choose joy (pleasure activism series)

photo by @corwinthiessen

I recommend building the muscle of feeling pleasure, because I’ve noticed the world conspires to keep our attention elsewhere… I’ve practiced noting what works rather than what’s not working, feeling gratitude, letting myself be awed and know it–by beauty, by mystery, by human creativity. If, as was true for me and many, many folks I know, it was a struggle to survive and there was lots of trauma and pain, we get really good at checking for danger or either clamping down on and avoiding, or being overwhelmed by, moods that accompany suffering. They are familiar and so well-practiced that they might as well be hardwired. It can take intentional practices to rediscover the pleasure of just being, of life itself, right now, right here.

Alta Starr in Pleasure Activism

This quote by somatic coach and bodyworker Alta Starr from adrienne maree brown‘s book Pleasure Activism deeply resonates with me. I agree that many of us are hardwired to give our attention to what isn’t working, what isn’t perfect, what doesn’t feel good, and what must be fixed.

We build and rebuild the muscle of pleasure and feeling good to live our fullest lives and to connect with the fact that there is nothing wrong with us. We do that building slowly while continuing to navigate the realities of our circumstances in life and the legacies of inequity, injustice and trauma many of us have experienced. Both can be true. There can be space for both joy and grief.

If we listen to society and focus our attention on constantly improving and acquiring then our focus can often rest on what we lack and what we dislike about ourselves and the world. We can begin to identify with lack and not good enough. We identify with our trauma and pain and think that they represent the entirety of our experience.

What we rest our attention on not only grows but often defines us. How would it be if you made more space for pleasure and ease as opposed to exerting so much energy for what you don’t want to be here? How would it be if you lingered your attention and somatic awareness on what you feel appreciation or gratitude for even for ten- fifteen seconds a few times per day to start? Surely that could help with rewiring your awareness to notice what feels good over time.

I strongly encourage you to check in and ask yourself if you really wish to be happy in life. And if the answer to that question is a yes then the follow up question is will you choose happiness in as many moments as you can. Will you find and follow your “pleasure path” as adrienne maree brown calls it?

Maybe your pleasure path initially is in the generosity of a sigh, the sensory companionship of your favorite song, talking to a friend, taking a social media break, connecting with experiences that make you laugh or invite in wonder or awe, drinking a tall glass of water or eating a healthy meal, resting in bed, inviting the body to soften where there’s tension, or gardening or tending to the earth… The list is endless as it’s your path to choose. Then maybe over time it includes more complex choices like setting and reinforcing boundaries, changing careers, ending relationships, befriending oneself, forgiving one’s family, etc. You can start with the more accessible pleasure options and go from there.

What are you hardwired for? Are you hardwired for pleasure, for ease, for abundance, for kindness, and play? Or are you hardwired for suffering, pessimism, and judgment?

Choose happiness in as many moments as you can if you truly want to be happy. I’m not saying it’s easy to make this choice. It’s something you have to choose again and again, creating a familiarity, a way of knowing and embodying the qualities of contentment so intimately that they begin to fill your core and you are able to remember when intense feelings come to visit that they are temporary and don’t define you. It’s a choice that you can slowly build the muscle memory for, savoring ease and joy’s presence each step along the way.

—Lissa E.

This post is part of a 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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