The idea for this post presented itself to me this morning over coffee, as I was, appropriately, shopping online for products to add to my new skincare regimen and envisioning myself spending the afternoon getting my hair done and then pampering myself at my local L’Occitane boutique. It’s been a long time since I’ve published a decidedly feminine-focused blog post, hasn’t it? But, that isn’t really what this post is meant to be. Although I do hope it ends up being a bit on the softer side. Sensual. Lush. Even, I daresay, pretty. In accord with the prerogative of a woman who’s promised an afternoon full of soft indulgences.
Anyway. It occurs to me that, while I’ve spent a great deal of time here on The Used Life exploring the facets of sensual living, including the aesthetics of my inner experiences related to sexuality and the feminine, I have yet to delve into the related topic of pleasure. So important. Indeed, I am extremely wary of any person, philosophy, or belief system that admonishes pleasure. Or that gives it a backseat to productivity, discipline, power, or success. For those of us who may be described as aesthetes, or who equate sensuality with abundance, vibrance, beauty, and soulfulness, pleasure is of the utmost importance. It’s an integral part of what makes life worth living and even helps tap us into higher values. Accordingly, the moderation of pleasure can be one of the greatest challenges—and the highest art forms—of which a human being is capable. Especially since our pleasure-seeking habits can end up being the most destructive if we let them.
Here are some thoughts on pleasure. As well as the importance—and the joys—of moderation.
We must abandon ourselves to pleasure.
Indeed, there is an element of abandon that’s required to experience the fullness of both sensual and erotic pleasure. Self-consciousness, anxiety, and a general distrust of our own nature (especially of our ability to moderate such pleasures as intake of food, alcohol, tobacco, etc., to perform sexually, or even to be seen naked) can greatly diminish the quality of our experiences. Under some circumstances and for some people, of course, abstinence may be best. But for those of us who find it best to moderate our approach to sensual pleasures, an element of trust is required. Trust in our internal barometer to know what (and how much) is good for us. An enhanced understanding of our internal cues—of what body and mind are telling us about our own behavior and lifestyle choices. Not to mention a healthy respect for our own bodies, for how they’re made and what they can and cannot do. Carl Rogers talks in depth about the importance of this kind of inner direction in On Becoming a Person.
Pleasure requires the absence of pleasure.
There are certain sensual pleasures in which I cannot indulge everyday. Or in which I prefer to indulge only at certain intervals. I think of them as harder pleasures. Rich foods, especially red meat or other fatty meats, alcohol, and caffeine (which I typically reserve only for mornings) are examples. But it’s not enough to suggest that if I have them too often or in too high a quantity, I don’t enjoy them (which is true). It is more accurate to say that their absence makes me enjoy them more.
To be sure, there was a time, now several years ago, when I was vegetarian (gluten-free and vegan for some of that time), but I found it unsustainable for me in the long-term. While I still enjoy eating vegetarian cuisine on occasion, I no longer care to omit foods from my diet that I enjoy. (A life without cheese, for me, is no life at all. The same can be said for a fresh baguette and the occasional slab of bacon.) And I will tell you, the first piece of cheese I had after “officially” becoming an omnivore again was the best piece of cheese I have ever had. A soft goat’s milk cheese with a cracker and a swig of red wine. I remember it like it was yesterday. The greatest lesson I learned from that experience: all pleasure is a balancing act. And despite whatever lifestyle trends and fads (of which I am inherently suspicious) are popular at any given moment, these are choices that must be individually made and made to align with our values.
Moderation inspires confidence.
Learning to moderate our pleasures builds confidence. We not only learn to listen to and understand our internal cues, but we can also be proud of our ability to abide by those cues. And I don’t think it’s simply a matter of self-control. But respect and autonomy. Making decisions that allow us to indulge our senses while also respecting and honoring our nature. Not understanding pleasure as a thing to be afraid of, to be shunned, or managed rigidly by external standards (because there is no one-size-fits-all approach), but learning to be directed by an inner guide that, I think, often knows a great deal more than we give it credit for. Because there is something about acting against one’s own best interests—especially when we know it—that diminishes our power and harms our relationships with ourselves. As we grow in awareness of our own responses to pleasure, I believe it is possible to repair that relationship and gain some of that power back.
In closing, I would be remiss not to mention that, while pleasure is a most fulfilling end in itself, it’s been my experience that it is not the primary end. That is, there’s got to be something more important than that which indulges our senses to keep us going. Otherwise, that’s all we would do and, assuredly, to self-destructive excess. Another passion. A hobby. Art. Family. Physical fitness. A goal. All pleasure is a balancing act. And if we are to moderate our pleasures successfully, it is necessary that something else fulfill us in their absence.
Thank you again to everyone who has purchased a copy of my debut chapbook, Seven Road & Other Poems. If you haven’t yet purchased a copy, you may do so through my Etsy shop. Each book is handmade to order and contains original, full-color artwork.