Articles & Reviews

Trust Your Pleasure

By Niyaso Carter

Pleasure is how the body expresses well-being. Ease, a sense of well-being, and pleasure are things every human being deserves, in fact, needs to experience in order to have a fulfilled life. Our emotions and what’s going on in our mind are important factors in our sense of well-being, but they need to be experienced in the body to be real and complete. And it is also the body that can offer us some important clues in how to feel well. In fact I believe that if we only would learn to listen to our bodies fully we wouldn’t need to worry for a second about the well-being of our heart and our soul.

Listening to the body is a skill that can take quite some patience and practice to rediscover or uncover. Growing up for many of us has been an intensive training in how to ignore our body and its messages and signals, how to use our mind to make our body fit into the norms of society, how to make our bodies either rigid and armored, or apathetic and floppy depending on what assured our survival in any given situation. As a result we’ve lost the primitive, instinctual animal body-sensing abilities that are a crucial part in achieving well-being. But we all have the basic knowing of health imprinted in every cell of our body, and not only a knowing of physical health but also of emotional and spiritual health.

Ancient cultures knew this; that’s why most of their ceremonies and rituals, their efforts to connect with the great spirit, included some form of dance, movement or other body-centered experience. And the drums were there to reawaken the instinctual cellular memory of the heart beat of mother earth. In the Hawaiian Huna, the ancient spiritual tradition from the islands that are my home, the lower self or body is considered a crucial element in the trinity of high self, conscious self and low self, without whose cooperation not much can be achieved.

In my workshops I often find myself saying: “Let your body move in ways that feel good, follow your sense of pleasure, trust your pleasure.” It sounds so strangely simple, almost trivial, but the experience of actually doing that is anything but trivial, because listening to the immediate impulses of the body brings you in touch with the feelings in your heart and the yearnings of your soul. Listen intently to what makes you feel good, because some feel goods have more the quality of a quick fix; like a hurried masturbation, they release some tensions, they temporarily ease things, but there is no movement or growth. The kind of pleasure I’m suggesting you pursue is different. It’s the kind of good feeling when some new way is discovered, some long-lost feeling felt, an opening achieved, a deeper more relaxing breath experienced, one that makes you feel bubbly, inspired, that gives you a kind of renewed trusting that after all there are such things as ease, balance and joy in life. Not that any attempt at making yourself feel good is bad, it’s just that some are more life-giving than others.

For example, you could argue: “My body always takes me straight to the refrigerator or the chocolate bar or the beer bottle or to the next bar to find someone to have sex with.” And you are right, these are impulses propelled by the body’s desire for pleasure. There is a certain way of seeking pleasure that doesn’t lead to healing but rather to destruction and often to addiction. What these addictive ways of pleasure-seeking have in common is that even though they may give intensely pleasurable experiences at the time, they usually leave the seeker/addict less inspired and more desperate, even disgusted with themselves after the high has worn off.

It is important to understand that the body’s impulse for pleasure is never wrong, rather it is the inability to choose healthy ways of feeling good. People who have destructive pleasure habits have probably never had healthy ways of feeling good available to them, so they don’t have the internal memory or resources to seek them out. But seeking well-being and a way out of pain is actually a healthy drive, and once a person’s body and being has experienced life-affirming ways of feeling well and the person has learned how to access and trust those ways, they will usually choose them over the more destructive ones, even though there may be momentary discomfort as old wounds open and heal. To distinguish the pleasure-seeking that opens new doors from that which is just an avoidance of pain is an especially important question in the area of sexuality and relationship.

Good questions to ask yourself are:

“Does this pleasure reach my heart and my gut and my whole body? Does this pleasure feel nurturing and expansive? Does this pleasure delight me? Does my being open with it like a flower to the morning sunshine? Does it feel right?”

And afterwards ask yourself: “Do I feel replenished and enriched or do I feel drained, exhausted and numb?”There is a lot to learn about opening to pleasure.

Too much of our upbringing has taught us to distrust our good feelings. We were too sensual, too noisy, too wild, too quiet, too much of something or other. Some people are literally afraid of their body’s impulses, and some have deadened them altogether. Yet our desire for pleasure is the physical form of our yearning for God. When we consciously practice opening to our pleasure more deeply, all the stuff that’s in the way presents itself: the shame, the fear, the distrust, the hurt.

Opening to more energy, more pleasure, more of life is very often a process with “growing pains”; the dark challenging the light. It almost always takes a great deal of courage. Sometimes you may have to stop, take a deep breath, and let your body tremble, cry, shake or simply rest. You will likely come across a few hurdles on the way; but hurdles are surmountable, no matter how huge they may seem, and you’ll be happier and richer for the experience.

So here is an assignment for you if you want to take it on. For a week, make a point of pursuing something that gives you pleasure, that increases your well-being, at least once but preferably three times a day. Choose things you consider life-enhancing, but the main criterion is that they feel good. Some very simple examples would be to give yourself permission to shine on the housework one day just because you’d rather rest; or to go to the gym or for a hike, even though it’s not your regular time, but simply because your body has an itch to move; to turn the music on loud in your office and dance to your favorite song in the middle of the day; to buy a nice oil; to talk to the stars; to ask for a cuddle; to cry with a friend; or spend time alone in prayer and meditation. Some could take 5 minutes and others much longer. After a week, take note how your life is affected by your little experiment. And if you like it, keep trusting your pleasure.