Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bellowhead, hedonism, mindfulness

If you've been dragging yourself through these pages at all, you may have noticed my enthusiasm for Bellowhead, the astoundingly talented English sort of mad in the best sense folk band. On the DVD accompanying their latest CD (no, you have to buy the posh version to get the DVD, darlings..) which is called "Hedonism," one of them - John Speirs, I think - refers to hedonism as living for the moment. The CD has songs illustrating the many delights and dangers of hedonism, from male wish-fulfilment with a sexy and compliant landlord's daughter through to the wages of sin, and the impossibility of post mortem passion (ref "Yarmouth Town," "New York Girls," "Cold Blows the Wind.")

It's a trusim, I guess, that total hedonism tends to self-destruction (alcohol, drugs) and damage to those who do, or should matter to the hedonist ( children abandoned along with partners.) This isn't being puritanical (far from it, ooohhhhhhhhhh yesyesyes!!) it is merely to point out the paradox that sacrificing everything to the pleasures of the moment may result in many fewer pleasures of the moment, sooner or later.

But then endlessly deferred satisfaction, continual self-denial, can demonstrate the same paradox in reverse.

Mindfulness meditation encourages living in, rather than for, the moment. I'm a far from exemplary student of meditation (it's hard work, dammit!) but I have found that spending some of my time in a full awareness of the present, full acceptance of it; with avoidance of anxieties about the future, fantasies, worries over the past (all the usual train of thoughts that roll on, roll on): this presentness can yield a sort of calm pleasure about the present, in the present.

This attitude hangs on after meditation, it can become part of one's way of living in general, at least part of the time. It seems to have none of the self-destructiveness of hell-for-leather hedonism and none of the emotional and sensory constipation of continual self-denial, because it simply avoids both categories, both extremes. Simple things can yield unexpected pleasure. E.g. eating is more enjoyable if you can enjoy each mouthful, stay with it till it's gone, and stop bolting lunch at the computer or trying to impress people over dinner. (It's also easier to eat a little less, if like me, you're greedy.)

The beauties of the natural world become much more absorbing if you stop chasing after special examples of it and look at what's right there right now. If you like bird-watching, you can of course drive off to a special reserve to see a throstle-winged bark-scratcher, or you can just share a moment or two with that common blackbird right there, that unique creature in this unique moment in the garden. Here, now, nowhere else.

Well, I dunno if this makes any sense, it's notoriously difficult to write about the actual experience because it is not a concept, it is just that - an experience......but what I'm trying to describe certainly helps me avoid the extremes to be glimpsed in Bellowhead's songs. Though I have to say their music is an intensely hedonistic and absorbing experience for me! And of course a little mindless hedonism on occasion may be good for the soul, who knows??


  1. Great post, thanks, Gloria.

    Rushing around is a common complaint, and one from which I suffer. There is a perception that hard work and keeping busy are virtues, but we do need to take time to smell the flowers:

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare?

    But how do we take this time without building it into our "to do" lists and making a chore of it? Or is that just a temporary phase, until we chillax, as the young people say.

  2. Ah. Well, XP, there's the nub of it. It is, in a certain sense, a regular chore. (In my case, not as regular as it should be for max benefit.)But once you've invested a little time, you can filter "it" into your busy life quite neatly. I may have mentioned back a bit a nurse who was on the course I did, and she reckoned she could slip into "it" for a few moments whilst she was shoving the medicines trolley round a busy ward. Ian Macmillan, the "impactEDnurse" blogger, describes how some medical staff, even in emergency departments, mange to remain unhurriedly "in the moment" and this enables them to be calm and efficient, moreso than if they were rushing about. Ian uses the concept of "flow" to describe the mental state such people are in. So investing some chore time can result in moments of calm and present-ness in the busiest life. Sometimes, maybe, perhaps.

    Thanks for your interest, and happy staring time to you, even if only for a minute or two.