So here is a great exercise I learned at a Tara Brach conference. Tara Brach She is truly an amazing teacher and human being. This exercise is a great way to feel Enjoyment and Pleasure. It is also a great exercise to deepen loving bonds with partners, children, friends, family, etc. And, of course that will also increase your Pleasure.
EXERCISE: TELL ME WHAT YOU LOVE!
Try this experiential exercise 1-on-1 with someone you love or desire to grow closer to, a partner, child, or friend.
1-Sit facing each other at a comfortable distance and set a timer on your phone for 2 minutes.
2-Decide which person is going to begin as (A), the Questioner and who is going to be (B), the Answerer.
3- (A) makes comfortable eye contact with (B) and using their name, asks this question. “ ______please tell me what you love?”
4-(B) provides a one word, or a one sentence answer of something they love or really enjoy. I.e. “Nature”, or “Being with you”, etc.
5-(A) registers that they heard this answer with a nod or a thank you, and then pauses for a few seconds and then asks the same question again…___ please tell me what you love?
6- (A) asks the same question, and (B) answers over and over for entire 2 minutes.
7- PAUSE and both A & B check inward with bodies and hearts and notice how the process has shifted any feelings, emotions and sensations so far.
8-Then you switch roles, set the timer for 2 more minutes and (B) begins asking (A) the same question. “_______ please tell me what you love?”
9- Again, PAUSE at the end and notice the pleasure, feelings and emotions this connection has generated in both of you.
10-There is no cross talk or commenting on the other person’s answers, you are just witnessing each other sharing what they love and increasing your emotional resonance. Which is very Pleasurable.
Please give this and try and let me know how it goes. Couples who do this on a regular basis have a deepened connection and build up their Couple resiliency. This resiliency which helps balance out the effects of the normal relational conflict we all experience. And, kids love this one.
What was that exercise like for you? Was there any discomfort in the process? Sometimes intimacy is difficult even though it is what most of us long for in a relationship.
Which role did you enjoy most? What was the difference inside your body and heart when you were the questioner? When you were the answerer?
Hello all, and happy July! I received a few comments after the previous Pleasure blog expressing a desire for more content about how to get more Enjoyment from healthy Pleasure. So as requested, part 2!
My first suggestion comes personal experience. Learn how to SLLOOWWW DOWN! We race through our lives, cramming in experiences, relationships, long to-do lists, and job/career pressures. We are so busy, (I was so busy) it is hard to have any space to deeply feel anything, much less Pleasure.The pace by which we live our lives impacts our ability to feel our lives. The slower we move through life, the more time and space we have to FEEL our lives. Of course, this stance is challenging when it comes to unpleasant sensations. One reason many of us compulsively ‘water ski across the surface of our lives’. But the benefits of slowing become more evident when it comes to increasing enjoyment of our healthy Pleasure. Being Present is so much harder when we are racing about.
The best way to get more enjoyment out of Pleasure is to be “Fully Present” and solely in that period of time the Pleasure is occurring. In this way, allowing the Pleasure to deeply register in mind and body. This is important because what we FOCUS upon we potentiate, increasing its power. Rick Hanson’s research Rick Hanson suggests that we must focus upon, keep in our awareness, a positive experience for at least 30 seconds. This enables the brain to register the positive experience as stimuli that matters. Our brains are biased toward negative stimuli so it takes extra effort to register positive stimuli. In the past, by barely noticing when something pleasant occurred, I have skimmed over (missed) the Pleasure within that experience in my hurry to move onto what came next. And, consequently I missed enjoying that Pleasure.
Many of you have heard about Mindfulness. But for those that are less familiar with the concept, here is a simple definition of mindfulness, or being “Fully Present”. Being Present occurs when you are aware and conscious of what is occurring, and keeping mind & body fully in the experience. This sounds easy but it is not. Many of us have an experience but do not register the impact or notice what is occurring within our own body. This can occur due to living in our head/thoughts, or in a different time zone. We think about the contents of our to-do lists, or worry about tomorrow, or obsess about an earlier situation, i.e. the past. Another words, we are not actually living in the Present, but in the past, or the future, or in caught in worry or compulsive mental loops.
