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pleasure heals – part 2

In pleasure heals – part 1 I talked about how stress, anxiety, and general suffering isn’t good for us.  Duh!  And, now that science is catching up, we’re learning that pleasure IS.  Also duh!  Your body already knows this, but your mind has probably soaked in all kinds of lies about pleasure, so let me tell your mind a new story.  Pleasure can reduce our risk of heart attacks, as well as our heart rate and blood pressure.  It boosts our immune system, lengthens our lifespans and helps us think and perform far more creatively and efficiently.  It makes us happier, healthier people.

Finding Our Way Back to Pleasure

I mentioned in part 1 that, when we use things like drugs, media, or even sex to distract ourselves from our misery, this is not authentic pleasure.  Why?  Because, while we might feel good for a moment, we feel like shit later.  It might be because we’ve dumped a bunch of toxins into our bodies, or because we don’t really feel good about what we’re doing.  Either way, our physical and emotional bodies take a beating.

So what might authentic pleasure look like?  I could refer you to all kinds of resources here – books like What Happy People Know and The Pleasure Prescription , or the documentary Happy (speaking of streaming videos on Netflix!).  But deep down, you already know what makes you feel good.  Here are some of the things neuroscience and positive psychology have begun to find:

  • things that are pleasurable to your senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch)
  • connection with other people
  • self-realization or self-expression
  • doing things in line with your core values
  • being kind or helpful to others
  • feeling grateful for what you have

Some of this might surprise you, like WHAT?!  Acting in line with my core values is fucking pleasurable?  Helping other people is pleasurable?!  Yep, it’s true, and the implications are far bigger than what I can cover in one blog post.  Your body knows what’s deeply true for you and responds, even if you try to suppress it or rationalize differently.  As one of my mentors often says: in a fight between the mind and the body, the body wins every time.

So let’s start simple and try that first one on for size: pleasing the senses.

I invite you to stare at the photo below for a minute or two.  That’s right, just look at it!  Or if you find you don’t like it, look at another photo that you do like.  Just breathe and take it in – the lines, the colours, the shapes and textures…

CC Image Courtesy of thephotographymuse on Flickr

 What do you notice happening in your body?

Here are some of the things I notice in mine:  my jaw noticeably relaxes, my brow unfurrows and I start to smile.  My breathing deepens, my shoulders drop and my heart rate slows down.  A warm glow begins to suffuse my whole body – all from looking at a picture.

The truth is, pleasure is everywhere.  I can find pleasure in doing the dishes, if I let myself – feeling the sensation of the warm, soapy water on my hands, enjoying doing my part in the household, knowing that it’s helping out the other people that live here.  When my partner stops me in the morning to give me a hug, I can pause and take it in, feeling grateful for their presence in my life and letting them affection and the sensation of their arms around me calm my nerves and suffuse me with pleasure.

Looking at that picture for a few minutes is a small taste of how healing pleasure can be.  As primates (it’s true, humans didn’t ascend out of the animal realm) we are especially wired for social and physical contact.  The conscious giving and receiving of touch –  whether sexual or affectionate – can have an extraordinary effect on our nervous systems!  And if you look at that list of findings from neuroscience and positive psychology, it begins to make sense.  Pleasing our senses.  Connecting with other people.  Expressing ourselves.  Recognizing our core values.  Doing something nice for someone else.  Feeling grateful.

It’s like we’re hitting the pleasure buttons all at once.

Next time you’re in a pleasure denial loop, remind your nattering mind that pleasure heals.  Forgive yourself for getting caught in the cultural snare of pleasure denial and ask yourself:

What if I could find just a little pleasure in what I’m already doing?

What if I could change something small to bring just a little more pleasure into my life?

You can start by looking at a beautiful picture, taking time to enjoy your next meal, asking someone for a hug.

And if you’re in Seattle this Saturday, maybe I’ll see you at my workshop where we’ll get to practice some of this together: “The Healing Power of Pleasure”, sponsored by the Seattle Sacred Sexuality Discussion Group.