Skill #5: Savoring
“You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost then forever.”
If the essence of pleasure is to enjoy the moment then it’s clear that one of the ways to have more pleasure is to string more moments of enjoyment together. That’s the art of savoring. Savoring allows us to build upon the previous moment’s pleasure and thus to be present to an even greater pleasure. In addition the experience of savoring is often one of becoming aware of pleasurable feelings beyond the point of the initial pleasure. When we savor something we really like, then that sense of pleasure and wellbeing can spread throughout our whole body.
This is the difference between taking a bite of good ice cream on a hot day and saying that this is good versus relaxing into the pleasure of that bite of ice cream and letting the sense of total enjoyment fill our entire being.
Savoring is an appreciation of the present moment. We can be experiencing our memories with pleasure. But that is a present-time experience of remembering. We can experience great pleasure as we contemplate the future, but that is also a present-time experience of imagination. Savoring is both an experience of presence and one of focus. We savor by focusing on the feelings we are having in the present moment.
In this chapter we will explore the major aspects of savoring as well as some of the great kinds of savoring, like beholding, gratitude, and intimacy. And it is here that we can study with one of the truly great teachers of savoring – chocolate.
The Four Major Aspects of Savoring
“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.”
Henry David Thoreau
The first aspect is to simply spend time with the object of savoring. I like to say that time is pleasure’s best friend. When we take the time to fully enjoy something, we let the sense of feeling good sink in. We allow ourselves to relax into the delicious sensations at hand. It is in these moments that we can feel our aliveness. It is a time when we feel okay to open up to a little more of life. We can take in a little more of the beauty and joy that is around us.
The second aspect is to be aware of experiencing pleasure. This is an appreciation of oneself in the midst of pleasure. It is an acceptance of the pleasure one is having and allowing that pleasure to continue. It is devoid of questions about the propriety of the pleasure or any time constraints. It is simply saying, “Right here, right now, I feel good!” This often evokes the response of “mmmmmmm!” I believe there is a correlation between the “mmm” sound that ends such mantras as OM and the natural expression of pleasure that is “mmmmmmm!” Both are instinctive vocalizations of joy, the one about inner pleasures of connecting with the divine and the other about more sensual outer pleasures.
The third aspect of savoring is to reflect on the experience of the object and to be aware of the fullness and complexities of the experience. It is an act of contemplation that allows as many factors as possible to be absorbed at once. The wine connoisseur does this when he contemplates the various flavors he tastes in a single sip of wine. One can savor music, art, a beautiful car, or anything else in the same way.
And the fourth way is to expand the context of the experience to include a comparison to other similar experiences, as in: “This is one of the best tangerines I’ve ever had.” We do this naturally by associating the current experience with other similar ones. Taking the time to savor gives us the opportunity to also enjoy the memories of other pleasures as well.
“A fool bolts pleasure, then complains of moral indigestion.” Minna Antrim
There is no place to go with savoring, nothing to accomplish. Savoring is both the activity and the reward. It is of value all by itself. It is an act of beholding where one sees what it is and takes it in without any need to do anything about it. To see a beautiful person and just admire their beauty is beholding. It is an awareness that one is feeling particularly good about something but that nothing else need be involved.
Beholding is important because it shows us a different way to deal with desire. For instance, seeing a beautiful piece of art, the newest electronic marvel, or some divine clothing often provokes something like, “Oh, I absolutely must have that!” There is an urgency in this that involves a notion that I can’t be happy until I get this; a sense that something needs to be fulfilled; that the moment is insufficient in itself. When we do this we are both forfeiting the present pleasure and tensing up in our compulsion to force the future.
When we allow ourselves to simply behold something, we relax the need to own it and we can enjoy it in the present moment. Beholding is to be present to ourselves as we encounter something that stimulates us. Of course, there are many things that stimulate and motivate us into action. But there is always a trade off: either behold and let the future take care of itself or let go of the present pleasure and go to work to create a situation with a potential for greater pleasure.
