24 June 2011

Knowing Pleasure

I watched Eat Pray Love twice this week.  Well, once I watched when my head wasn't bad, and once I listened, when it was.

The hot, humid summer months have become increasingly difficult these past two years, making me feel sick, extra tired, and less able to handle the almost constant pain in my head.  One of the things I do as part of pain management is listen to movies.

There are several memorable quotes from Eat Pray Love, one of which has stayed with me and caused me much reflection.

Liz is sitting in a barber shop in Rome with her new Italian friends.  During an animated conversation full of graceful, gesturing hands, lilting voices, musical vowels, and hair clippings, this quote emerges:

"You Americans know entertainment.  You do not know pleasure."

I usually find that when an idea sticks with me, there is good reason for it - reason that I find within myself.  So during the past several days, as I re-play the movie and think about entertainment vs. pleasure, I look at my life and, in particular, my pain management practices.

I try to steer clear of dichotomies because they tend to create opposition: to talk about the values of pleasure vs. entertainment as though one concept might vanquish the other is a fruitless conversation that misses the point.  It's more my task to understand why the words have settled into my mind than it is to decide which is better.  So here is a rough approximation of my internal dialogue this week:

"Do I know entertainment better than I know pleasure?"
"But entertainment is one of the things that gets me through the rough days.  Entertainment: listening to NPR or a movie or Seinfeld.  Yes, it's passive, but when I am in pain, passive is what I need."
"OK, then, gotta have entertainment.  It's not an either/or proposition."
"Fine.  So where does pleasure come into my life?"
"Walking my dog, cooking and eating, listening to music or meditation CDs.  Being with my husband.  Keeping up with friends and family.  Knitting."
"How much pleasure am I truly gleaning from these activities when I am also in pain?"
"Not so much.  As a matter of fact, it's more like I am getting through them in anticipation of being able to rest and turn to the entertainment."
"Then the question is not entertainment vs. pleasure, it's how to get more pleasure - be more present to - the pleasurable activities."

Gratitude.  That's the simple answer, the one that springs instantly to my mind.  It's part of being present to the moment, the Now.  Or maybe being in the Now - presence - is part of gratutude.  Or maybe it's really that they go magically hand in hand.

I can walk Sierra (our rat terrier) realizing vaguely how good it feels to stretch my legs while otherwise lost in thought or just getting through the walk because my head feels so badly.  I think of it as a pleasurable activity, but how much pleasure do I actually get from it?

I can sit down for a meal and rush through it because it's hard to hold my head up.  But last night, when I put the homemade pizza on the table and focused on it - no radio, no magazine, no planning for what I'd do next, no rushing - I experienced the pleasure of the textures, flavors and nurture of that simple meal; I experienced gratitude for the abundant goodness before me. 

When I walk or eat with presence, gratitude wells up in me unbidden.

I have written before about inhabiting our bodies: being fully, quietly present to our selves and the moment.  Out of this arises gratitude, and out of gratitude arises pleasure.  Deep pleasure, the kind that does not seek entertainment, the kind that is sufficient in and of itself. 

Here's the magic: pleasure itself turns out to be a great pain management tool.

For this, I am so grateful.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

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