Some kisses you remember for a lifetime.
What is sensual? It's more than physicality. It's tied to memory, to emotion, to dreams. It has to be. The sensual immediacy you have recalling that summer when you were nine years old playing at your friend's house, near that gnarled oak tree in the backyard, is just as resonant now as it was those many years ago. You easily recall the roughness of the bark when you climbed the trunk, projected into imagination as if you were climbing the side of a thousand foot cliff. There was the pleasing exertion in your legs as you levered yourself onto the rickety plywood platform perched high in the main crook of the tree. There was the smell of mud and leaves, July's great passion urging the powerful tree to unfurl. You experienced those sensations then, but you remember them all to this day.
That's memory. Memory sends us into the past. But some expressions of sensuality project solidly into the future.
The press of desire you feel when lost in thought about days not yet lived are always sensual. Are you dreaming of a vacation? Most certainly those thoughts are not just abstractions. You can smell the beach, the mountains, the city, your girlfriend, the cafe where you imagine ordering fruit and cheese, even if you've never visited the location of those dreams. It's a conjuring of future moments not yet lived. It's sensual even just to imagine the brush fine Phuket sand beneath your toes. You're sent through time and space, you hear the sea. The aroma of fresh baked bread drifting over the cobblestones on Rome's Via del Moro, the morning sun sparkling on the medieval facades of the 7th Arrondissement in Paris--you always live where your mind sends you.
Sensuality is not always kind. You'll never forget the stuffy, overheated 5th grade math classroom you endured. You'll never be free of the rotting smell from the back of that twin turboprop bound for Grand Rapids you suffered for hours on the tarmac. You'll never forget the angry hunger you felt growing up when your parents lost their jobs and times got tight. Our senses imprint themselves like water etches paths through stone.
These days we all seem to push sensual experience essentially into two camps. Sensual experiences are either extreme or ignored. That's too bad. I hate to miss a minute of my day, but I also know that I cannot easily live in a purely sensual space. I often wish I could, but I know that's not realistic.
But memory or anticipations for the future can distract us from life, right now. Don't miss the sensuality of life lived today. Feel your feet beneath you. Feel the ways your heels contact the ground first, how you roll through your foot, hip joints making endless pendulum swings in their sockets high above.
Perhaps your hip joints are past their prime, bind a little when they shouldn't, cause you to wince. Perhaps you're young and spry, an athlete, a nymph. Either way, the great pleasure of being aware of your own physicality in the world is yours to experience. It's true: aching joints traditionally do not provoke pleasurable thoughts, but you're thinking about this all wrong if immediate pleasure is the only reward. Even in the distress of our days--and some of us face longer lists of distress than others--there are the roots of our future history. Each feeling is a story, and each story we allow ourselves to feel is a moment when we're each more present in our day. I'm not suggesting that you embrace what ails you, that your pains are equivalent to what makes you feel good, but I am suggesting that you reconsider the feelings, that you recognize them for what it can offer. They remind you that you're alive, and the alternative is hard to imagine at all.
The sensual aspects of our days are the essential balance to the intellectual pressure of modernity. We enjoy seeing an attractive person because of the narrative force that inevitably will accrue to that sensual experience, even if that force is pure fantasy. It's okay: you're human. The next time you smell something in the oven that makes you wonder when supper will be ready, you're doing the same thing.
When you think about this all later today, checking your email, waiting for a red light, replacing the ink cartridge in the printer, remember to connect even those most mundane experiences to your own sensual experience. It's not the smell of the ink that makes us thoughtful. It's the fact that we can stop to notice it in the first place that makes us human. The moment we try to ignore, or worse, suppress the sensual aspects of our lives is the moment that we miss the best parts of the short time we have to be alive.
--MS (Hey, you can follow me on Twitter @michaelstarobin if you're so motivated.)
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