Healthy Pleasure restores safety physiology, as I have previously stated. But did you know that experiencing the physiological impact of Pleasure (the Enjoyment) also improves heart health, deepens bonds in relationships, and balances out the pain and stress that can very easily overwhelm our everyday lives? An additional benefit of Pleasure is that it increases gratitude, which has its own health benefits. When I feel the Pleasure of a loving encounter with friends, or the rush that comes while surfing (every day surfing is a good day even if I never catch a wave), not only does my heart rate slow and harmonize, my physiology settles and my sense of well-being and feelings of gratitude soar.
“Our usual behavior creates our sense of Normal!” A very simple statement but a profound truth! What you and I do on an everyday basis, our habits, attitudes, and behaviors, create a way of life that feels normal to us. Though it may be far from normal when compared to that of the general population. For example, when I was an inveterate workaholic, putting in 12-14 hour days and working while on vacation, to me this seemed perfectly rational and normal behavior. However, now, after years of personal work in therapy, spiritual direction, and Somatic Experiencing, I am shocked at how out of balance I was and saddened by all the life and Pleasure I missed while enslaved by my old “Normal behavior”. Life feels so much better now! I am far from achieving expert status, but I continually focus on attaining a healthy work/life balance and have made Pleasure and Enjoyment primary values and this has made all the difference.
I will close by suggesting we use the truism, “ your usual becomes your normal” for our benefit! Experiment by changing your usual behavior gradually but consistently to include more healthy Pleasure, Mindful awareness, and Presence, in order to enjoy life’s Pleasurable experiences. Make a new habit of adding more self-care and Pleasure into your life, and/or more deeply noticing and enjoying your Pleasure until that becomes your new normal.
In the next Blog I will share a simple but profound exercise I learned at a Tara Brach conference. It is easy, enjoyable and Pleasure focused. As always, I invite you to write in and let me know how the experiments go.
What does the term ‘Being Present’ mean to you? Does it have a positive or negative connotation? Where do you spend most of your time, in your body/being or in your head/thoughts?
What keeps you from living fully Present to your life and relationships? Do you need to let go of some past pain, or surrender a future concern in order to really feel the overall goodness of your life?
I thought we would take a break from harder topics today and think about something we love, Pleasure and Enjoyment! These these 2 concepts, while related topics, they are not the same thing. Though many of us assume that Pleasure absolutely leads to Enjoyment, this is not always true. Today, we will talk about the difference between Pleasure and Enjoyment and what this difference means to our bodies and Nervous systems, and how this difference deeply impacts our ability to either rest in love, or to flail in the chaotic sea of anxiety.
Let’s start with Pleasure! As I have recounted in prior blogs, healthy Pleasure is the best antidote to chronic stress and high anxiety. I wish more of us lived and experienced healthy Pleasure on a regular basis, if we did, this country would be a very different place. However, my experience as a human/therapist is that most of us do not experience healthy pleasure on a regular basis. America is a country that craves Pleasure, our advertisements are full of promised Pleasures, but we seem to have a difficult relationship between our desire for pleasure and our experiencing of Pleasure. Most people I know are craving Pleasure but enjoying very little of it.
TV Advertising extolls the joys of being rich, driving great cars, eating tasty (often junk) food, drinking beer and other alcohol, and having tons of sex with hot men/women, etc. While these options may seem pleasurable, why do they often bring so little Pleasure? Why do so many people get addicted to alcohol, food, more money, and sex, just to name a few of our advertised Pleasures? My hypothesis to these questions does not come from a place of judging Pleasure or thinking it is bad and dangerous. My Mennonite heritage used to cause me to fear Pleasure. But those days are over, I have not been a Mennonite for a very long time, and I have learned how critical it is that I have plenty of healthy Pleasure in my life. My hypothesis comes from living, experimenting, and my observations of humanity.
We experience so little Pleasure because many of the things advertised to bring us Pleasure are either not healthy in certain situations/amounts, or are not actually pleasure, but a gateway to addiction. We all know that alcoholism often begins with social drinking or partying in high school/ college. It seems fun and a harmless pastime, a Pleasure even. But anyone who has lived with a human struggling with the weight of alcoholism can tell you there is NO pleasure in any drink they take. An alcoholic now drinks because they have to and because they cannot quit. What began as a Pleasure has become their Master.