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
The art of beholding begins by taking a deep breath and savoring the moment without any agenda. It involves an honoring of the beheld, an appreciation of the beauty, sexiness, grandeur, or simple magnificence of it. It involves an honoring of the feelings we are having at the moment. For some people this can be a little tough; the power and intensity of the feelings may seem to demand a successful resolution involving possession of some sort. However, for those skilled at beholding there can be great delight in the moment, taken deeply and slowly, followed perhaps by action, but not necessarily. The enjoyment of the moment is the entirety of the treasure.
Beholding also gives us the breathing room to pay attention to our pleasure on all levels. If it is a beautiful person that we are beholding, we might feel physical arousal, a sense of emotional love, admiration for their beauty, and a sense of connection to the angelic realms, all at the same time. And in so doing we get to customize our pleasure by what areas of our pleasure we choose to focus on. A big payoff for not trying to do anything!
Gratitude is a Form of Savoring
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are
conscious of our treasures.”
When we say “thank you” for anything, there is an acknowledgement that something pleasant or pleasurable has occurred. It may be fleeting but that moment of appreciation is the recognition of enjoyment.
Gratitude implies that whatever we are grateful for didn’t have to happen or be this way. We recognize that things could have been different and that we are glad that they were the way they were. This appreciation adds a great deal to our happiness.
The longer we stay in this state of gratitude, that is, the longer we give ourselves time to savor what we are grateful for, the more deeply we reinforce to our subconscious or body-mind that this is something we like and want more of. As I have pointed out before, a lot of what we bring into our lives is a function of the patterns we have created for ourselves. Gratitude reinforces the patterns we really like.
Passive Versus Active Savoring
When we are enjoying the aromas of the dinner we’re beginning to eat, when we let the flavors of the food fill our mouths, when we feel the textures of the food with our tongue, and experience the satisfaction of the food sliding down our throat, that’s passive savoring. It is the immediate awareness of the various pleasures in our senses. It is the basic sense that this stuff is good!
I don’t use the word “passive” here in any derogatory way. It only denotes that we don’t have to do much of anything except notice whether we experience it as good or not.
Active savoring, on the other hand, is the exploration of the inner territory of feeling. It is a contemplation of the emotional state induced by something, coming back to the original stimulus only as a way of maintaining that state of enjoyment. It involves the third aspect of savoring I mentioned above, that of being conscious of the experience as one is experiencing it. When we use thought to analyze an experience, we involve another arena of pleasure, the mind. When we enjoy our food in good company, we compound the pleasure and involve our hearts as well. When we allow the experience of pleasure to envelop our whole being, we are savoring on a spiritual level. We feel not only the pleasure of the original source, but also a pervasive sense of wellbeing.
Active savoring can take us from enjoying a specific experience to enjoying life in general. It can take us from the pleasure of a certain thing to the pleasure of enjoying our whole existence and it can easily take a person into a kind of trance or bliss state. It’s not uncommon for people to go into a reverie listening to great music or smelling an intoxicating fragrance.
Active savoring can be done with any kind of sensory experience as long as there is a great amount of pleasure involved. This is one of the principles of Tantra, that there are many paths to the divine through the senses. The experience doesn't necessarily have to be in a sacred setting. I nearly got thrown out of a barbecue house one time when the waiter didn’t understand the bliss I was experiencing with some particularly good ribs, eyes closed and smiling ecstatically. So be forewarned if you’re going into that state in public! He probably thought I was on drugs of some sort. But you don’t need drugs to get high if you know how to savor!
Body Time Versus Mind Time
The conscious mind is fairly good at keeping track of time. As part of its job of being in control of everything it needs to make sure that it knows where it stands in the time order of things. But the body is very different. It understands two things – now and what it is told is real.
There is a famous story of Robert Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, taking his exhausted men over the mountains of South Georgia Island at the end of an extraordinary row across the frozen Antarctic seas. He allowed them to sleep for ten or fifteen minutes but told them they had slept for several hours. They believed him and kept on going as though they had had a good, long nap.
