The assignment was simple: each day for the next week, take five minutes to do something that you enjoy, something that gives you pleasure.
The assignment was simple, given by the teacher of a six-month class I’m taking with a group of other women, but it might as well have been to dismantle the Taj Mahal and then rebuild it. This afternoon.
Don’t worry. I have a less daunting FHP task for us this month, one that doesn’t require selling your first born to Rumplestiltskin to complete. One that roots in joy.
When our teacher first brought up the assignment, I was so excited. How beautiful. How delightful. Five minutes of pleasure? I would do at least that and probably more. My overachiever kicked into gear. I would promptly accomplish All of The Pleasure.
Instead, by the time our class gathered the following week, I was disappointed, embarrassed, and disgruntled.
I wasn’t the only one.
Instead of experiencing new depths of pleasure, I found all of the detritus blocking my dive.
When I found the leftover Halloween candy and let myself eat three mini-Hershey bars with almonds, my immediate glee dissolved into judgment about consuming the “bad” candy.
When I fixed popcorn for dinner and watched an episode of one of my old faves, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I savored the flavor but then started to feel shame that I could only come up with food pleasures, now complete with roasted couch potatoes. Was eating and sitting all I could do for fun?
I guessed I could buy myself something, but then judgment reared again. Is this really the best I can do? Consume, consume, consume? How sad.
I couldn’t even let myself enjoy what I enjoyed. I judged what made me feel good. I worried others would judge it. I judged my judgment of others judging my judgment. And I don’t even have a law degree.
Not only that, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing something more productive.
I longed for true ease and joy, for pure pleasure, but it escaped me.
When I thought of deep pleasure I also thought of getting massages on islands, where I’d stroll sandy beaches and sleep in for months, but how does a regular gal work that into her schedule?
I pondered the ends of massages and yoga classes, when I’ve been told to “Take all the time I need,” and how more and more I’d wanted to shout in response, “Stop tormenting me with your temple of LIES!”
I mean really, can I lie here for the next six months? Are you sure? Will that door open to a beach instead of a harsh street corner with people and cars rushing by? How could I ever possibly get all the time I needed to fully relax?
And wouldn’t that be a luxury anyway?
Enter Catholic guilt, American workaholism, and the Good Girl who has absorbed into her bloodstream the idea that if you’re not suffering you’re doing it wrong.
At my class, after we all shared our versions of what had gone awry in our simple assignment—and lots had gone awry for all of us—I felt both worse and better.
Worse: at least from this cross-section, women seemed to have some mucked up pleasure baggage.
Better: hearing others’ stories of resistance or judgment reassured me that I wasn’t either crazy or alone. It helped to laugh and cry and air the grievances. It helped to throw the baggage in the center of the circle and look at it. Seeing the detritus took away some of its power and started to clear the water for the pleasure dive.
Part of what became clear to me was that pleasure is not a selfish luxury; it’s essential. One of my classmates shared something along the lines of: the best way to ease someone else’s suffering is not to suffer yourself.
Although it seems like bucking up and pushing through and enduring puts me in solidarity with others who are doing the same, that doesn’t really help. It propagates a worship of suffering, the notion that life has to suck to matter and that pleasure is exclusive and elusive, something reserved for the one percent, something that becomes an end goal instead of part of the process.
This doesn’t mean that life can’t be hard or that we don’t all have to move through some sludge, but for me it meant a value shift: difficulty doesn’t have more value than ease.
And ease doesn’t have to mean some exaggerated ideal of a lengthy island vacation. That extreme is part of what got many of us into trouble in the first place. Pleasures can indeed be simple savoring, built into a regular day.
By the end of our class that night, we got a new charge to make a list of things that bring us pleasure, which is exactly your FHP activity for this month:
Curate your very own pleasure list.
I don’t know about you, but lists can be quite therapeutic for me. In this case, once I got started, more and more ideas popped up.
Giving our attention to something is one of the best ways of cultivating that something.
If you, like me, want to cultivate some pleasure, pay attention.
Of course I had already started to do that during my Big Week of Judgment, and even though it wasn’t exactly enjoyable, that week did make way for a new week. So just as a heads up, you might also find some garbage on your path, but don’t worry, that probably means you’re on the right track.
Once you get through any garbage, baggage, or your garden variety judgment, take some time to ponder what gives you pleasure.
To get started, you might think of categories, using places you spend time, i.e., pleasures of the living room, bedroom, office, school, park, or river. You might categorize by pleasures of the body, mind, or spirit.
Categories helped me find my way in, and I soon had a healthy list: from painting my nails to taking that very class I was taking to reading in my bed or in the sunshine to yes, eating chocolate or avocados.
Speaking of which, in case a gorgeous, heart-shaking poem is on your list of pleasures, go read or watch this Tara Hardy piece, “Bone Marrow.” I heard her perform it last Saturday, and if you, like me, need, as Hardy says, “a horse’s dose of right fucking now” to get motivated to savor your life, this will do the trick.
This topic of pleasure feels vital to me, so I bet we’ll be coming back here again. In the meantime, I hope you’ll get started on your lists, and how about this for a comment thread that would be worth reading?
Below, share five or six items from your own pleasure list.
Let the joy be contagious.
Then, as another heart-shaking poet, Rumi, wrote, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
What are a few of yours?
Photo credit: Happiness by Caleb Roenigk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.