Austere Hedonism

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A small and beautiful thing...

UNITED STATES—Austere hedonism. It’s an approach that springs from my morning espresso. Alone, beautiful, black and biting. More often than not that single espresso is enough, more than enough, though I balked at it as a caffeine-swilling kid. Take it back; serve me a real cup of coffee—that was my attitude. Now what a difference! That little cup when left alone overflows with pleasures and sensations: the moderated series of sips, the kindling flames of creative awakening. There’s a wholeness. Beyond that tiny volume lies jitters and brutishness.

For me it could be espresso, for you it might be a plain grilled beef patty, or pieces of pineapple. When you embrace a daunting simplicity, you release complexity, and untold rewards are revealed.

Based on the fact that it was Monday, I could have rationalized some extra accompaniment to my espresso or replaced it by a big café latte and pastry. When it was all over, and I stuck to my minimalistic coffee guns, I got to luxuriate in the voluptuous sensations and chemical reactions produced by my single-shot espresso.

It is served in a tiny ceramic cup, sometimes white and new, sometimes a chipped one the dull hue of cherry borscht. That is important; the container, the limitations. When we get a sample in the grocery store in a little paper or plastic cup, it is sufficient. Here the point to take to heart is to cultivate small beautiful receptacles, and your hungers will be gently tamed. Within this is included respect for the unseen receptacle of time.

Giving time to enjoy is one of the ground rules of my espresso—the pun is there for the suffering. This is a way avoid “rationalized” eating and drinking as well as rationalized non-eating and drinking. I always remember when a barista told me, sit down and have an espresso, when I was under the gun and calculated I needed to be back on the freeway in five minutes: I found infinity in those five minutes, as a man faced by a firing squad may experience a lifetime compressed into seconds. So may we draw enjoyment from limited finite pleasures. It is in fact the finite nature—the limits—that determine pleasure.

It takes a boldness, a boldness, creativity and daring to make the stripped-down choice. A one-shot espresso, a glass of red wine, a hunk of bread. It takes a sense of daring to make an austere choice and find the sensory riches within it and the pride of exercising control, instead of giving in to a prevailing sloppiness in ourselves and others. True comfort consists in going outside the comfort zone.

You know the story of Goldilocks: “This porridge is too hot!” she proclaimed. So, Goldy tasted the porridge from the second bowl. “This porridge is too cold,” she said. So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

“Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and ate it all up. Afterward she goes through the same rigmarole with chairs belonging to Papa Bear, Mama Bear and baby bear, testing each one out.

I would do a rewrite where Goldilocks blows on the hot porridge, eats it, and leaves the house before the bear family comes home and eats her alive. Our desire to have things ‘just so’ is always sabotaging pleasure within easy grasp.

If I do give in to the desire for more with my espresso, I choose to complement it with piece of sourdough bread or contrast it with the sweet of banana. When we keep things simple, we will start hearing a subtle music we could never hear because of all the noise.

This is my gift to you in this season and for every season. Limiting your food choices opens a new world of bounty and unexpected pleasures. Discover the maximalism that lurks in minimalistic choices. Hold true to small and beautiful things and your senses will be richly rewarded.

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet” (available on Amazon). Grady can be reached at grady.miller@canyon-news.com.