“The notion of linear time is an objective construction of the human mind, one that is particularly ingrained in the Western attitude toward life. We in the West give more credence to objective, or mechanical, clock time than we do to our inner, subjective time sense. We ultimately reduce all subjective senses of time to the merest thread of objective agreement. Yet our inner, subjective sense of time is as real as any sense can be. We think that since we can’t
measure it, it can’t be real. But what could be more real to us than the inner sense of time through which we experience rhythmic variations like music and even the pace of our own thoughts and feelings?”
Fred Alan Wolf
Once some other part of the mind is engaged other than the conscious in-control mind, the sense of time mostly disappears. Sometimes this sense of timelessness can be dramatic. At the time of orgasm, for instance, both time and space can dissolve into a vast warm emptiness, visions can take place, and a sense of eternity can be felt. We all have had the experience of time “going too fast” when we are enjoying ourselves. “Time flies when you’re having fun” is a common expression. But while the body doesn’t have a sense of time, the body does take some time to relax. Muscles can relax fairly quickly, but only once they have been told that it is safe to by the control centers of the mind. Savoring gives us the time to let our bodies relax into deep pleasure.
Many of us are addicted to excitement and for us to go into savor mode feels like withdrawal. We feel very alive with excitement and simply do not want to let go of that feeling. But, as wonderful as it is, excitement shuts out or overrides most other feelings. As we let excitement subside a whole stream of other feelings can arise, some may be uncomfortable at first. Savoring after excitement is a time when we are very open and aware of our feelings and that makes it a very useful time. It is by working through the feelings – sitting with them and feeling them fully – that we prepare ourselves for bigger adventures and higher feeling states.
Savoring and Intimacy
We allow ourselves to savor when we let down our defenses and open up fully to something. With something like chocolate we suspend all judgments about it and simply welcome it unequivocally. We let it into our lives without reservations, as we would embrace a small child. There is something very intimate about savoring. In fact, savoring is the very essence of intimacy.
Savoring is a form of consciousness and, like all consciousness, it contains an element of self-identity. It is the awareness of an “I-ness” enjoying something. It is self-conscious in the same way that saying, “I love you” is. When we say those words we generally focus on the “love” and the “you.” But the message is really something about who I am. I am saying that I am aware of that part of me that is Love when I think of you. In the same way, when I am savoring I am aware of a part of me that is pure Joy. And the more I allow myself to focus on that part of me, the more Joy I am aware of and the more comfortable I become with that glorious part of me.
Savoring is part of our primal communication with the world – I like this and I don’t like that. Babies know how to savor. As I have watched them, I see that once satiated with milk they hang out in a stupor of savor, savoring the feelings of being nurtured and loved.
“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”
Savoring our intimacy is the way we recognize ourselves going into the special places of our heart. It is the surest sign that we have opened ourselves to the delights of the universe. When we can allow ourselves the opportunity to speak to the innermost parts of who we are, we see so much joy and love there that the ordinary pleasures of life are paltry in comparison.
Intimacy feels so good because we are inhabiting, without reservation, the basic part of our nature. It is not covered over with thoughts and fears. It is unashamedly naked. It is that place within that feels whole and pure. It is not a foreign space for most of us. We’re there when we give to someone we love. We’re there when we walk out into a brightly starlit night and feel the awe of infinitude. We’re there when we hold a newborn baby of any species and marvel at the glory of life. These are some of the many manifestations of the Heaven within.
The craving for the nurturing feelings of intimacy may spring from the body memories of incubating in our mothers, but now that we’re adults we’re in no less need of those pleasures. The difference is that now we are the ones who are responsible for providing the nurturing and love we so desire.
Intimacy is the whole enchilada. It is the stripping away of all those things that delude us and keep us from seeing our selves. Intimacy is how we give voice to our inner choir. Without intimacy we wander alone in the world, separated from our cores. Intimacy is not so much about connecting with others as it is about our awareness and expression of our divine core. Savoring keeps that awareness alive so that it can deepen and grow. Savoring feels so good that it makes distractions much less inviting and tempting.
