being for the sake of being — and enjoying it. Or at least not rejecting or intellectualizing it. Just experiencing it directly and without judgment.
An easy way to do this is just to focus on each of your five senses at any moment throughout the day. What are you seeing? Smelling? Tasting? Hearing? Feeling physically at the moment? Note your body in space and its connection to the earth — your bottom on a chair or your feet on the floor or ground.
I'm always surprised that what I'm experiencing in any given moment is pleasurable.
I'm also going to keep a sense journal to help me pay attention. I'll share bits of it in the coming days. If nothing else these exercises should make me a better writer.
If you want to celebrate sensuality by recording a moment of your own, send it to us and we'll turn it around for others in our circle.