Epicurean Life: Summer 2023

I’ve been reading a book called Being Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness by Charles Foster. And it has definitely had an impact on the way I interact with our landscape.

In Being Human, the author and his son attempt to travel back in time by way of a thought experiment and lifestyle immersion. Their first journey is into the Upper Paleolithic period (about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago) to the era of the hunter-gatherers.

In the introduction, Foster says:

Hunter-gatherers were — and the few that survive often are — wanderers, reverently and often ecstatically connected to lots of land and many species… For most, settlement wasn’t an option, and even if it had been, it would have been unappealing. Why chew on rusk all your life when you can graze from a vast, succulent and ever-changing buffet?

This summer, I have journeyed in a similar fashion becoming something of a hunter-gatherer.

Only in my case, all the hunting and gathering has been done in my own garden.

I’ve wandered this semi-cultivated wildness, popping fruit into my mouth fresh, unwashed, whenever the mood struck.

I’ve spent hours studying small sections of the garden, reverently and ecstatically relating to all of this not as “mine” and not as “other” but as an extension of my being.

What I haven’t done much of though is “garden” .

In previous years, I’ve needed to maintain a certain amount of “tidy” in my garden because I was using the space to take photos for books and articles and to make videos.

Now that I’ve changed direction and am only writing here, for a more intimate audience, I’ve given up that pretense.

The garden has become a wild beauty with outcroppings of cultivation ensconced amid formidable, forgeable food forests.

Less frequently mowed paths, more tolerance for milkweed, unkempt vining plants, and branches bending under the weight of unthinned fruit, lead to beds overflowing with flowers.

Some might see all this as garden neglect. But the plants seem to see it otherwise, as do all of the insects and birds that have continued to increase in population.

And the endless bounty of tomatoes, fruit, herbs, and fodder for the goats prove beyond doubt that most of what qualifies as “good gardening” is no longer necessary now that we’ve attended to the health of our soil.

Next up in Being Human is the neolithic period, or the age of domestication. I have put off reading that section (until cooler weather) because I know where it leads.

It leads to me picking up my garden tools and reclaiming my real role in our landscape as arbiter elegantiarum (arbiter of taste) — conforming the natural world to both my aesthetic and edible preferences.

So, as I lingered a little longer in the less cultivated parts of our human past and reveled in doing less cultivation in my garden, I took a side step to read Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff.

Savoring is defined as the processes by which people actively derive pleasure and fulfillment in relation to positive experience.

Savoring intersects with all sorts of positive mental health tools like meditation, mindfulness, daydreaming, and working with time and emotional intelligence. Yet it is also a uniquely nuanced tool for pleasurable living.

According to the authors, savoring entails:

…a deliberate contemplation of one’s own inner experience. Rather than turning away from positive thoughts and feelings that arise in the moment, when one savors, one intentionally reflects on these experiences, mulling them over “swishing them around” in one’s mind, so to speak, as one would savor a fine wine on one’s palate. In this process, one explicitly acknowledges associated thoughts and feelings that arise, further enhancing enjoyment.

Life is full of challenges that we often make more difficult by swishing them around in our minds. We compound the negative by replaying hardships long after the actual pain has passed. But we can do the same with our positive experiences.

Negative repetition seems hardwired into us. Savoring, by contrast, doesn’t come quite as naturally. Yet savoring is a discipline we can learn to do well.

As a caretaker of someone with mental and physical limitations, I sometimes feel cut off from many of the activities that constitute my idea of the “good life”.

My asthma, too, limits my access to places with certain kinds of pollution. But savoring, as described above, has been my saving grace, opening the world and making it grand again.

The modes of savoring such as marveling, thanksgiving, basking, and luxuriating are available to every one of us, no matter our status or our limitations. We can expand our enjoyment by learning to savor the pleasurable and then practicing frequently.

For most people, it’s not really the big, epic life events that bring us pleasure. Those times are often too hectic and overwhelming to fully appreciate. Those events bring joy later when we remember.

This summer, so many little pleasures, deeply and fully embraced, have made some extra challenges in my life of late more bearable. There is still hardship. There is still pain. But there is also room between those things to savor small moments of joy.

Just in case you are in a similar place, you don’t need to read a book to start savoring. You also don’t need your life to be anything other than what it is right now.

The next time you find yourself enjoying something — no matter how seemingly small or unimportant — stop and savor the experience.

Swish it around in your mind like a fine wine.

Allow it to permeate your senses.

Marvel at it.

Give thanks for it. Bask in it. And luxuriate in the experience as long as you can.

Then, remember the experience fondly as often as possible.

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