joy and sorrow (pleasure activism series)

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photo by Ben Heine.


One of the keys to having greater access to happiness and pleasure is allowing space for their presence in all circumstances, through all the ups and downs of life. As adrienne maree brown says in Pleasure Activism, “Pleasure is the point. Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.”

Pleasure is the point. And yet pleasure does not mean ignoring or denying sorrow when it arises. The difficult times make it more possible for joy to be present. There is an indelible connection between joy and sorrow.  Without one, there could not be the other. Can we allow there to be space for both? Can we allow for there to be space for all of our experiences without pushing away the unpleasant ones or grasping tightly to the pleasant ones?

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain…When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” — Khalil Gibran in The Prophet: 

adrienne maree brown references Gibran’s quote about sorrow and joy in Pleasure Activism:

I recognize that my sorrow carves out the space for my joy, and that both in this lifetime and in the cycles of my lineage there is so much space that has been carved out by sorrow, and I get to fill it up with joy and pleasure. What a pleasure it is, after all, to be a free Black queer woman. To be a human, self-aware. To be of the earth, with such beauty and interconnectedness. — adrienne maree brown 

I didn’t always see this connection between joy and sorrow. For some time, I always saw my happiness as small and my unhappiness as vast. I think that was because I paid more attention to my sorrow, which allowed it to grow. With my mindfulness practice, I became increasingly interested in the seeds I planted, cultivated, and nourished within me. Was I nurturing seeds of discontent, anger, scarcity or was I supporting seeds of kindness, love, and gratitude to grow?

I made choices regarding the seeds I was nurturing with each thought I chose to believe, each person I chose to spend significant time with, and each activity I chose to engage in regularly. I began to let go of the people who did not value me and did not treat me well and stop doing things that didn’t support my well-being. I spent time listening to my body, heart, mind, time in nature, and time in supportive solitude to help me know how to make choices that were supportive. All of this helped me find and connect to the happiness that was within me all along. It gave me the space to meet wonderfully kind and loving community once I fully understand how to be my own happiness. That kind of happiness, completely predicated on my wholeness, on the miracle of me being alive in each moment, stays present even when I am sobbing in heartbreak over the many injustices of the world.

Find the pleasure path for your life and follow it. Let it reverberate healing back into your ancestors’ wounds. Let it open you up and remind you that you are already whole. Let it shape a future where feeling good is the normal, primary experience of all beings. –adrienne maree brown 

Are you on your pleasure path for life? What supports you in feeling good? How can you share more of that with yourself and gift it to others?

—Lissa E.

This post is part of a monthly series exploring aspects of adrienne maree brown‘s book Pleasure Activism. To see the first post in this series, please visit here.

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Published by lissa e.

Lissa's offerings include integrative mental health care, meditation and movement (yoga, qigong, intuitive) guidance, writings, and community facilitation offered in a compassionate, trauma-responsive, and racial and social justice-oriented framework as part of a lifelong mission to reduce suffering for all beings.

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