The Garden of Pleasure

You are walking along a path. The warm sunshine beams down and warms your cheeks as you close your eyes for just a second.

The slight breeze produces a movement of salty Mediterranean air that cools the beaming rays that spill across your face. The air carries the fragrance of ancient salt, and wafts of petals ––hyacinth, maybe lavender. You hear the tiny bumbles of bees, delicately zipping from one direction to the other, you hear the crunch of your footsteps along the path, and… is that music? You open your eyes to look toward the direction from which you heard the soft, pleasant tones of piano, or strings. You see the dance of the bees as they are fluttering from bud to bud collecting nourishment while the sun is high.

You continue on the path, scouting and observing all the delectable objects that surround you- the warm blue sky speckled with lofty clouds, the way the sunlight splashes between the shadows of the leaves on the trees making shapes on the ground before you. You can see the colors of the garden path rise up like a rainbow from the crust of the Earth delivering an afternoon bouquet.

The musical sound you were following is now becoming accompanied by a roaring percussion of water from the nearby river. You can’t quite see it yet, but you can hear it. You can feel the reverberation in your chest and the soles of your feet.

Your walk is simple. You feel happy. A deep-seated joy that only comes from a pleasure of contentment. You have just walked through the Garden of Epicurus.

Epicurus, the philosopher

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher and physicist from the 3rd century BC. To illustrate and indoctrinate his students, Epicurus built Kêpos, a garden near Athens to promote and engage his most well-known philosophy –– the philosophy of pleasure.

The garden is described as filling of all the senses, enrobing the entire body in sensation. Located near a river close to the Mediterranean Sea, the garden boasted of trees, flowers, paths, music and wine. Students learned and conversed outdoors, philosophy and science were discussed while making real-time observations. On the gate of his school was quoted, “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest goal is pleasure.”

This is where the epicurean philosophy often becomes misinterpreted. This quote seems to highlight the importance of decadent pleasure, the seeming definition of school and life. Even the term epicurean has somewhat come to mean the desire for the luxurious and indulgent.

Here our highest goal is pleasure.

Epicurus

The philosophy of Epicurus was truly pleasurable, but he defined pleasure as contentment and the simple filling and feeling of the human senses. His ideas were to find pleasure in the simplest of ways. His ideas were the precursor to mindfulness.

Epicurus defines the basic need of all humans to be food, water, shelter, safety and love. Humans cannot be happy, healthy, or even alive without fulfillment of such needs. He posits that the fulfillment of these simplest needs will provide pleasure. He described sensual pleasure as the main goal in life, however the pathway that leads to such pleasure was not through desiring more, but rather to be mindful of what is existing and find pleasure and joy in contentment.

“Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when once the pain of want has been removed, while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips.”

In layman’s terms, he says that a simple sandwich can be just as pleasurable when you are hungry, as would a lobster. The goal is the same, to fill hunger. Displeasure only comes from a feeling of pride or envy that would cause a person to place a different value upon one meal or the other.

The philosopher taught that all of life can be enjoyed with simplicity and moderation. He taught that luxury, vanity and pride were groundless needs that just imprisoned those who sought them. Not that luxury in itself is negative, if that is your life’s situation, but rather the endless struggle and desire for luxury can only grow and be insatiable.

“He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing.”

Epicurus

The pursuit of luxury does not increase pleasure. What it can do is enlarge your desires, make you become dependent on them and thus make you weak to the whims of fates.

The key to all of life’s pleasure, according to Epicurus, was to seek contentment and happiness through the simplicity of feeling your everyday senses. Find pleasure in sensing wherever you are.

“Again, we regard independence of outward things as a great good, not so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury…”

The Modern Epicurean

So much has changed since the era BC. How do Epicurus’s ancient ideas even translate to today’s modern life with streaming TV, social media and self-driving cars?

Keep it simple
Focus on the simple basics of health and well-being: eat well, exercise, have a safe home, have strong self, have strong personal relationships.

Eat well
Eat to fulfill hunger AND to provide nourishment, vitamins and minerals to your body. Food is fuel. Water is fuel. Provide healthy and delicious choices to fuel your journey. Do so within your own personal means. Do not struggle to be healthier, or envious of others’ choices. Choose WHATEVER you can that is best for you and revel in that choice. Need to grab drive-thru on your way to the gym? GREAT! You’re fueling your cardio. Need to stick some top ramen because you are studying late in the library? Excellent. You are fueling your brain. Have to eat cereal for dinner? GREAT! You are sticking to your budget. However you get there, get there with the best choices you are allowed, and feel good about it.

