Stoicism = Epicureanism
one of my favorite philosophical insights from high school
...the reason being that they're both essentially materialistic doctrines stating that with the right experiential inputs (food, sex, luxury goods) one can be happy. The only difference is that the Epicures were into trying everything in a toddleresque orgy of consumption, and the Stoics were into restricting inputs to the point that even very minimal pleasures would prove blissful. So really Stoicism was a more pragmatic, Yankee way of going about the pursuit of happiness.
The point: yesterday was 'hedonistic,' as some might say; a personal experiment in some form of the above model. Gavin, bless him, had the bright idea of spending the afternoon at Le Kandyan, a posh-ish resorty hotel in the hills above our neighboring villages, for the purposes of lunch, swimming, and Ayurvedic massage. And spend we did.
I've got a minor but tenacious respiratory something--stemming from the cigarette smoke? is that even possible?--and their food is mediocre at best, so lunch was a wash. Rice and curry in tourist hotels usually is because they don't put nearly enough chilies. Gavin noted that when you start demanding more chilies it's because your taste buds have all been killed by massive previous consumption. Given my absent sense of smell, I beg[ged] to differ.
Anyway. The Ayurveda was the point, and the high point, of the whole day. Stress relief can be stressful itself, however. I was fairly anxious because of unknown parameters: what treatments? how expensive? is it colonialist/oppressive? and, most importantly, how naked do I have to be?
Answer: totally. I apologize, gentle reader, if you are uncomfortable with this topic; my discussion shall be brief, oblique, and humorous. I was shocked! I was embarrassed! I spent the first five minutes of the oil massage screamingly worried about jiggly fat in unmentionable regions. After a little while I decided that worrying wouldn't do any good; jiggle I would, no matter how hard I willed the flesh to still itself. The nekkid issue just wouldn't go away, though; every time I had to move (roll over! sit up! lie over here! walk to the herbal-bath-chamber!) I had three seconds of panic. You would think I had grown up in a much more repressive culture.
Overall: surreal, yet ultimately relaxing. The oil had a pleasant herby smell. The massage was soothing rather than, say, deep-muscle; the head massage one of the best parts. I've gotten Ayurvedic head massage before and there's this funny part where they sort of whack you on the top of the skull repeatedly. There was a steam treatment for which I had to lie in a giant slatted wooden bed-with-lid that looked like a combo iron lung/coffin/chafing dish. The masseuse lady kept asking me if it was too hot, and chatting me up in Sinhala, while my head poked out of this ridiculous box and inside piles of herby leaves plastered themselves to my oily skin.
I could visualize, but not actually see, my skin turning pink, then red, as the steam gradually did become hot. It was fun to imagine myself as a sort of scary-surprise-dish in a buffet for giants: over here, rice; there, dhal curry, and down at the end, live par-steamed white girl with herbs chiffonade! Eeks.
The lady finally asked me if I'd had enough and I was utterly confused--aren't they supposed to know when you're, you know, cleansed? Or whatever? When I decided I was cooked through I had a nice little herbal cool-off bath, then a proper shower, then a cup of herbal tea (bathwater? hm) before pouring myself into a poolside chaise for reading/rehydrating/sunsoaking. I must have sweated out at least a quart of water.
As I was applying sunscreen I sent silent apologies to my skin for being so cavalier in substance application. Morning: sunscreen. Noon: oils, herbs, soap, shampoo. After: more sunscreen. But it was good. The verdict: hedonism carries its own stresses.