There’s a Peruvian chicken place not far from my office that always makes me go Pavlovian. The birds there bake to a dark golden brown, surrounded by a crust of peppery, brined seasonings. With savory rice and beans and a willingness to commit my fingers to the process, it’s heaven. It’s simple food, requiring a little care if I don’t want traces of lunch to appear on my sweater, and it’s sublimely satisfying.
I like eating. I mean, the physical aspects of the actual eating process are kind of gross if you think too hard about the details, but there’s a simultaneously sensual aspect to eating, too. I like taking my time even when time is short, intentionally bringing my consciousness to the present, not simply ingesting food to assuage hunger. Color, aroma, environment, flavor: even a busy, working lunch makes me stop for a moment, desire (at least) to actually taste my sandwich, ordinary though it may be on most days. Like most things intimately close to our universal humanity, it’s better to share a meal with other people, although some people certainly make for a better shared experience than others.
I like noticing how some people manage a graceful nonchalance when passing through a TSA checkpoint while others quickly frazzle. Checkpoints are a universal equalizer—a leveling grind despite wealth or station— but like all things, some people manage to elevate ordinary things to high art. Some travelers are better at it than others: boarding pass and ID in one hand, shoes off and laptop out with a few easy, economical movements. Then they’re on to efficient placement of coats and keys into the endless flow of plastic bins heading down the conveyor belt, ready to be scanned. In this rough, jostling scrum transiting through anodyne airport nowheresvilles, I can’t help but appreciate the ballet of those who manage to handle the experience with finesse.
Physical workouts exist in their own separate, sensual category. Everyone feels the accrual of years. No one eternally retains the spring and strength and stamina of youth. As a result, disciplined exercise does not always present itself as a first-order desire given limits on time, energy, and other motivations. But finishing a workout usually arrives with a wave of existential swagger, a bright light striding into a dark hallway. When I call it quits after a good workout, it’s as if I’m wearing a gleaming amulet, banishing any encroaching shadows that dare to darken my day. The sweat running down my neck lubricates me like a fine machine. I feel the engine thrumming in my chest. I feel my moving springs and pulsing lines of mental code and solid hardware all synced up. I feel my feet connected beneath my body, my head astride an integrated whole.
I like nude bodies. (Don’t look so shocked. You’ve noticed them, too.) I can’t pretend otherwise and the reasons aren’t purely prurient. Inevitably, even lamentably, I sometimes churn with foolish, vain comparisons one’s apt to make as he or she ages, but sensually speaking, there’s something clean and pure and wonderful about unadorned humanity in all of its spectacular forms. Invariably some of those forms are more appealing than others [sic], but I find that the general category inherently provokes deeply artistic sentiments, or at least sensual inspirations. Culture imposes complicated context on men and women, of course, and the complex cultural chasms on this subject are deep and wide and worthy of respect. Nonetheless the pleasures of curves and recesses, of proportions and implications and ordinariness and extraordinariness compel exquisite delectation. I like bodies, nude and otherwise.
Sights of splashing rain make me sigh with melancholy pleasure. Sounds of pounding rain make me glow. Fireplaces filled with red and orange limbs dancing above radiating coals provoke thoughts of poetry and time. I recall books and road trips and late nights with friends. In firelight I see memories of my unrecoverable childhood home. In firelight I see visions of a more perfected existence, unlikely though it may ever come to be.
I like highway off ramps. In the center of the arc between departed highway and oncoming road, G-forces push me sideways as I find my line around the curve. If there’s music playing there’s inevitably a logical connection between melody and driving action, a soundtrack playing across the transitional curve connecting one straightaway and another.
…sooner or later…
…I’m not hungry anymore.
I’m finished with food for a while.
I’ve arrived at my destination.
I’m ready for the rain to stop.
I’m ready to let the fires die down now that summer is coming on, igniting sparkling fireflies at dusk, floating a few feet above cool grass.
One sensual experience often hands off to another. The pleasures of sleep yield to the aroma of morning coffee, even if there’s the intellectual awareness that sometime in the future my blankets will once again be warm and enticing and as attractive as anything imaginable. The same thing happens with music, or theater, or even conversation with friends. There’s the knowledge that there likely will be future opportunities for those pleasures to return, assuming you live your life well. The pleasure of those experiences gets a boost precisely because they are transitory. They end.
Life of the mind intertwines with life of the senses, but they do not depend on each other. That said, the more a person can incorporate aspects of both, the more a person is empowered to act in the face of the onrushing day. Almost always, that onrushing day begins with something we hear or see or touch.
Sensual pleasures offer us ways to be in touch with our own finality. Pleasures end like life itself, and since we cannot prolong our lives indefinitely we must savor them as they happen. The same goes for the sensual pleasures each of us experience, great or small, whatever the unique details of those experiences may be. That’s why we return to familiar, sensual things. With the knowledge that all things must come to an end, they remind us to use our time intentionally and consciously. Someday soon those sensual feelings will disappear, never to return. That’s why it’s essential to pay attention to the sensual parts of our days and not simply pursue them. As we all advance towards inevitability, we must hold on to our intentional perceptions, to information we receive through our senses. Without sensory input, life of the mind becomes disembodied from the world. Life given over to pure information becomes a string of days abandoned to gray irrelevancy.
Who wants to live like that?