Pornography is another example. AAMFT’s website states that 12 million people struggle with sexual addiction, which usually includes the use of pornography and a majority are now addicted to the use of it. (If you think you are not addicted to it, try to stop viewing it for good and you will know the truth.) It is known that pornography has caused many problems in relationships and that it causes people to become sexually attracted too an unreal human body (airbrushed men and women). Pornography is an example of how a healthy Pleasure, sexuality and the beauty of a human body, can become tainted and unhealthy because it has become an addiction. Addictions are often healthy Pleasures miss used, or run amok. Humans can become addicted to booze, drugs, food, work, sex, exercise, etc. So my hypothesis is that healthy Pleasure is often different from TV advertised Pleasures, and a healthy Pleasure is usually not something we are addicted to.
I make this connections because a healthy Pleasure is something we are able to ENJOY! Craving Pleasure is very different from Enjoying Pleasure. Many humans are not even enjoying the Pleasure they do have, but they are craving more Pleasure, so they run from experience to experience, from sexual partner to sexual partner, from new car to another new car, from one type of pornography to another. Desperately craving Pleasure but finding little enjoyment therein.
I repeat, Pleasure is a wonderful gift, we need Pleasure as humans to balance out all the stress and work we experience in life and relationships. Since American’s over-work compared to many other developed countries, it is no wonder we are a Nation that struggles with many addictions. But the Pleasures we need are healthy Pleasures and those we can Enjoy! Many of us are adding healthy pleasures to our lives but not enjoying them either. Pleasure and enjoyment are not the same thing!
I have learned this truism over the years. I have had lots of healthy (and some unhealthy) Pleasure in my life but I have spent years not enjoying much of it. This happened because I was not living in my body, or living in the present moment, actually experiencing that Pleasure. Instead, I was living in my head and in my thoughts. I was adding to my to-do list, or planning for the future, or regretting the past, etc., instead of actually feeling the Pleasure I was experiencing in that moment. If you are not in the present moment and living in your body (aware of your body sensations) you will not experience much Pleasure. This is not a hypothesis but a fact borne out by the last 10 years of research and study of the human body.
In closing I have found that most people agree walking on a beach, vacations, a loving relationship, warm baths, being in nature, eating a lovely meal with friends, sharing a great bottle of wine, a good workout or adventure, sports, art, creating, writing, etc., are all healthy Pleasures. I will not try to suggest I know what your healthy Pleasures are, but I would suggest you find out and make yourself a list. If you are currently not allowing yourself to experience your Pleasures ask why not. People who have enough play, rest and healthy Pleasure tend to experience less stress, less struggle with addiction, and more enjoyment in life. And, finally, when indulging in your Pleasure try your best to ENJOY it. After all this is why we really crave Pleasure, we want to enjoy our lives!
1: What were your formative messages around Pleasure in general? Was healthy Pleasure modeled for you by your parents/caregivers.
2: Do you Enjoy your Pleasure? Can you resonate with the concept of having Pleasure but not Enjoying it? What attitudes or actions can you take to slow down and become aware of your life and your body so that you can actually experience your Pleasures on a regular basis?
Imagine with me a trip to the Middle East where we see a camel driver and her camel. If the human driver is aware of her camel’s limits and needs, they thrive as a team. But if the driver is only doing what works for her and not paying attention to how the camel is doing, she can damage or kill the camel by overworking it.
This visual analogy can be used to describe our mind’s relationship to the body. The mind drives the camel that is our body and often does not pay attention to how the heavy load we are carrying makes us beyond exhausted. Instead the mind says, “sure we can take one more load” because the mind does not sense the visceral impact of our physical, social and emotional loads like the body does. Many humans drive their bodies past their limits on a regular basis.
Keeping this analogy in mind, we now move to the subject of this blog- moving from choosing painful things to choosing pleasant things. Of all the recent blog posts about moving from one association to another, this one is more complex than you might imagine. Previous blogs spoke about moving from Duty to Joy, from Scarcity to Plenty, from Craving Certainty to Wanting Wonder, and from Faking it to Living Honestly. Underneath all of these prior blog categories, are the foundational and more basic encompassing categories of Pleasure and Pain. All of the previous associations were in some form about moving toward more pleasure in life and getting away from things that feel unpleasant or even cause pain. (At times pain can be a wakeup call that helps us to grow or learn things, but today’s blog is not about that kind of pain, that is a subject for another blog.)
Scientists tell us that even the most basic bacterium are able to move toward what is pleasant and away from what is unpleasant. I am not sure what a bacteria uses as criteria for knowing pleasure, but we humans have several systems that determine pleasure and pain.
