Daily Archives: February 3, 2010

How do you define pleasure?

In her book, “Eat, Pray, Love,”  Elizabeth Gilbert talks about traveling to Italy to experience pleasure, a concept that she finds foreign. During her first few weeks in Rome, she struggles with coming to grips with what “pure pleasure” really is. Gilbert says that “pure pleasure is not my cultural paradigm,” explaining that she grew up in a family of hard workers who were not given to idleness.

She gets it right when she says that Americans have difficulty relaxing “into sheer pleasure”. This is true…at least of my family. Maybe this isn’t true of other people. Sure, many of us talk about being “couch potatoes” all weekend watching a marathon of movies or reality shows. But even that is not true idleness. How long has it been since you’ve just sat and done absolutely nothing? Can you just sit quietly and listen to the soft in and out of your breathing?

One of my brothers has had lupus for more than 20 years. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is lifelong and can be severe. He’s been proactive in caring for himself, resulting in relatively good health. But that involves daily meditation — a period of time in which he sits quietly and stills his mind. Thought by many to be a “cult” practice, meditation can, in fact, be an important contributor to a healthy mind and body.

He taught me the value of meditation when I was facing my own health problems. Learning to sit and still my mind, to try to limit my wandering thoughts, was (and still is) sometimes difficult. It simply is not natural and therefore, takes time and patience. A few nights ago, at the end of a day in which I seemed to never stop moving, I suddenly realized that I had to find a quiet place to still my thoughts before I collapsed. Going to sleep wouldn’t have solved the problem, so I sat still, tried to quiet my mind and block out all sounds except for my breathing. In and out. It becomes somewhat of a mantra since I don’t like the idea of saying “ommmm”. Seems too 1960s Haight Ashbury-ish.

After about 10 minutes, I realized all the chaos in my head had cleared. Life went on and I began to think about Gilbert’s comments on what she defines as true pleasure. In Italy, she experienced pleasure in eating and gave no thought to calories, fat content, and all those things that prevent one from truly enjoying food. Despite the fact that she gained 20 pounds or so, she suddenly found herself truly happy.

That made me start thinking about how I define pleasure. Sitting in the sun with a mug of hot tea while watching the world go by. The smell of freshly baked bread. Deep, dark chocolate. A long run on an early spring day when the air smells so fresh you can almost taste it. A foot massage.

I thought it would be fun to ask some friends to define pleasure, so posed the question on my Facebook page. These are the answers I received:

*a good book like that one, pure pleasure and an experience

*for me it’s visual (sometimes) – a garden, a painting, an animal or pet. . .
*deep dark chocolate, one bite, savored. A tropical beach, light breeze, minimal waves, sun. A lovely glass of Malbec. (All of these made more perfect by being with someone you love.) Laughing uproariously with friends.Reading on my back porch in the summer (a really great novel).
*peace and quiet
*ice cream (lots of it)
*first cup of coffee in the morning

*hugs and massages

* no homework!

*getting a hug from the kids when I get home from a long day
*warm, dry, full tummy and no aches and pains on a winter day
*curling up with friends or family with a good movie or by myself with a book; getting a hug or hearing something awesome from one of my preschoolers.
*something that appeases your senses, or possibly something that increases our endorphins or serotonin levels.

Come up with your own list. How do you define pleasure?