Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Flying and Strawberries

"Would God give a bird wings and make it a crime to fly?" - Robert G. Ingersoll.

I've been musing on this quote for a couple of weeks now. Obviously, the author isn't talking about birds, but what might it mean regarding people? So much of our training, conditioning and up-bringing seems focused on controlling ourselves, which seems to frequently entail a very long list of what we may not do. And, sadly, it seems to end up curtailing self-expression and the enjoyment of many of life's pleasures. And my thinking leads me to conclude that this is simply ungrateful.

A turning point in my thinking about enjoyment happened well into my 30's on the occasion of my first massage. Having grown up in a time, place, and tradition that frowned on physical pleasure, it took some hard thinking on my part to decide to sign up for the massage. I was on a week-long silent religious retreat and massage was an option available on request. I knew one of the therapists. She explained what I could expect and suggested that I think about it. In a few hours, I'd thought enough to give it a shot. After all, I knew her and trusted her, what could possibly be wrong with it?

I was very nervous, but I signed up and managed to not cancel the appointment. Little did I know that it would have not just a physical effect, but also a spiritual effect on me. The room was dimly lit and as I lay face down on the table, I very slowly began to relax. The therapist asked if anything hurt. I told her that nothing did. How little I knew about my body and it's sensations. When she put her hands on my shoulders, I almost raised off the table, they were so painful. She told me that that was frequently the way, that we often don't recognize the pain that we are carrying around with us. As she gently started working on the knots, I ever so slowly relaxed and my mind began to drift as I casually examined the sensations. At one point, my mind followed a thought that was so strong that I almost heard it. "If we were only meant to have bread and water, why did God make strawberries?" I managed to maintain my relaxed state through the rest of the massage, but my mind was on fire for many days after that.

Why indeed? Everything in my background supported the notion that life was suffering. One was not to expect anything because that would only lead to disappointment. That there was, in fact, some sort of virtue in suffering. But now I had the evidence of the strawberries to contend with. For the first time in my life, I came face to face with the idea that life, every bit of it, was to be enjoyed rather than endured. And, further, to refuse to enjoy it was tantamount to ungratefully throwing the gift back at the Giver. It took another decade or so for this realization to solidify in my life, but it has remained, quietly nudging me to clearer recognition and response.

We refuse so many of the pleasurable gifts of life, whether through a sense of decorum and propriety or that of following what is expected. We smile when a child cheerfully skips past us, but we would never skip ourselves. We don't sing aloud, laugh aloud or love aloud for fear of being unseemly or improper. We don't reach for the brass ring because we might fail or look foolish in the attempt. We never indulge ourselves in massage or rich foods or long lingering looks because.....because.....why?

One of the gifts we have is that of our senses. Our nerves and emotions fire pleasure through our brains, if we but allow them to. But more often than not we clip our own wings and refuse to fly. Sometimes out of necessity, but other times out of a fear of disapproval from others. Each of us have different potential pleasurable paths before us; it is only for us to choose our preferred way. What sorts of grateful flights are we denying ourselves? And what would it take for each of us to fly?


teabird said...

I love these thoughts, especially your conclusion about gratitude. Oftentimes I forget to look up from my own problems to see the beauty and goodness around me - never mind setting down my own cares and partaking!

Scarlett said...

You are the most amazing and beautiful person. I wanted to tell you thanks for being in my online life. Hugs.