When I was 12 or so, my cousins, brother, and I spent the summer at my grandmother’s house in the Black Forest. It was very exciting for the four of us, I was the oldest. We flew unaccompanied from California via London to Germany. I remember picnics with Frikadellen in the woods after long carsick-inducing rides in my grandmother’s little diesel car. I remember my little cousin getting so mad at me, I definitely provoked him, that he hurled a wooden block at my head. I was standing in front of my grandmother’s huge double-glazed picture windows and we all froze in silence as the wooden block flew across the room. He missed me and miraculously the block hit the small border between the windows. That was terror when we were all so young, breaking a window.
When we left Germany my grandmother gave us a wrapped gift, something for all of us, with strict instructions that we not open it until our second flight. My grandmother was a lifelong believer in the glories of anticipation, Erwartung. It drove me crazy when she got presents and she waited as long as possible, drawing the time out, before finally opening the gift. She told us that there was more pleasure in waiting for pleasure than in the actual pleasure itself. This is not a believable statement when one is 12. No. I wanted to open the pretty box right away but her powers of guilt were great and so we put it in the overhead bin on our first flight. And forgot it there. When we changed planes in London Heathrow (oh such an exciting spectacle for a rural girl in the 1970s), we no longer had the wrapped gift. It stayed on that first plane and we were unable to recuperate it. I still don’t know what was in the package. Our grandmother gifted us an infinite anticipation because she would never tell me what was in it, either because she forgot or because she wanted it to stay forever wrapped in our minds. And now she is gone and I can only guess. A smallish box but a square one, not a chocolate box, not a book, the paper was green in my memory and it had a ribbon tied around it so it was something that had been wrapped in a shop because my grandmother only ever used reused gift wrapping with creases and odd shapes. What could it possibly have been? Maybe it showed up years later in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino got his hands on it.
Pleasure does strange things to the brain. We want chocolate tarts on some level even if we don’t particularly like chocolate or even if our tastebuds are numb or even if we get a headache afterwards or even if we know it is never as good as it looks. This year in Toulouse has been a little baffling for my anticipation brain. Other than the coffee, I don’t really know what I should look forward to, day by day. I have been negotiating a long and tedious divorce between my present consciousness and my future brain. My brain says, I want to know what the future will bring and I want to know it right now or else!!! And my body says, shut up, look at the sky, smell the onions someone is sautéing in another apartment, enjoy how quiet the air has become. We are currently in front of the judge, the process got fast-tracked, and luckily my body is being granted temporary custody of all pleasure and my brain has to go to some “calm the fuck down” training. You know, the kind all divorcing people fantasize about sending their exes to, the hours and hours of powerpoints about being a nicer person and learning to let go of controlling your ex. I digress in my fantasy of legally imposed character building, but what I couldn’t impose on my ex husband I can impose on certain parts of my psyche.
Today I can look forward to only the simplest and most immediate joys on this Friday. A bath, some movement, wow, my list is really short, but that doesn’t mean pleasure is gone. Not at all. But it does require less brain and more body. By this I mean feeling the yummy cotton roughness of the white rug under my feet, rolling my sour coffee stink around my mouth and watching the wind caress the lavender plant on my balcony.
We have so much to look forward to right now. The next meal cooked by someone else is going to be exquisite ambrosia to my tastebuds. Just thinking about a hug from someone I haven’t seen in a long time brings a great ball to my throat. The ocean, hearing cicadas again on a summer night, seeing my son as a grown man, listening to live music, or getting a kitten sound like exquisite future pleasures. My body says yes, let’s feel those feels and hear those sounds and anticipate those moments.
So we can feel pleasure in our bodies now if we slow down. Caress your own hair, wiggle your bare feet, roll around, jump, twerk, flap your arms, it’s all good. We can only breathe in this present moment, we can only enjoy the creaking of rolling our shoulders right now. My son and I are doing a lot of yelling and crazy dancing. It feels good. So does making silly faces, sticking out my tongue, boxing the air like Rocky, or lying on the ground wherever the sunlight puddles.
In yoga we often talk about poses that feel so good…when they are over. If your brain is getting the best of you try a camel pose, a timed plank pose, a twisted standing pose. You’ll only be able to hold them as long as your brain shuts up. And then when you come out, ahhhh, struggle is relative, suffering comes and goes.
I read a beautiful Italian book last spring, where the author, a literature teacher, bemoaned the fact that many of our young people have lost the art of yearning. He cited case after case of students he knew who had everything and yet who were miserable, suffering self-harm and hopeless. In French the book is called L’Art d’être fragile by Alessandro D‘Avenia but I’m not sure it’s been translated into English.
Anticipation, yearning, being physical, now is the time to notice which pleasures are available in the instant, which ones are almost more enjoyable in the abstract, and which feel delightful because they are at least, relatively, the opposite of pain.