Brahmacharya: The Value of Savouring the Pleasant
Brahmacharya means engaging in behaviour that leads to god. In other words, behaving in ways that are in line with a higher purpose rather than in seeking quick and easy pleasures. In my last post on brahmacharya, I talked about looking at where we put our time and energy, and suggested that if we find that we put the majority of our time and energy into seeking quick and easy pleasures, such as food, social media, etc., we could try to make some gentle adjustments to align our use of time and energy with activities that we find more rewarding and life-affirming.
Today, I am going to take a slightly different approach. I am going to suggest that when we are engaging in something pleasurable, even if it is of the quick and easy variety, we bring our full attention to it and really enjoy it. I will use the example of eating. How often do we eat without really tasting our food? Sometimes, even when we are craving something and then we have it, we devour it without really tasting it. We eat more to get rid of the unpleasant sensation of craving than to find pleasure in the act of eating. When we are done, we notice the absence of the craving, but we don’t have a sense of having enjoyed the food. Then, often, we eat more, to try to obtain this sense of enjoyment. Before we know it, we have overdone it and all we feel is stuffed and uncomfortable.
In such situations, being mindful and really entering into our experience can be of a great help. If we really experienced and enjoyed our food, we would likely be satisfied with less. If we are craving chocolate and have decided to indulge, but rather than scarfing it down, imagine that we took the time to really enjoy it, to smell it, to hold it in our mouths and let it melt, to pause after the first bite and to savour the aftertaste. Really enjoying the chocolate would likely make us feel satisfied with a square or two rather than having the sense that more is better.
Also, if we go around actually enjoying the pleasures in our lives, we are less likely to get cravings to begin with. Not to sound sanctimonious, but it is possible to really enjoy a salad. Imagine you made a salad with all of your favourite things. My personal favourite is spinach with strawberries or blueberries, goat cheese, toasted almonds and balsamic vinaigrette. As you make the salad, you enjoy the colours, the texture and the pleasant aromas. When you eat the salad, you enjoy the burst of flavours with each bite. If we ate like this all of time (or even some of the time), we would experience pleasure more frequently and would be less likely trying to seek it in unhealthy ways.
Being mindful of engaging in pleasurable activities would also make us more aware of when the activity ceases to be pleasurable. We all know that too much of a good thing eventually becomes bad, but we don’t often notice that point until it is too late. If we were really tuned into the taste of our Cool Ranch Doritos (a personal favourite!) and the sensations in our body as we were eating them, we could notice that point at which we aren’t really tasting the flavours anymore, our lips are getting puckered from the salt and our stomachs are beginning to feel bloated. Then we could stop, or even better, as we become more attuned to how much is enough, we might even become skilled enough to stop before we hit discomfort (personally, still very far from this, but something to aspire to).
If you wish to practice with brahmacharya, I encourage you to notice when something is pleasant and then savour it. Unpleasant sensations are easier to pay attention to and become part of our long-term memories easily. Our brains are design to notice and hold onto unpleasant memories in order to keep us safe. However, they tend to ignore, or at least not hold onto, pleasant experiences, as they are not important to our survival. Unfortunately, our brains are designed to keep us alive, not make us happy. Noticing pleasant experiences and creating happy memories is something we have to work at. Fortunately, it is pleasant work. Enjoy!