Yesterday, I spent three totally pleasurable hours geeking out about words and language with my linguist friend. Here’s something I gleaned:pleasure (n.) late 14c., “condition of enjoyment,” from O.Fr. plesir “enjoyment, delight” (12c.), from plaisir (v.) “to please,” from L. placere (see please (v.)). Ending altered in English 14c. by influence of words in -ure (measure, etc.). Meaning “sensual enjoyment as the chief object of life” is attested from 1520s.“Sensual Enjoyment as the chief object of life” resonates deeply in me, on so many levels. It is through my senses I experience the physical world, and I know the thing we call ‘reality.’ Following this line of thought, it is sensual experience that informs my understanding of what it is to be human. Here’s a little of what being human is like for me these past few days: The delight I felt when I embraced my friend today, and held on a moment longer than I’ve been taught is acceptable, telling her I don’t have enough time left to cut short my hugs. The pleasure I took yesterday in morning coffee and cream with my lover, in bed. Stretching my waking muscles, breathing in the smell of cardamom and lavender, and later standing in the steaming hot shower spray. The joy in my body when I danced Saturday to music that wouldn’t let me stop, with people around me who were laughing with glee.
Last summer I participated in an event called “Queer Oily Action.” A group of 22 people explored sensual (but not sexual) touch by rolling around naked together on big tarps, listening to a soundscape with our eyes closed, while covered in warm coconut oil. I found again and again that fear kept my legs together. Since then, I’ve been exploring all the ways I deny myself pleasure in my life. For me (and I presume many of us,) seeking and allowing pleasure (aka “hedonism”) has a negative connotation. Hedonism commonly connotes debauchery, self-indulgence, lack of self-control, and lack of virtue. Ironically, here’s what I found about hedonists.
hedonist (n.) 1822, in reference to the Cyrenaic school of philosophy that deals with the ethics of pleasure, from Gk. hedonikos “pleasurable,” from hedone “pleasure,” related to hedys “sweet,” cognate with L. suavis (see sweet). A hedonist is properly the follower of any ethical system in which some sort of pleasure ranks as the highest good. The Epicurian identifies this pleasure with the practice of virtue.Pleasure as the highest good? Ethical? Sweet? Virtue? This all gives me pause. What have I bought into without realizing it? I’m starting to get a little suspicious, and beginning to deconstruct a paradigm that teaches me denial of pleasure is virtuous. Because oddly enough, at the exact same time, my culture is condoning obsessive consumption and sensory over-stimulation. Oh yeah, AND it’s attempting to deny or medicate pain in any form.
I don’t believe pleasure or pain are the culprits. Our bodies are meant to feel, designed to experience. Right now, I don’t have the answers, but I recognize where the questions are taking me. Exploring the line between pleasure and indulgence. Finding balance between willingness to feel pleasure and willingness to feel suffering, each in its season. Giving permission to us all to truly feel our pleasure, not candy-coated packaged for-sale versions of it. Simultaneously supporting us in feeling the pain that is also part of this human path.
I feel such gratitude to be alive with you today. May our collective pleasure serve the highest good, and help us remember who we really are.