As a somatic practitioner, joy and well-being rank high on my list of values. I think most people wouldn’t argue with the idea that both joy and well-being are tied into the concept of pleasure. However, it occurred to me that not many people outside of the healing community – that I knew of – really discussed joy and fulfillment in these terms. In fact, it had become very clear to me that many equate well-being with practices that were very niche and limited primarily to physical health (power yoga classes, expensive massage, acupuncture, etc.); joy and fulfilment were mostly associated with external achievements related to career, relationships and financial status. If there was a physical component, it was more superficial, i.e. “I’ll be happy when my waist is thin and my skin is clear and fair.” And pleasure? Well, the term pleasure plunges peoples minds right into the gutter – although the concept of the “gutter” is relative. So long as it isn’t harming anyone, I personally believe in letting your freak flag fly.
This personal realization came to me in 2021 after I stumbled upon the wonderful world of somatic education. My studies led me to the work of the author whose name is usually stylized as adrienne maree brown. I listened to a number of her podcast features and watched a handful of YouTube interviews and talks. It wasn’t long before I decided to purchase her well-known book, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. This book opened my eyes to the idea that restorative justice should be grounded in personal pleasure, collective renewal and eradicating the colonial concepts of success that have run western society and have especially impacted those of us who live in the margins of said society. And how can we engage in pleasure if we have no authentic concept of self love? If we do not understand how to behave in self love then how can we create sustainable social change? These are the questions we get to ask ourselves as individuals and as a collective. It is in the search of and practice to align with the deep true answers that grants us the delight of being, if we so choose, pleasure activists.
I began reflecting on what I do for a living and what I do for my living. The difference being what I do to survive versus what I do to experience the fullness of life. I’m grateful that, for me, these two often intersect. I use massage, yoga and the teachings I’ve received to help others create a deeper awareness within themselves and to use that explore what true joy and fulfillment feels, looks and even tastes like as foundation for the same social change adrienne maree brown mentions. And in my life, I’ve often been an honest sounding board for my friends, a catalyst for my family’s healing and was willing to put my own employment or place in community on the line for what I believed was right. After taking a compassionately hard look at my life and personal intentions, I really began to feel like I’ve been embodying pleasure activism all along. And while pleasure isn’t solely of sexual context, this also includes the free-spirited outlook I have about sexual expression and partnership.
It was nice having access to material that allowed me to see beyond the programming of valuing pleasure in a particular way. One of the ideas in the book encourages the reader to make a list of things that bring us a sense of pleasure. Here is mine:
- Marie Calendar’s frozen key lime pie
- The sound of a gentle stream
- Thick fuzzy socks
- Being a soft safe space for my husband to rest his head
- The song Voyage to Atlantis by The Isley Brothers
- Toe-curling orgasms
- Sweet and salty popcorn
- Purple and orange sunsets
- A hot cup of latte in the morning
- Digging into the beautiful mysteries of divining
- Spending time in connection with loved ones
On one hand, some of these seem pretty mundane for it to matter in the grand scheme of social change. But the book serves as an awesome reminder that that diminishment comes from the colonial idea that the mundane is so separate from the spiritual. In fact, if change does indeed start with each and every one of us, then wouldn’t that include our personal power? Personal joys? Personal pleasure? And from that standpoint, our nourishing pleasure is key to every positive movement that has ever fought for liberatory change.
So, with that in mind what are a few things that bring pleasure to your life?