Life is full of good gifts: things to be enjoyed, experiences to be had, pleasures to be tasted, sense to be stimulated.
But, our desire for and experience of good things can be twisted, distorted, perverted by a combination of genetic predispositions and external triggers. Enjoyment can become obsession, indulgence can become addiction, stimulation can become an unquenchable thirst, and the mind’s pondering and analysis can become a prison cell of anxiety.
The truth is that good things, when they become ultimate things, cease to be enjoyed because presence is removed from the moment of pleasure. A warm meal with friends, a celebratory glass of champagne, a run through the woods in early morning–all examples of things that one can enjoy, or one can abuse. The experience ceases to be one that is savored, and becomes the means to an end.
But what end? For each person, it is different. For those struggling with eating disorders, trauma, addiction or other behavioral health issues, the strong desire for emotional regulation can lead to using the sensory to distract, to numb, to serve as a vehicle out of the uncertainty and pain of life. And as soon as that connection is established and fortified, one no longer can savor the good gifts of life, but rather uses them as bricks to build a wall around their hearts and minds, keeping out the pain, but also keeping out the healthy self and true joy.
One of the great revelations in my own recovery came in discovering the joy of cooking. The careful process of selecting a menu or dish, the intricate, subtle, scientific way the ingredients and flavors interact, the incredible variety of foods the earth produces to feed our bodies and souls, the genuine goodness of tasting my creation and sharing a meal with family and friends. When I was at a point in my journey when I could start to be present and truly savor these moments, I stopped viewing food – either restriction or indulgence – as a vehicle to suppress my emotions or cope with pain, and started seeing it as distinctly pleasurable. The fear slowly began to recede. I regained presence.
How can we bring presence into pleasure, so it returns to its proper place: as a good thing, rather than an ultimate thing? The beauty of a pleasurable experience is that it is meant to be special, rare, enjoyed in the moment. If we are present in that moment, when receiving a good gift, we cannot fear the future (what the food will do to our bodies, how the workout may not burn enough calories, whether we’ll experience enough of a high to dull the pain).
Presence allows us to fully feel the sensation of food on the tongue, the warm hug of a friend, the freshness of air in our lungs, the gratitude for life and breath. The focus shifts from abusing the gift and forcing it to meet deeper emotional needs that it was never meant to satisfy, to receiving it in the moment, and savoring it there.
In a culture that promotes instant gratification, endless digital distraction and materialistic excess, savoring is a lost art. But mindfulness works, and quiet, slow meditation on the good things we taste, feel, and experience sows seeds that yield a richer harvest than quick fixes or restriction ever could.
Good gifts are to be enjoyed, delighted in, and do not have to be earned. That is why they are gifts. Recovery is a journey toward a beautiful, blissful place of moderation that does, in fact, exist…where true pleasure can be found, and yet does not become an ultimate end.