“And just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy.” – Anaïs Nin
As I began composing my thoughts for this post, “sensual living” seemed like the most appropriate term for organizing the topics I planned to discuss here. But, in truth, I could have easily swapped “sensual” for “erotic,” or even, perhaps, “affirmative,” though neither of the latter two has quite the same aesthetically pleasing connotation as the first. That’s because the kind of life, or the style of living, I intend to talk about in the paragraphs that follow is very deeply inspired by a love of life, a desire to celebrate life, and a lightness of spirit that impels one to bestow that gift on oneself and others.
Indeed, when I think of what it might mean to live sensually, I do not envision a lifestyle centered on the gratification of bodily desires. I, rather, imagine a life that is experience-centered, both a style of living and a personal style that continually seek beauty. I think of an individual who lives, largely, for the aesthetics of the moment and who crafts out of the moments of his or her life—out of the routines of everyday living—the kinds of totalizing experiences that reach beyond the limits of the body, that ascend to ecstasy.
This post is an attempt to elucidate and exalt some of the sensual practices that I feel make my life richer and more rewarding (and that I hope have a similar effect on those around me). It is also a personal attempt to foster a greater understanding of some material I’ve read recently by relating it to my lived experiences. I hope you will read it that way.
Here are some thoughts on what it means to live an exuberantly sensual life:
Sensual living is ceremonial.
I have an exceedingly difficult time uncoupling sensuality from ceremony. I imagine that is because, for me, fully embracing the sensual aspects of my life has meant transforming everyday activities into creative enterprises, or acts of appreciation. What I am calling “ceremonies” here actually began as simple acts of self-care, nurturance, and lessons in self-improvement. Over time, they matured and ripened into a more refined, wholistic celebration of life. The fruits of a quiet personal evolution. What begins as self-care, it seems, aspires to ceremony.
There is probably no clearer example of the celebrations, or ceremonial aspects, of sensual living from my own life than the time I spend in the kitchen (although my fitness routine might come in a close second). As mentioned previously, I learned to cook both out of necessity and out of a desire to eat more healthfully. In time, as I became more skillful in the kitchen, I not only started to use food as a medium for self-expression, but I also began creating rituals around its preparation. Indeed, some of my most peaceful and luxuriantly sensual moments occur while I am fully absorbed in the chopping/seasoning/blending/butchering/sautéeing of all the elements of a meal: taking in the aromas, losing myself in the soft, lush sounds of classical jazz (which I almost always have) playing in the background, dabbling in my creations, and allowing the robust fruits of a well-balanced wine to cleanse my palate between tastings. I can think of no sensual ceremony more pleasurable, more creative, or more innately gratifying than that.
The idea is, of course, to approach such salacious rituals with abandon. That is the allure, the source of intoxication. And yet, it must be noted that one can easily get carried away (especially in the wine-sipping department) if one is not at least somewhat measured in one’s approach. The trick obviously lies in training oneself to discern between pleasure and excess. That kind of restraint and self-conditioning is, after all, fundamental to the art of living. And, for some of us, it is a wonderfully enjoyable and challenging exercise in crafting the most pleasing version of oneself.
Sensual living is textured living.
This sentence came to my mind, just as I wrote it, two days ago. I instantly felt it was wonderful. I intuited that this was exactly the idea I meant to convey, except I had yet to work out logically how to arrive there. What in God’s name do I mean by “textured living?” Indeed, how often do writers work backwards from the perfect sentence? I do it, for better or worse, all the time. And whether or not I’ve gotten there yet with this particular sentence (I sense I have much further to go with this idea.), I am going to write what I have come up with thus far.
I consider sensual living “textured living” because it concerns itself with the aesthetics of the moment. It ripples with the ecstasy of totalizing experiences, with the interweaving of elements and sensations that converge to create an overarching, lingering, even awe-inspiring “feeling.” It is, in effect, a perfect storm.
It is a kind of poetic living—one that does not lose itself in the tasks of everyday life, but rather, uses those tasks to create a glorified, refined experience, both for oneself and others. I envision the types of precisely keyed scenes discussed in On the Art of Entertaining, the exhilaration of travel, the “perfect evening,” all the elements that comprise the most romantic encounters. Each of these moments has density. They each have character. They each have feel. They each do everything right. And they craft out of time the most indelible of memories and rapturous delights. They are less “ceremony” and more a way of interacting with the world and with one another—in a manner that engages and incites the whole body and that, at its epitome, can make us feel as if we are reaching beyond the limits of ourselves.
Sensual living looks to the future.
It is the creative component of this style of living that makes me view it as forward-looking, or life-giving. Much in the way that exercising one’s creative impulses seems to spawn greater creativity, so, too, does living sensually beget the impulse to continually cultivate a richer, more colorful existence. It seems to me that sensual living is rooted not simply in a thirst for greater depth and vitality, but also, and most importantly, in the very noble (and often overlooked) desire to treat oneself nicely. There is a lightness, a playfulness, and a marked sensitivity to this way of being. To be sure, I cannot help but notice that my own discovery of what it means to fully embrace my sensuality began with the humble urge to, at one time, be a little bit kinder to myself.