So I was walking home for lunch, and had to slow my stride to a dawdle in order to take in the luminous magenta paintwork on a car, standing out from all the whites and greys and dark greens around it like a red rose in a blue sky. And as I drifted closer to this intense colour experience, the Roast Station in the food-court called out to me with all the richness of it’s many-flavoured meaty menus. I paused to drink it in. Then on I went around the corner where a fresh, sharp wind slapped my office-heating-flushed face alive and made me blink away tears. It was a concatenation of arresting experiences, one after the other.
I love being alive to these unsophisticated, everyday pleasures. I love the thrill such simple things give me. They aren’t particularly meaningful, but they are immediate, unexpected, delights.
But when I was trying to write the title to this post, I struggled for words. ‘Sensuous’? ‘Sensual’? Both words mean what I want to say, but they have become entangled – mostly, I think, due to advertising – with the erotic. And there’s nothing wrong with eros. The sensory pleasure of an erotic moment is right up there with the whiff of Richie’s Roasts. But there’s so much more to being sensuous than sex. Sex must, inevitably, have some societal sanctions attached to it. Those sanctions, in our changing society, have become a battleground for competing world-views, and so much truth about sex is forgotten as we wage our ‘culture wars’ that other concepts, like sensuousness, are dragged down with it. Now it seems like sex is the only sort of sensuous pleasure we still talk about. And maybe chocolate.
What a pity.
Sensory pleasures, like the ones I described above, are so rich, so free, so easy to access and share, that they should be celebrated much more often. But we lack the language. Not just the words, but the very concept. We need to relearn how to immerse ourselves into the goodness of creation around us. We need to come alive again to the value of what we hear away from the jangle and clatter of industrial life, and what we feel beyond our protective fabrics, and what we smell and see and taste. We are bodily beings and that’s something to celebrate!
And that’s why I refuse to ‘hug’ over the internet. Internet interactions are great for the cerebral, but pathetic for what is fully human. This morning on social media one of my acquaintance reposted a banner that said she needed a hug, and I could ‘hug’ her by reposting the banner. I get that she’s lonely. I get that being single she’s not getting anywhere near the physical affirmation I enjoy myself, immersed as I am in an affectionate family. But I also get that reposting that banner will do practically nothing about that. The initial author of the banner might be gratified by multitudinous repostings, and my acquaintance might (did) get some positive written responses, but did she get hugged? No. A hug is wonderful. When my son or daughter wraps their arms around me and squeezes and holds me, I know I’m being loved. It’s a bodily thing.
I don’t want us to stop expressing our regard for one another in non-physical forums, but nor do I want us to delude ourselves into thinking we can be human if we cut ourselves off from our bodily experiences. In an increasingly touch-phobic/techno-centred society (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex) we need more touching, not less. We need to be more sensory, not less. And we need to listen to and understand what our own senses tell us about what is good, what is enough, what is too much, and what is not enough.
This isn’t saying that we should be dominated or controlled by our senses. We can – and sometimes must – consciously endure sensory unpleasantness for greater goals; I need to defer my sexual desires out of respect for others. I need to pass by the sweet-smelling fruit on the grocers stall and not just help myself. I need to suffer the physical pain of a needle prick in order to give blood. These are not pleasant sensations – but they are easily bearable given the vast range of pleasant sensory experiences I enjoy elsewhere. Yes, we are far more than sensory, but we are certainly no less than, and enjoying sensory experiences in no way means that we lose control of our actions. Let’s not expect ourselves, or those around us, to live in a state of sensory deprivation. Let’s touch one another, and shower sensory blessings upon each other; give gifts of fragrant flowers, soft cloths, rich foods, and luminous colour.
Maybe then, when we acknowledge and enjoy the full range of positive sensory experience that is available to us every day, we will be less overwhelmed by the porn/violence/gluttony industries.
Go on, be a world-changer. Really hug someone you love today.