Sacred Indulgence
Rewarding the Self
By Jesse Wolf Hardin



Properly loving each other, and loving this Earth, may begin with deeply loving and tending our own beings and bodies.
When people write us about their experiences here in the canyon, they may or may not mention the power of Gaian insights or the impact of my counsel.... but they seldom fail to thank us for the food they ate and the attention they got. To the extent that any teaching is cloaked in words, it can’t be expected to make as much of an impression on us as those naked communications and revelations garnered through the five awakened senses.

The talks I give suggest the importance of fully tasting the passing moments of our lives, while Loba’s meals fairly demand it: “Pay attention!” cry the sweet n’ sour stir-fry, the homemade chili and creamy sweet potato pie. No treatise can compare to the evocative gestures of a juniper limb, to the living text of mountains and rivers, or the murmuring and cooing of the canyon wind. I may wax eloquently about sensuality and bliss, but sometimes more is imparted by a single touch, a warm hug or tender kiss.

It would be easy to pass this off as a human tendency to avoid deep spiritual or existential questions. Indeed, pleasure is often reduced to the level of vicarious, objectively experienced “entertainment” that distracts us from the immediacy of our personal feelings, needs and dramas.

On the other hand, indulging in deep conscious pleasure assists our reinhabitation of our sensate bodies, our communities, and the land we live in and on. Like pain, pleasure can function as a delivery system, catapulting us into the vital present moment and all it contains. Rather than isolating us, it dissolves boundaries, and heightens our sensual, visceral, and emotional connection to the whole.

Furthermore, because it requires a degree of self love, opening up to pleasure can help mend any schism between the spiritual and the physical, ease our fear of bodily needs, and end the self-criticizing of our bodily forms. We have to accept that we are worthy, in a sense, in order to really give pleasure to ourselves, or to unselfconsciously accept pleasure from people and places around us. We treat other people, and the living environment so much better once we’ve done the practical magic of properly treating ourselves, or of letting others treat us really, really well!  

It’s far less likely someone will hurt another or wage war, over-populate or overcompensate, become a drug addict or alcoholic, cut down the last old growth forests or neglect their spouse when they’ve learned to truly notice, tend and honor their sacred selves. Their sacred bodies. Their holy mortal days. In this way, our indulging in pleasure is not only a means of feeling, but of dealing.... and healing.

Indulgence is neither tolerance, license nor excess. The word means literally to “satisfy one’s innate hungers,” and to “allow oneself to follow one’s will.” Society teaches us not to trust our feelings, and indulgence is our response: listening to our bodily desires and needs, the pleadings of intuition and instinct, and our heart’s fateful call.

Indulgence is a high-dive into the intimacy of sensation, pulling the universe closer where we can touch and taste it. It is manifest in a baby’s wanting to put everything in its mouth, to taste, test and perhaps savor. It is our acting out of the will and wisdom of the ancient knowing beings within us. It’s both connection, and reward — not only eating what’s good for us, but eating meals that taste good.

Indulgence isn’t about quantity. People may have sex with dozens of partners without truly indulging in the grace of each. Many consume quantities of food in an attempt to fill an emotional emptiness, or substitute for the nuances of flavors, smells, temperatures and textures they fail to notice.

True indulgence requires rolling the food around on our tongue, eating our toast butter side down and giving its oils time to saturate the taste buds before commencing to chew. Eating slower and more attentively, the indulgent diner actually consumes less than the inattentive, and the indulgent lover is more intensely focused than libertine.

As with sexuality, pampering the body can be sacred or profane depending on the energy and intention we put into it. We can make either of these sacrament by focusing on our connection to the sacred whole, recognizing all actions as interactions, and approaching these vital exchanges as opportunities to give more than to take. We affirm all of life, as we affirm and tend the sacred nature of our beings and bodies. When we honor our mortal forms as evolving extensions of Spirit and Earth, every bite of precious food becomes a form of communion, and every stroke of the hair brush or deliberate rubbing of a muscle turns into a benediction of love.

We are indeed the sensory organs of Gaia, and she yearns to feel pleasure through us. It is then no longer just a “meal,” a “back scratching” or a “soak” that we undertake — but homage to the body that is the house and shrine of our souls. When committed to deeply and wholly, every washing functions as absolution, every group hug as a circle cast. Any night’s bath can serve as a Wiccan water-sharing.... or a baptismal into the ecstasy — and duties — of the mindful spiritual path.

There exists a potential for both enchantment and sacrament, every time we soulfully tend and nourish the sacred body. This is true whether one is talking about conscious cooking and eating or ceremonial bathing.... whether rubbing and oiling ourselves after a hard day at work, or getting together with friends to wash each other’s hair with a play of herbal shampoos. We are enchanted, teased into an altered state by this most intentional application of pleasure.

These are divine moments, born of love? intensely present, focused yet relaxed — folding us into a timeless experience of oneness. We’re transported by the diverse flavors of our just desserts, and by the purposeful bath with its trance-dance of touch, a bewitching of suds and the stimulation of fairy-dust powders.

Imagine if you will, turning out the lamp and lighting the candles next to a heated tub, opening our nostrils a little wider at the scent of grapefruit and orange, a bouquet of lavender billowing out of blooming steam. Or picture, perhaps, an antique clawfoot like ours — perched outdoors overlooking the river, fire-lit beneath an impossibly star-filled sky. On a nearby rock lies a small cobalt bowl of creamy truffles to be savored, once submerged in the mind-altering suds.

The aroma of almond and orange draws attention to an open container of luxurious body scrub, and a celebration of grapefruit hints at the healing salts so lovingly added to the water. We ease our entire beings into the experience.... and with the slow washing of the skin, we find it is the mind that is wiped clean — temporarily unclothed of both its worries and words.

And too, our slow and grateful approach to the sweltering tub would in itself be ceremony. Noticing the soft texture of the preheated towels as we set them out:  praise giving. Quieting the mind before first deciding on a soak:  contemplation. The sensual mixing of oil and essences, in the days before the bath: a stirring of a cauldron of love. Selecting the herbs or gathering and drying the flowers the long Summers before: meditation. And previously planting the seeds that grew those flowers: promise and prayer!

There is perhaps no more urgent duty than the understanding and tending of self, so we might best understand and tend our species, the rest of creation, and this living Earth! In the course of sating and nourishing our whole selves, we become adepts in what is the ancient art of sacred indulgence. We evolve as alchemists of our own existence through the mindful practice of preparing our meals, rubbing our own stiff neck or drawing a luxuriant bath.

We truly “come into ourselves” by satisfying our authentic creature needs, and ceremonializing every intentional act.... by taking responsibility for adding aroma and flavor, depth and meaning, beauty and magic to what has surely become the meaningful ritual of our lives.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Earth-centered spirituality, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. He is the author of Gaia Eros: Connecting To The Magic & Spirit of Nature (New Page 2004), and performs on the GaiaTribe CD “The Enchantment” Wolf and his partners share a riverside sanctuary where they host folks for retreats and quests, intuitive counsel, resident internships and the Sacred Indulgence Weekend (Sept 23-25): The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center, Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830

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