Monday, 19 May 2008

Moments of pleasure potentially lost

The intellect is a curiosity. It brings so much value and obiously over the course of human evolution, has conveyed such advantage as to have become arguably the mostly highly developed weapon in the arms race that is natural selection.

It outstrips big muscles, speed of movement, sharp pointy teeth and claws in its ability to provide food and protection for its owner an most aspects of human activity seem to benefit to some extent from the application of a bit of intellectual input. A combination of empathy and intellect appears to be the defining feature of people we enjoy being around, spending time with or having relationships with.
Strange then that it should be such a hindrance to certain more natural processes like enjoyment.

This is a topic that vexes me inordinately in a daily and prosaic struggle, and I have written of it before, so forgive me if I appear to repeat myself. I am still no closer to understanding this conundrum than in my more confused, pre-renaissance days.

Consider, if you will, the opportnity for a small but precious moment of pleasure: an example I have spoken of in person with some who may read this, is the foil on a coffee jar lid, but it could equally apply to a crème brulee or anything promising an instant of pleasure. I don't drink much coffee these days, even less instant coffee, but the sight upon the initial unscrewing of the lid, is of a pristine, flat, virgin expanse of gold coloured foil. It is asking to be pierced, at least, that is what it makes me feel.

My dilemma is: how do I pierce it I order to fully extract and experience the most pleasure? Should I poke my thumbnail slowly in at the edge, savouring the scratch-pleasure as my nail penetrates it, then more as I run my nail, tin-opener-like around the rim of the glass until a complete disk of foil is liberated? Or do I push the point of a teaspoon through it and cut the seal into sectios to be peeled individually off the top of the jar?
Or do I drum the back of the spoon in the middle, savouring the tension and the small percussive sound, until, increasing the force a little at a time, I break through the now distorted and stretched foil?

And this may seem a strange conversation to have with oneself, but pleasure is not to be squandered, even minor pleasure.
If I had used one of the aforemntioed methods, I would surely have enjoyed it, but how do iknow I got the most pleasure I could? Perhaps I missed out because one of the other methods would have been more satisfying?

And so, the thinking about this simple action has introduced an unnecessary component of disappointment.
Often, I'm my more angst-ridden days, I would be given the joy of sunset to observe and savour, standing, looking at it, I would feel the most overwhelming sense of anxiety and futily as I tried so hard to appreciate it to its full. To attempt to mentally photograph it, I would stare at it intently, trying to see all its hues and patterns. And in my striving, I would somehow miss the moment.

My life history is littered with such small tragedies and each added to an overall feeling of inability to enjoy that it was literally almost my undoing. What point life if pleasure is always out of reach? This intereference by the intellect in matters it should not really concern itself with on a practical level, is actually an existentialist threat, if I may be so overly dramitic.

Luckily, through a long process of incremental discoveries, I have found it is possible to just "be" and not to "do". And suddenly the internal commentary and dialogue that happens about the experience is no longer the main focus of my mind.

And so, enjoyment is at last unrestricted. It is no longer obstructed by the distraction of the scrutiny of the process of perception.
And damn! Does the world look good!

I would like to wite more on this, but unfortunately, time is a huge constraint at the moment, and though this does not seem to sap the creative enrgies required to generate the ideas that cause me to ponder, it does severly limit my ablity to write them down. Hence, we probably have not seen the last of this topic here.


Anonymous said...

S. Pete :), I think you sensed it right. Often when we strive to perfection, we miss it all. An example. One of my exes accused me of having given him one and only one chance to show me that he loves me. To which I said, "We've been together for two months now. That is to say, 60x60x24x30 moments=chances to show me that you care. What did you spend them on? How many of those did you spend on love? And how many on worrying about what is wrong or what might go wrong?"

Just as you said, instead of wondering whether what we are experiencing right now is The ultimate pleasure/joy/love/sunset, we are much better off letting ourselves be enveloped in the sensation, and letting go of everything but what there is, right there, and then.

Anonymous said...

It all depends on how we look at things, and not on how things are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

— Carl Jung

Anonymous said...

Hmm, Jung suggests creating a perception-distraction, huh?

PerlNumquist said...

Pah! Philosophy! The only reason Carl Jung gets quoted so often is that his name is easy to spell. Schopenauer for instance, although a bitter, twisted, miserable little fellow, had much to say aboutm for instance, relationships, but because he has a long, but equally germanic name, he doesnt get anywhere near as many mentions.
Anyway, how can the greatest of things have little meaning? Would they not be thereby diminished and not great?

Iren said...

You are right, but who said that only things with meaning are regarded as great nowadays? (Not talking about m'self or you, just in general.)