“He who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sunrise.”
"She closed her eyes for a few moments, feeling again the sun on her brow. The momentwas delicious, one to be savoured."
—From Comforts of a Muddy Saturday:An Isabel DalhousieNovel by Alexander McCall Smith
Savoring—that delicious word—is a way of experiencing the world most vividly and beautifully. It is a kind of art, too, for savoring doesn't just happen; itneeds an open and hospitable soul, a well-developed sense of awe, and a willingness to practice daily. What does it mean to practice the art of savoring? We might call it "deep awareness" or “capturing the moment,” or as Blake says, “kissing the joy as it flies.” We often think that such lofty notions must be the sole territory of the contemplative, the painter, the photographer, and the poet. But savoring is really a universal art, something everyone can practice. I know its power on a personal level, but I cannot write about it without including a kaleidoscope of metaphors.
Melting into the Moment
When I think of the word "savor," what first comes to mind is fine chocolate, the rich, dark chocolate that melts slowly in the mouth, the kind of chocolate that warrants perfect concentration and stillness of body—and certainly the closing of eyes. It's as if the taste starts in the mouth, like any other food, but the surprise is too startling, too overwhelming, to be held by the taste buds alone, so the dark joy moves along like an overflowing river into the tributaries of body. But savoring is not confined to taste. A moment of savoring may occur while basking cat-like in a shaft of warm sunshine on a wintery day, or gazing up at flock of pelicans overhead, or listening to Mozart. We want the moment not to simply pass, but to melt—to melt slowly. Savoring is a kind of melting into the moment and letting the moment melt into us.
Such moments can transform a person’s life, but they are never solely intellectual. In the act of savoring, all the senses wake up and the world becomes vivid and delicious. For Isabel Dalhousie, the Scottish philosopher in Alexander McCall Smith's lovely novel series, such a moment changes everything. She is standing in an Edinburgh gallery courtyard—when she realizes that the man she loves reciprocates in full measure. She is loved, truly loved. She discovers by accident a secret painting he has bought for her, and the joy of it stops time. "It was a moment," writes the Scottish novelist, "of realisation, of understanding, and it took place against a background of sun and geraniums and the pure voice of a bird."
Kissing the Joy
We know that the savored moment is temporary, fleeting: a moment of "perpetual perishing" as Whitehead would say. But it is that very ephemeral quality of the moment which creates the heightened awareness of joy. We try to slow down the moment, to stretch it out, to capture it in its entirety.
Savoring is a form of mindfulness; it is gratitude, too. When gratitude and mindfulness unite in spontaneous union, something beautiful begins to quake inside of us, and we cannot let such a moment pass like any other; no, it is a moment that must be noted and cherished before it wings its way toward the rebirth of eternally new moments. And even then, we yearn after it with a desire to protect it, keep it, own it. But the moment cannot be held any longer than we can hold a quivering bird in our hand, for as the poet says, "He who binds to himself a joy/ Does the winged life destroy;/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in eternity's sunrise." This is the way of things; this is the process of Eternal Flow.
Gathering Exquisite Moments
But we want things to last, don't we? Poignancy hovers around beauty like a nimbus, for the most beautiful things in life are not things at all, but moments in time—moments that we know will flow on. While the raw moment flows on into a new concrescence, we can nevertheless gather the exquisite moments like flowers and place them in the rose bowl of our memory.
Rose bowls were popular in Victorian times. Roses were cut at the height of their beauty, just before they perished, to float about in an enormous bowl—a thing of beauty in itself, usually silver or china or glass—and placed in the entry way of the house. The floating roses, and other delicate flowers, set the tone for the home: to remind the household of the fleeting quality of all things precious, and of the fragility of each person who inhabits the home—and that we need to be kind.
The Great Paradox
So we gather up our moments, the ones most exquisite, and let them float about inside us as we savor their color, scent, and texture. Even though the memory is not the same as the moment itself—even memory is a new moment—we can store up an entire bowl of exquisite memory moments that we can enjoy later. But what if our memory fails, as it so often does? Process theology would tell us that if we forget, God still remembers. Our moments are saved in God's memory, in God's own heart. The moments we savor are paradoxically fleeting and eternal in the same divine breath. They are gone, yes, but not lost. Whitehead describes God’s nature as “tender care that nothing be lost.”
So if we think that our moments with Mozart on our iPod might be useless to anyone or anything beyond ourselves, we need to think again. Savoring adds to the joy of God for all eternity. And that moment savored not only contributes to God's joy, but to the joy of the entire cosmos. To return to Blake’s metaphor, when we kiss the joy with mindful gratitude, we unleash fresh possibilities for the next sunrise. It is inevitable; joy is like that: it spills over into eternity.
Gathering up exquisite moments—the art of savoring—is a worthy purpose for each day. We can easily practice this art when the confluence of events intermingles with our own mindfulness and gratitude, creating intensely harmonious moments.
But if we want to go deeper still, we need to learn how to savor when things go badly, too—when the warmth and chocolate and pelicans are gone, or when loved ones fail us and our insecurities rise up to mock us. This is life, too. On those dark days, when nothing seems worth salvaging, we can still practice the art of savoring, for there is something even more satisfying that deserves our mindfulness and gratitude: we can savor the One who savors us.
If we can learn to see not just the lack of roses in our bowl, but the bowl itself—the Encircling One—we will touch the ultimate joy, the Ultimate itself. In process theology, we name the Encircling One, God. Whitehead says, “God is the great companion—the fellow sufferer who understands.” Words to savor, are they not? We are loved, truly loved. So, no matter what happens, we can let this thought melt into us and we into it: God holds us in exquisite empathy, and reminds us that life is eternally blooming with fresh possibilities.