Savoring is a reflexive act; something we do consciously that seems to begin outside of us, but in fact, is about our own being. When we can truly savor ourselves, we have joy and love to give to others. We can only give to others what we have ourselves.
Practicing Skill #5: I spend time with my pleasures and
let them fill my entire being.
There are many excellent versions of the chocolate meditation, all of which involve extended attention to the experience of tasting and swallowing delicious chocolate. This version does that as well, but adds the dimension of active savoring to the overall experience. It takes the deep awareness of pleasure and allows the savoring to include the dimension of spirit. Here we are encouraged to use the enjoyment of chocolate as a symbol for all the great joys of life and to use it as a bridge to the divine.
We use chocolate in this meditation because it has some unique powers for most people.
Chocolate has the power to center us. As with anything sensual, focusing on the sensations brings us immediately back into the present. With chocolate, our very strong enjoyment of it is a big motivation to stay in the presence of it.
It has the power to delight us. I use the word “delight” to express both feeling good and the stimulation we experience. It is a special kind of aliveness that seems to light us up and make us more willing to see the bright side of things. We experience love, joy, and delight whenever we let go of fear, anger, and doubt. Chocolate lets us do that for a moment. If we do it often enough, we can live most of our lives without those negative feelings.
And it has the power to shift energies. Chocolate has a way of changing both our focus (what we’re looking at) and our perspective (what else is included in our field of vision) so that our experience seems to change after eating chocolate. It’s as though we have changed the channel that we’re watching. Somehow the new channel is a lot more agreeable than the old channel.
“Look, there's no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.” Fernando Pessoa
To prepare, you will need chocolate that you can really enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s milk chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate or white chocolate. However, most people seem to find that dark chocolate works the best. It has a fuller richness of flavor with fewer other flavors to distract us. The choice, as always, is entirely up to you. It is, after all, your pleasure.
If you do not like chocolate or cannot have it for some reason, any savory tidbit or particularly delicious fruit will do. I’ve done this for people using candied ginger, mango, even steak au poivre!
The Chocolate Meditation
Take a small piece of the chocolate, hold it in your hands and give thanks for it. Feel its shape and texture. Then smell it. Take your time and get as much sensory information from it as you can without putting it into your mouth. Note how you feel in anticipation of eating this chocolate.
Let each breath help you to relax into this experience. This is about being as thoroughly in your body as you can, present to all you perceive.
With great consciousness and flair, put the chocolate into your mouth and focus your full attention on the sensations you experience in your mouth. Feel it melt and move around in your mouth. Be aware of the sweetness on your tongue, the creaminess throughout your mouth, and all of the delicious flavors present. Prolong the experience as much as you can while being aware of how it makes you feel emotionally. See how deeply you can enjoy this chocolate.
Now become as exquisitely aware of the feelings of pleasure as you can. Let the chocolate help you hold your attention on the source of the pleasure, but now you want your focus to be on the pleasure itself. Let your experience of pleasure fill your whole body. With each breath let it expand beyond the limits of your body into your whole being. Slowly, breath by breath, let your pleasure fill the whole room. Take your time. Let your pleasure keep on expanding and expanding, all the way out into the universe. Allow yourself to totally enjoy the magnificence of your new expanded pleasure. Give yourself permission to hold this for as long as you want. And when you are ready for this to end, give thanks and reset yourself for new delights.
“Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same
reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other
similarities between the two but can't remember what they are. Matt Lauer
As wonderful as savoring chocolate is, it’s now time to remember that all pleasures pass. So how do we stay happy when the things that underpin our happiness fade away? That’s the subject of the next chapter: the Skill of Letting Go.
We all like pleasure. Ultimately, the desire for pleasure or simply feeling good is what motivates us to do anything. But there are lots of things that we do to sabotage our pleasure unwittingly. Mostly because we don’t really understand how pleasure works and the things we can do to greatly increase it in our lives.