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Joy Is Moderation and Mindfulness

March 21, 2018

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It’s no secret that we live in perhaps the most stressful times there ever were. Even if our material comfort is perhaps greater (for those of us privileged enough), the daily grind takes a higher and higher mental toll. Only the levels of information we absorb daily are a huge and incredible source of mental strain, never mind the emotional pressure.

Living through such stressful times, finding ways to relax, to increase your wellness, and to see the joy in all things is an important adaptive skill. 

“The high value put on every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.”

These wise and contemporarily relevant words are from Herman Hesse’s 1905 essay titled, “On Little Joys”. The German-born Swiss luminary is widely know for his novels Siddhartha and Steppenwolf and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. A less widely circulated treasure is My Belief: Essays on Life and Art.

Hesse laments how the “aggressive haste” of his time (gosh, what would he say about our time?) has eroded our ability to enjoy leisure. This does not imply that - in the straightforward sense - there is no time for leisure, but rather, his point is more subtle.

nina butler yoga pose

Yoga is about establishing patterns of moderation in your everyday. Featuring Nina Butler in South Africa

He argues that the frenzied rush for success and heightened productivity (work time) inhabits our leisure time with just as much negative persuasion. We tend to apply the mantra of “as much as possible, as fast as possible” to all aspects of our lives. The resultant effect is, simply put, more entertainment and less joy. We have lives brimming and bursting with productivity, entertainment, sensory titillation and over-the-top, hyper-real celebration. And yet, where is the joy? Hesse was of the opinion that this blind pursuit is “perpetually satiated” (there is just so much entertainment!). Nevertheless, our race continues, spurred on by “constant dissatisfaction”.

What I draw from this is: its not that we don’t have enough leisure time, its that we crush this precious resource in the endless race for externalised and measurable productivity, and drown it in sensory satisfaction.

The antidote in Hesse’s estimations is “moderation in enjoyment”. At first read this sounds like a typically bland, tight-lipped, tight-arsed statement from some perpetually fasting aesthete. Well, that is how I read it in any case. I live fully; I feel deeply.

tree trunk photo nature

It’s the small things that count!

However, a nuanced reading into this point elucidates a simple and profound message: cultivate the ability to savour enjoyment in small doses. Save the big gains and the monumental celebrations for high days and holidays. Joyful being is comprised of “a thousand … tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures of one’s life”.

Being able to appreciate and recognise little joys in the everyday is deeply implicated with a habit of moderation. Hesse gives an example of how you could focus on one painting at an exhibition instead of rushing through all forty works displayed. This one painting, well understood, connected with, and visually digested is more valuable to your understanding of art, the artist and, indeed, life, than a blur of several.

nina butler yoga pose

The unhurried atmosphere of the African wildness cultivates calm self-reflection. Featuring Nina Butler in South Africa.

For me, the principle of yoga is a lesson of moderation. Integrating yoga practice regularly into your life does not happen unless you are willing to make room for it. You have to cultivate a pattern over your day in which yoga time is guarded and unhurried. Then, when involved in your practice, its the small sensations, the tiny achievements, pains, and releases that consume all your attention.

You feel this, you watch it, and this ability to observe, this mind state of observance is a true gift. You cannot observe like this if you are going full tonk, ‘working out’ and pushing yourself to achieve some body goal or pose. Simultaneously, just flopping about like a lard gives rise to a dull mind; there is no careful observance or exploration of your mind-body connect without sincere focus and intent.

chairs on veranda

Mindfulness in the African wilderness

Hesse says that the “principle thing” in cultivating a joyful life “is the beginning, the opening of the eyes”. In order to savour small joys, you have to be able to see them, and to see them you have to learn to not just stand still, but be still. In my experience, being still is not always easy! This is especially so if you live in a city space. Everything around you vibrates on a frequency of continuous movement and stimulation.

Mindfulness practices can be a workable and accessible way to begin to achieve stillness in the context of flux. A retreat to a wild, beautiful and unhurried destination is the perfect place to get into a routine of mindfulness, and I invite you to experience this with me on an African Safari later this year. Let’s ease into the practice of mindfulness together in the remote wilderness in order to begin to cultivate patterns of unhurried moderation, and thus joy, in our everyday lives.

Note: A similar version of this article is available on this private blog page: https://www.ninabutler.net/journal/2017/3/16/joy


If you feel like you need to reconnect with yourself and develp a healthy practice of mindfulness, why not start your journey in a yoga detox retreat? You will be able to develop the good patterns needed to continue upon your return home.

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