The healthy human body is the most accurate pleasure seeking system, constantly moving us from unpleasant sensations/pain to pleasure all the time. My belly is empty. I feel hunger pangs that are unpleasant, so I move toward the kitchen (Eclipse chocolate cafe if I am feeling frisky). I eat, and I now have pleasant feelings. I am tired, my cortisol levels drop. So I feel really sleepy and I go to bed and I wake up feeling rested and that is pleasant. I could go on, but you get the point. Our bodies are constantly trying to move us toward pleasure and pleasantness using our brains, ANS, and our instincts and drives. A healthy body usually has little problem with this natural process. Beloved children are great examples of trying to live in pleasantness 24/7. Partly because their brains are less developed and their minds are less complex than “grownups”, this is easier for them than for us.
In contrast to our bodies, our mind is a tricky beast. The body if healthy and not traumatized will generally move us toward choices that are more pleasant. However, the mind is not that simple and its motivations and desires can be clouded by many factors, such as projections, FOO messages (FOO stands for Family of Origin, not 1/2 the name of a band) cultural mores, others’ demands, mental illness and drugs, etc.
So, let’s talk about our Minds, the more complex system that humans use to determine pleasure or what is painful. The mind and the brain are not fully synonymous terms, even if they are possibly neighbors residing in a duplex condo in our heads. Neuroscientists will admit, no one knows for sure where the mind is located. We do know that much of our lower brain regions (Limbic and Brain Stem) produce subcortical responses, or in layman’s terms, knee jerk responses. The mind is believed to produce our thoughts. The ability to produce thought is connected with consciousness and our ability to be aware of our inner selves and our outer surroundings.
How do our minds sometimes hinder us from automatically choosing pleasure? Our minds can want two, or more, things all at the same time. We can desire to keep that massage appointment to provide our bodies with much needed self-care. AND, at the same time, we can want to say “yes” to the urgent call from PTA President Patty who needs help with the bake sale that is going on the exact same time as your massage appointment. While we may desire to say “yes” to both options, our motivations for the yes differ. The desire for self-care comes from our own body and ANS, which desire to move toward pleasure, while the need to comply with others, almost always comes from our mind’s desire to keep our social network happy, and to look good to our peers. Both are normal human desires, but the first can lead to a healthier life, while the second, eventually leads to burnout and resentment. (Generally woman struggle most with trying to keep their social circles happy. Our socialization and brain wiring are different from that of our male counterparts).
So, how does this connect with the new association of moving toward pleasure? We will move toward whichever motivation in that moment is given the highest priority by our mind, which usually determines what we desire and will go after. At least until we learn to reconnect with the wealth of intuitive, organic, deep wisdom that dwells in our body’s cells and systems. Our bodies know best when it comes to how much energy we have left to give, how much we should load on our proverbial plates, and how much we are living our lives based upon our truest selves and truest desires. Many of us are living out of false selves, behavioural masks we have been wearing because as children they seemed to bring up more acceptance. So now, we can’t imagine not striving for perfection, or not being the best at everything, or not staying in control 24/7. We often listen to our minds and our social programming and the things that pump up our egos. When we make decisions based solely upon these categories, we often miss the body’s messages. Messages such as “when do we get our needs met, we are so tired, we are lonely, we want to lean on someone, we want to be cherished and cared for, etc.”
My encouragement to you is to begin to listen more closely to the calls and desires of your bodies. And, to set your intentions to choose pleasant sensations over painful ones on a regular basis. The research shows repeatedly, the best antidote to stress/anxiety/trauma is healthy pleasure. Take that walk on the beach, or that hot bath, or get that massage, or acupuncture or cranial sacral appointment. Let your friends support you for once, and find the joy in each simple moment. Life is much more than getting our “to do lists” done and looking good to our bosses or neighbours. If you have not belly laughed or felt deep joy in a while, you probably need more self-care and to pay more attention to your body. Your long term health will thank you, and so will your family and friends. Many of us are stressed out, hot messes mostly because we have not been intentionally choosing pleasure, so pain is often our option by default. Practice paying attention to which system makes most of your choices this week, and choose pleasure as often as you can. Let me know how it goes!
1.) What are your predominate messages about pleasure? What was your Family of Origin’s (FOO) attitude toward pleasure? What are your healthy pleasures? If you don’t know, you really need to find out for the sake of your body.
2.) What is your relationship to pain or painful events? Are you able to listen to your pain and learn from it? Can you move away from painful sensations toward pleasant ones, or once pain hits are you stuck there for hours?