Have you ever found yourself in flow? Caught up in the moment, having completely immersed yourself in a project, an experience, or a person? Where you felt almost as if your body dissolved and you were no longer confined by time, or separation—just lost in a deep feeling of connection?
Pleasure is not something I think most of us know how to define for ourselves outside of knowing which foods or clothes taste good and make us feel enjoyable in our skin. Our culture is hyper focused on the opposite—of discipline, structure, and hustle, no matter the sacrifice. I’m not saying discipline and sacrifice can’t be pleasurable, but I do think that because we’re so conditioned to feel that we need to be accomplishing more, more, more, we forget that feeling good is a big part of a satisfying and fulfilling life.
I recently had a conversation with a friend specifically about this—how there’s almost a competition in some work environments to see who’s the most burnt out, or who’s the most exhausted from how much they have on their plate. It’s almost as if we are competing to see who will reach their breaking point first.
Because of this, when we think about activities that we thoroughly enjoy, some of us might stop short, not even knowing where to start. I’ve known many friends and clients who’ve confessed they simply don’t know what they love to do. Do you?
When I personally think of pleasure, I generally imagine it to be something intuitive. It’s less like a force of will and more like a listening and following through on a desire my body and heart are asking for.
It’s an ease that allows us to feel like we’re moving at the right pace, at the right time. There’s a non-grasping, a non-attachment, just sheer enjoyment of what is.
It’s almost undefinable simply because words are too confining, and pleasure is not about structure or limitation or restriction. It’s about expansion, freedom, and uninhibited joy.
And yet when we think about pleasure, we may associate it with indulgence, greed, and laziness. We might start to feel the guilt creeping in simply at the thought of basking in the enjoyment of something “unproductive.” We might feel that by choosing the thing that feels pleasurable, we’re going against our own growth and progress. That we’ll fall behind somehow if we’re not constantly achieving.
So how do we understand the balance between discipline and pleasure?
I recently heard someone describe discipline as starting from being “a disciple to oneself.” I took this to mean that in order to cultivate a truly structured, focused, and generative life, we must first tend to our own needs and desires before anything else.
Getting used this practice can look like starting to:
>> Check in with yourself on what feels enjoyable and why
>> Letting go of the pressure of what feels required
>> Checking in with our standards and aligning them with our values
>> Allowing ourselves to follow what feels really nourishing
>> Not filling something that already feels too full
>> Allowing the space to not know what to do
>> Allowing the next thing to come naturally
>> Trying things out of curiosity not as a lesson or an action
>> Saying no
Assuming that your experience of pleasure is unbalanced (or am I the only one?), not taking care of our needs and enjoyment before we care for others can sometimes result in unhealthy indulgent practices such as binge eating, binge watching, revenge bedtime procrastination, procrastination in general, frustration, anger, and resentment.
I won’t pretend that too much pleasure can bridge on the side of indulgence, and it can sometimes be challenging to know when or how to apply a little more discipline. However, that boundary requires us to play with the parameters before we can even know what too much or too little pleasure is for us.
Collectively, we have to allow ourselves a guiltless, free flowing, getting-your-hands-dirty-for-the-fun-of-it kind of pleasure in order to create a healthy relationship to our structured and disciplined lives. Getting lost in the flow can in fact be the most necessary and easeful form of productivity and growth that we deeply need. It can be the self-care solution that not only refuels us but also makes our lives more fun.
If you’re ready to get your hands dirty with pleasure, here’s a few suggestions:
1. Let go of the expectation
Lounge in the experience of the creative process rather than have an expected outcome. What’s the point if it doesn’t feel good? Letting go of the expectation. Rewriting the ending or the outcome of the growth process. Let yourself be taken for the ride. This can be frightening because it’s less controlled and the outcome is less determined, and it can be scary if you’re coming from a more productive place to let go of the outcome. Hold yourself through the process, and trust that you’ll be supported no matter what the end result.
2. Practice letting go of guilt
When we experience guilt while enjoying something that feels good and generative, we may be fully under the condition that pleasure is counterproductive, indulgent, and selfish. This mindset encourages us to consider our needs to be less or nonimportant, which can lead toward acts of self-disrespect. When we adopt the mindset that our pleasure is valuable, because our lives are valuable and our time here is precious, we can start to recognize that pleasure, joy, and play are a necessary part of living a healthy life. We can start to recognize that we are valuable, and that guilt is simply an emotion of suppression encouraged into us by restricting systems. We are not machines, nor should we treat ourselves as such.
3. Fill up your cup—don’t run on empty
Making time for pleasure isn’t inhibiting your productivity; it could be enhancing it. When we ask ourselves, “Is this what I really want?” or “How can this be more enjoyable?” we can be guided toward possibilities that make everything easier, an outcome that feels more natural to get to, and an overall process that is more enjoyable and takes less energy. Leaving the space for possibility and other options invites flexibility and opens space for something different.
4. Take pleasure in your pleasure
When you’re enjoying something, take time to recognize how enjoyable it is, and soak up the moment. Find gratitude and appreciation for how good you feel, and the ability to experience such satisfaction. The more you appreciate it, the larger it will grow, and the easier it will be to attract more pleasure toward you.
5. Reminder: you don’t have to “make time” for pleasure
We’re gifted with decisions we need to make every single day, which means we’re given ample opportunities to choose what feels enjoyable and aligned all the time. Simply checking in with ourselves and asking “Is this really what I want, or do I want something else?” can make all the difference. Maybe having your morning coffee actually doesn’t sound good, and maybe a green juice does. Maybe sitting in front of the TV doesn’t sound pleasurable, but making dinner with your partner or friend does. By simply checking in on our everyday choices, we all can easily integrate more pleasure into our lives.
Making pleasure paramount starts with loving and appreciating ourselves first.
Your purpose is not to be productive, nor is it about what you are contributing at any given moment. Your purpose is about your experience, your day-to-day felt experience.
If we allow ourselves the freedom to explore what feels good and pleasurable, we will have a clearer perspective on how to best care for ourselves and for others in every aspect of life. We’re not meant to follow a specific rule book for life but rather interact with and tend to the choices we make day-to-day.
Giving yourself space to find synchronicity will add definition, color, and enlightenment to your story.