In a workshop last year, the brilliant African American Music Minister Glen Thomas Rideout invited the group who had gathered — who were mostly white — to sing, and then move, and then clap together. As he did this, he said, I don’t want to hear any comments about how white people can’t clap on the right beat, or how you can’t dance. Here, we’re going to celebrate the joy of moving our bodies, however they move. We’re just going to enjoy our movement, as it is.
It was an incredibly liberating instruction. And also hard. Because many of us — not just white bodies — have learned to hold ourselves back from what brings us pleasure. In our bodies. In our hearts. In our spirits.
We learn early on these stories — old stories where being “good” means controlling, suppressing, disconnecting ourselves from our desires. Where good means self-denial. Stories from the Enlightenment where the body and the mind were separated — and the body was bad; the mind was good.
In today’s world these stories show up as being embarrassed to look dumb, or too vulnerable in our pleasure. Or, as a sense that we should put off pleasure until we’ve really earned it. Until there’s no more suffering, no injustice, when the work is done, and the world is saved.
Which is maybe fine, because we’re often taught pleasure is “optional,” a bonus in life.
Which is maybe why we often aren’t taught the basic skills for some of the things that most bring people pleasure. Learning to cook, or craft. Dance, or other forms of body movement. Playing music, singing, or learning to enjoy music in all its forms. Real sex education, that includes information about pleasure. Learning to paint, to draw, to enjoy art.
In our society, we structure these sort of experiences as electives (or the thing you send your kid to the UU church for…), and so pleasure becomes an elective.
Even more, we don’t learn how to experience pleasure itself. How to let ourselves be overwhelmed with delight, with joy. To believe that we are worthy of this much happiness, that it is not set-aside for special occasions, but integral to the everyday.
This is our task for our series throughout from May 5 to June 2.
To flip the script on these old stories and messages about pleasure as optional, or shame-filled, and instead embrace our collective experience of pleasure as central to our collective liberation. Knowing that delight is a true expression of freedom. That joy is an act of resistance.
To imagine and co-create a whole society where we all know pleasure as not far off, but here, and now. In this life. Not just the destination, but the way there.
Not just for the few, but for everyone.
|Go Deeper – Resources for further reflection on the theme|
|1. adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism or take a listen to an interview here. |
2. Audre Lorde’s paradigm-shifting 1978 essay: “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” Enjoy an audio recording here.
3. Another great starting place – The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.
4. Podcast on the Ignatius understanding of Desire as a spiritual practice.
5. On Desire: Why We Want What We Want by William Irvine
6. What Makes a Good Life? TED Talk from Robert Waldinger
Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,
between ‘green thread’
and ‘broccoli,’ you find
that you have penciled ‘sunlight.’
Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend
and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,
and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing
that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder
or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,
but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,
—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.
Join us for the whole The Good Life: Feels Good Series
Every Sunday – in person, or online.
9am & 11am