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March 10, 2022

What Brings us Pleasure? Let our Body be our Guide.

The happiest person I know is a woman who lives in a canvas yurt in the woods.

She carries in her water, pees in an outhouse, and heats the yurt with a wood stove. She needs little money, so she has few obligations. Instead, she spends her time doing what she enjoys—sailing, playing pickleball, tracking animals, and bird watching with friends.

Her eyes show the delight from the joy she experiences daily. She is relaxed and easygoing. She gains pleasure from the simple things that call her attention, such as watching the fire in her wood stove, noting the animal tracks by her door, or watching the snowfall.

In extreme contrast, I think of Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy convicted sexual predator. He had all the external images of an enviable life—extreme wealth, beautiful homes, a private jet, and connections with other rich and famous people.

But he relied on a steady flow of young girls whom he paid to engage in sexual acts with him. He apparently had an obsessive need for domination and release through daily orgasms. Domination differs from full-bodied pleasure. His eyes show a lack of aliveness or vitality in news photos and videos.

In his deposition, he demonstrated no remorse for the harm he brought upon dozens of innocent young women. He missed the full-bodied pleasure of sharing connection, vulnerability, and intimacy with the people you love.

Modern advertising trains us to believe that externals provide the keys to the good things in life. Advertisements teach us that the amount of money we earn, the size of our house, the type of car we drive, and how our body looks provide the essentials to living “the good life.”

Pleasure, though, actually has little to do with externals.

For example, your mind can imagine the joy of an experience such as driving in a car you enjoy or relaxing in a comfortable home. But if worrying about how you will pay for that luxury house or car fills you with tension, you will derive little satisfaction from it. Further, if you can’t sleep, feel empty, or are chronically overwhelmed, you won’t be experiencing much pleasure. Or, if you constantly berate yourself for gaining weight, you likely won’t enjoy the pleasure of a good meal.

Consider that sensory pleasure is primarily a body sensation and is contextual. Think about the difference between imagining a bite of watermelon on a hot summer day and taking that bite of watermelon. When you bite the watermelon, you experience the crunchy texture, your tastebuds awaken to the juicy sweetness, you smell the flavor, and it fills your stomach. You may be sharing it with someone you enjoy and, if you’re lucky, sitting on a beach or in some other beautiful setting.

If instead, you are already full but keep eating the watermelon out of habit, it may not bring much pleasure. Similarly, suppose you had a significant disagreement with someone just before they handed you a piece of watermelon, you may derive no joy from it.

As a bioenergetic (body-oriented) psychotherapist, I regularly encourage my clients to bring attention to their bodies to access information about what they need or want. I ask something like: “As you are talking about this, what are you aware of in your body?” Invariably, sensations from their bodies offer insight, information, and a direction for us to explore. For example, they may notice tension, that they aren’t breathing fully, or feel tired or hungry. Some clients have difficulty understanding this question at first. So I encourage them to explore areas in their body that call their attention.

My client’s body awareness frequently leads us to a direction for the session. If, for example, they note tension, such as constriction in their throat, an ache in their heart, or an upset stomach, we explore the message associated with this. It may relate to a fear of expressing something such as a blocked feeling of sadness or anger they fear—current or from their childhood.

By exploring these messages, we can learn what they need in order to feel freer, more connected, and to experience more satisfaction in their life.

I encourage you to access your body’s signals as a guide to what gives you pleasure.

When considering what job you want, which car to buy, where to live, the people with whom you spend time, what to eat, and how much to exercise, check in with your body’s experience. How does your body feel in response to any of these choices? Does what you think you want give you the experience of pleasure? Some experiences, such as exercise or denying yourself food or a drink, may cause short-term deprivation but bring long-term benefits of increased satisfaction.

Accessing the messages from your body can bypass what you think you want and lead you, instead, in the direction of experiencing a more full-bodied pleasure.

As you practice listening to your body, may you move in the direction of a life that brings you maximum fulfillment, vitality, and overall well-being.

 

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