Many of us feel conflicted about pleasure. Shouldn’t we wait till we’ve crossed off everything on the to-do list? Or until our loved ones are okay? Shouldn’t we wait until we’ve done everything possible to avert any coming disasters?
No! We do not need to wait. In fact, it’s not healthy to wait until everything else is done. What is healthy is to give ourselves an antidote to disconnection, fear, despair and pushing through to be more productive.
By pleasure, I am speaking of a sensorial savoring or an enjoyable feeling of softness, a yummy quality in movement or a moment of delight. I don’t mean the pleasure or diversion of watching a good TV show, eating ice cream or getting a pedicure. Although there is nothing wrong with those kinds of pleasures, they are less about cultivating a sensitivity to comfort, liveliness, solace, even luxuriousness. We experience pleasure when we bring a conscious awareness and a receptivity to sensations that feel good. Expanding from felt sensations we can attend to beauty and our oneness with nature and feel deep tenderness and aliveness.
We need to move away from the cultural norms that reward productivity at all costs. To be as productive as possible, we often disconnect from our real needs. We compartmentalize and maintain a stressed urgency to keep going. We think we have to get to the bottom of that to-do list before we can slow down. We bypass so many moments of possible delight, like relishing the nuance of a morning coffee. Then we collapse into the kind of shallow “self-care” that’s more about consumption than deep care for our being.
Recent scientific research tells us that pleasure itself is a healing force. It reduces sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulates parasympathetic responses. This shift benefits endocrine and immune function and decreases our stress hormones, raises our neurotransmitters, and inhibits cellular inflammation. The self-regulation that accompanies sensory pleasure is so important in orienting away from always doing to returning to being. When we have space for connecting to our deeper self, we also find it easier to tap into creativity and what matters most to us.
Deepening our capacity for pleasure can make all of life a little easier. For example, while writing, if I start from a busy morning, and sit down to my computer with a bit of frustration about the state of my local politics, I experience one kind of writing session. But if I let myself connect with my senses first, and allow my bodily intelligence to lead me to rolling and stretching on the floor first, then sipping a cup of green tea from a favorite mug, I have another experience. And voila! My writing is more authentic, my body is easier, my morning is enjoyable.
What if we attended less to what deadens the spirit and more to what enhances consciousness, beauty, creativity and love?
What if we shared our own pleasure in such a way that it connects us with those around us, our community and our more-than-human relations?
Let’s move away from the notion of pleasure being someone or something outside of us, and move inward to our essential and sensorial nature.
Instead of relentlessly pursuing further self-actualization or non-stop activism, I suggest prioritizing pleasure. Pleasure is a resource that can shift our state of being, bringing calmness, healing and creativity, and bringing us to a deeper connection with our time in the world.
We can bring pleasure awareness through conscious movement, breathwork, sensory experiences, calming practices, somatic exercises and let these wake us up and both soften and enliven us.
Try a Pleasure Pause. Give your attention to something delightful in your environment. What can you see or hear or touch that is beautiful or soothing or comforting?
Allow it to settle into your body and let it into your nervous system. With a quiet quality of attention, let your awareness rest in the moment. Invite this moment to be spacious and soft. You can consciously intend to amplify the sensations. Pausing allows you to take in a full sensory impression. Softening allows you to receive.
In this softer state, what kind of movement would feel good? A wiggle, a curve and arch, a shake, a gentle stretch? Invite your inner intelligence to lead you, as you let your brain rest. Attend to subtle sensations that might usually be outside of your awareness. Notice what feels yummy.
Everyone’s idea and experience of pleasure is different. It’s not always restful and soft. It can be energized dancing, or running through the woods. It could be that you feel the most enjoyment digging in the dark earth under a bright warm sun. The impulses toward pleasure are unique to each sensate being.
To get to these inner impulses, we do need to slow down and allow ourselves space to let go of the “on-guard” state of being. We can give ourselves permission to rest into the soft animal that we humans actually are.
As more of us follow our own inner guidance to pleasure, the more we will change the culture from productivity over everything to pleasure over productivity. And the world will be better. It won’t be fixed, but we will have the possibility to respond with more humanity, more creativity, more love.