If there is a purpose to pleasure it is to give us the embodied experience that all is well in the world. In this high summer season it may be a little easier as we go on holiday, catch up with old friends, slow down the work load, or seek adventure in new places. And then comes the sinking feeling as the holiday comes to an end and we go back to ‘reality’. But what if we could infuse our daily life with simple pleasures so that in every day, no matter where we are or what we are doing, we could feel that sense of fun and freedom?
At this time of year we have a chance to fully allow pleasure in, in the simplest of things – the warmth of the sun on our skin, the taste of juicy fresh fruit, the sound of birdsong at sunset, the smell of the sea, the sight of a starry night. It is in these small things that we begin to retrain our nervous system into fully experiencing pleasure, without the peaks and troughs of a dopamine-adrenaline hit. It is this subtle sensing that can satisfy our sense of pleasure even amidst the most mundane of tasks.
Some might call this the practise of mindfulness, and it is more than that, it is unlearning our cultural tendencies to seek highs from more and more stimulation. It is deconditioning ourselves to feel like pleasure and play are only possible on weekends or on holiday. It is relearning our capacity to feel deep, satisfying, sovereign pleasure from moment to moment without the comedown. It is reconditioning ourselves to reclaim our birthright to our fundamental nature – which is pleasure, joy and freedom – not dependent on outside circumstances.
Sounds wonderful, and also sounds unrealistic, right? We all have responsibilities and things that we must do that are not pleasurable so how is this even possible? It is not something that happens overnight but is a daily choice to catch yourself when you feel burdened to ask – how am I seeing this situation in a negative light? What am I believing about the nature of reality that makes me feel stuck or heavy? The trick is to get out of your mind and into your senses by asking – What are the sensations I am experiencing in this moment before I have a thought about?
We have gone so far out of our body’s and the exquisite felt experience of life that we need to trick ourselves out of our minds. We need to practise forgetting our dense concepts about the way life is so that we can actually experience each moment as if for the first time. Seeing again with the eyes of a child is not childish, it is our doorway into experiencing pleasure. Work can become fun, or at least an interesting experience when we forget our ingrained work ethic that life should be hard to be rewarding. Fluctuating from high to low and back again with the work hard: play hard ethos only wears out the nervous system and makes it harder to feel pleasure.
Guilt trips do not work either. It’s like the more burdened we feel the more justified we are in indulging in our vices. And then feeling guilty about. It’s a negative loop that never satisfies. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have vices, in our consensus reality it is a natural way to find some balance. But I’m telling you there is another way. Rather than swinging side to side on a pendulum of work hard: play hard, there is another trajectory we can follow. Along the vertical spectrum there is an infinite exploration – go deep: get high.
In other words, the deeper you go into your felt experience, out of your mind and into your body, the more expansive your capacity to feel free, light and joyful. Initially that may mean entering unfamiliar and perhaps scary territory, as the body can be equally full of pleasure as it is of pain. The trick is to not ignore or suppress the pain but really truly feel it. The more you allow your body to express and release what is painful, the more capacity you open up to experience pleasure.
This call to come back into your body, and out of your mind requires love, forgiveness and radical acceptance. We are conditioned to push pain away and seek stimulating pleasure, but what if I told you that your deepest satisfaction is found in the places that cause you the most pain. Your body is calling your attention here because it is the very area where you will find the most freedom. And it starts by allowing yourself to fully experience the smallest of things.
Choose one sense that you can cultivate every day for a month. One small thing that you can give your full attention in that moment, just 5 minutes is enough. It may be that you pause to inhale the aroma of your morning coffee or tea. You might have a reminder on your phone to gaze up at the night sky. Maybe you dance around your living room to one of your favourite songs. Whatever it is, whatever gives you pleasure, do it every day with the intention of really, truly being there and letting it in fully and completely.
Awakening your senses in this way as a daily ritual will slowly but surely expand into other areas of your life. You will find yourself pausing to enjoy the most random delights, just because you can. And you may feel a little mad at first, because no one else around you is doing this. But you can smile inside knowing that your rebellious act of sensing into the subtle pleasures in life is starting a revolution - where we all have permission to play and daily life becomes a holiday.