Move
Feel your body move at least 30 minutes per day. Whether that is pacing back and forth down the hall from your desk to another, sit-ups and stretching in your living room after dinner, or stepping outside to get a quick, fresh breath of air; move. However you move, just make sure you move. And when you do, feel it into your core — feel the air on your face ,or the feeling of breathlessness. Feel good and strong about your personal choice to move.

Live Healthy
Indulge in genuine self-care, both body and mind. Keep up with doctor visits, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, take your medications, take breaks of deep breathing, check in with your therapist, schedule a YouTube yoga session and a bubble bath. Make a checklist and check in with yourself.

Focus on Friends and Relationships
Prioritize lavish relationships. Are there connections that you feel could be stronger? Reach out and pamper those. Spend time with family. Partake in time with friends. Be with those that make you happiest. Prioritize simple cups of coffee or phone calls. Schedule time to make room for those that make you feel your most loved.

Avoid Public Overindulgence
When in public space, avoid the negatives that can arise from what seems like desire. Everyone else is too worried about themselves to worry about you. Stand strong in your own self confidence. Do not compare your life status to those things you see on reality shows or social media. These media are highlights. These media pick and choose the best, sparkly and most awesome moments. The media are a highlight reel of “the best of.” Your life is a blended creation of highs and lows. Do not compare your life to the highs you see of others.

Avoid Vanity and Greed
If you see things you want or are in lack of, if you see things that others drive or wear, if you encounter perceived luxury, check in with yourself first. Define the feeling. Is this something tangible? Or is this a feeling you desire? Identify the feeling you are sensing. Name it. It is a real feeling. Be real with yourself to avoid those things that make you feel like you’re Keeping up with the Joneses. Avoid this tangible things that will just make you appear to feel confident. Develop real confidence instead.

Shun Wealth and Fame
If you are able to provide basic essentials — food, water, shelter and relationships, you have all you need. You may desire more, but you are not in need. According to Epicurus, the desire for wealth and fame are unnecessary. Those desires stem from seeking of external feedback promote an internal self confidence. Such efforts are unsuccessful. Ignore them.

Mindfulness/ Simplicity
With your basic needs met, you are open to enjoy the simple fulfillment of pleasure. Everything you have and everything you need is here. The idea of mindfulness is to observe your senses, observe your environment, observe your activities and be fulfilled and enjoy all that is around you. Stuck in traffic? Observe your car engine running, gas tank full and tunes on the radio. Long line at the grocery store? Observe the fact that you are able to stand, observe that you have food and are able to feed yourself and your family, and feel confident that you got what you needed. In every situation, take a deep breath and observe. Focus on the simple things that are occurring at that moment. Name those things, out loud even, that you can observe, hear, smell, feel in that situation.

Voluntary Simplicity

Pleasure is simple. Pleasure abounds with simplicity.

Science says that simplicity can increase your happiness, it can better your health, it can help save the planet, and it can even bulk up your wallet.2 Simplicity is a direct path to happiness and can be practiced in a number of ways and situations throughout life.

Upgrade and modernize the advice of this ancient Greek teacher, get back to the basics. Make simplicity a goal and find the pleasure in it. Wherever you are.

Let’s be students to our own minds and attitudes. The desire to grow and improve oneself differs from the desire of greed. One must learn to define and identify such desires within his or herself.

Volunteer to simplify.

As we go through this month, we will highlight how to simplify your life and where to find indulgent pleasure. We will talk about mindfulness and relationships. We will learn to minimize and disconnect. We will investigate different areas of life and provide steps and tips to make life simple and more pleasurable; with the research to back it all up.


Takeaway

  • Pleasure is highly desirable.
  • Simplicity will allow room for pleasure.
  • Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, defined pleasure as contentment, not luxury.
  • The philosopher built a garden for pleasure and contentment.
  • Define and build your own garden with simplicity.
  • Be modern — find luxury in the everyday modern life.
  • You already have luxury, you just need to identify it.

Sources

“Epicurus – World History Encyclopedia.” https://www.worldhistory.org/Epicurus/.

Bergsma, Ad, et al. “Happiness in the Garden of Epicurus.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, Sept. 2008, pp. 397–423. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9036-z.

“Garden of Epicurus, The | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” https://iep.utm.edu/garden/.

Epicurus – Letter to Menoeceus. https://epicurus.net/en/menoeceus.html

“The Gateway to Well-Being and Happiness: Re-Defining Individualism, Voluntary Simplicity and Civilization.” Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Legal Studies, May 2021, pp. 59–74. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.34104/ajssls.021.059074.

Citations

Epicurus – Letter to Menoeceus. https://epicurus.net/en/menoeceus.html.

Walther, Carol S., et al. “Voluntary Simplifiers, Spirituality, and Happiness.” Humanity & Society, vol. 40, no. 1, Feb. 2016, pp. 22–42. SAGE Journals, https://doi.org/10.1177/0160597614565698.

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