It has been said that there is a Puritan hat hanging on every coat rack in the United States. In other words, the ideas and ideals of our Pilgrim ancestors continue to echo throughout each corner of the culture and the result is not happy.
Like anything, the Protestant Puritan strand begun by fun-loving party folks (not!) like John Calvin probably has a few good points. A work ethic, a study ethic, book-learning and schools and good posture. But the whole disdain toward the body, the whole idea of the flesh as sinful and stifling the Spirit, the whole fear of sensual and/or sexual pleasure, has wreaked its share of havoc. Somehow this hatred of all things earthy and all people who lived close to the earth and danced and thought intuitively and imaginatively and were at home in their bodies and not ashamed of healthy libidos, all of this helped pave the way to witch-burning and Native American genocide and slavery and corporal punishment in child-raising. Exuberance was to be corralled and put down, humor had no place in this dour life-hating way of life based on 24/7 restraint in the sensual pleasures of food, drink, dance, rhythmic music, sex, colorful celebration. Believe me, the Puritans were not big fans of Mardi Gras.
But when the gates of restraint came down and unabashed hedonism came in, well, I can’t say that this was much better. Constant indulgence, excessive drinking, drugging, eating, no restraint in use of language, the entire porn industry and casual sex, the President’s genitalia being discussed on the nightly news, the constant assault of bright lights and loud music and extreme yoga and extreme everything. Is this really an advance in civilization?
All of this brought on by my resolve to lean further toward restraint in my eating. I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of satiation and thumbing my nose at the scales and thinking, “Oh, yeah? You think I shouldn’t eat ice cream? Well, check this out!” But as the numbers on the scales creep up, I’m not exactly winning this little battle. But my resistance to the Puritan hat wants to keep insisting that life is too short not to eat chocolate and indulge in related pleasures. I don’t want to make myself miserable to just bring down some numbers and keep true to my pant size.
And so my win-win solution. The trick is not to forego pleasure, but to transpose the pleasure of satiation to the pleasure of restraint. For example, I went to a restaurant tonight and just had a smallish salad and I’m not 100% full by any means, but I’m not starving either. I’m feeling this 1/3 emptiness as its own kind of pleasure and my ability to say “no, thank you” to dessert as a way to be in control of desire rather than be controlled by it. And that’s a form of pleasure.
So in your face, Puritans! I’m enjoying eating less! And my half a beer is just fine. And yes, I’ll continue to dance and play rhythmic music and hug friends and trees and be entranced by the Black Indian parade in New Orleans with its colorful costumes and enjoy what’s left of my libido.
Restraint and fulfillment. Both pleasurable in their own ways. And no thanks to the dour, angry, repressed denial of the body and the senses. And no thanks to “anything goes.” Life thoughtfully lived with pleasure and enjoyment as part of the Spirit.
Chocolate, anyone? You decide.