Before this course, I would have found it hard to believe that my body could be a resource for joy and pleasure. Amongst the plethora of societal notions of how a body should look, be and act; previous experiences which have shaped my perception of my body, and the shame that I have carried with me, like a weight strapped to my back, it felt like a faraway idea to even consider pleasure and joy as something I could associate to my body. Yet, this course has allowed me to release these stories, and sit in a place of compassionate acceptance for what is. And through this acceptance, joy has flowed. Joy and the Body, run by somatic sexologist, bodyworker and life coach Aisha Paris Smith, allowed me to explore a new relationship with my body, and how to fill my cup in this life for more joy and pleasure.
It can feel intimidating to enter into a space to talk about shame, because, well, shame is shame. It’s the parts of ourselves we don't want to explore and churn up.
And honestly, I didn't know if I wanted to dive into my body shame. It made me think of all the ways I have hidden my body in the past, under baggy clothes; or when I was in university comparing my body to that of my peers — and I feel shame for even admitting this today. I was never enough. But that’s what shame does, it tells us we are not enough — not worthy, insignificant.
But what Aisha taught us is bringing compassionate awareness to shame is the first step in letting it go, “Compassion, to love the parts of ourselves that we might have been speaking really badly about, and perpetuating a lot of judgement around—because I think we don't create self-judgement, we absorb it from society, and then we perpetuate it." And that’s just it, we are often perpetuating what we have absorbed through interactions, experiences, and what we are told in the mainstream media. I was completely in awe of the folks who showed up to the call so vulnerably to share in their shame. And through this safe sharing circle, we felt seen in ways we had perhaps not been seen and held before.
When we entered the conversation of shame, I was reminded of a powerful passage in Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, where Estés writes, “The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” This quote made me think of the body — and our shame — as being a door.
If we allow ourselves, our bodies and these scars can be a door to a fuller, more joyful life — and choosing pleasure can be the answer.
Pleasure can be a means of regulation. However, our understanding of pleasure often only falls into one category. Hedonistic pleasure is the pursuit of pleasure for self-indulgence, often to excess and great loss. When we think of hedonistic pleasure, this can be found in the excessive consumption of alcohol or food. Whereas Eudaemonic pleasure arises from relaxation, attunement and sensory perceptions, and is informed by connection and compassion.
We live in a culture that nurtures one aspect of pleasure (hedonistic), with no demonstration of the other (eudaemonic). As a result, our understanding and associations we have of pleasure are often negative. It is seen as indulgent, selfish and lacking intention. I think Andreas Weber, a previous course host at Advaya, helps explain eudaemonic pleasure in practice, as he states, “Ecosystems, as the realms of living relationships in which life feeds more life, are incarnations of Eros: they are embodied love processes. Eros, then, is the poetic logic of life visible in every ecosystem. We are attracted to ‘nature’ because it charges us with the realisation of our erotic desire for life. In an erotic ecology, to live means to love.” This last phrase, to live is to love, for me, really encapsulates eudaemonic pleasure.
When I think about the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, or social injustices, I see this also as a crisis of connection — our connection to each other, our connection to nature, and our connection to our bodies. The language we use towards our body, and the societal expectations we have around what it means to have a 'perfect body' reflects this crisis of disconnection.
Asking for more can feel selfish. Whenever I desire more, I feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be grateful for what I have? But I found myself challenging this narrative, and asking: What happens if I just allowed myself to be open to receiving a little bit more? How do we encourage our bodies to hold more? Where in our bodies can we hold more? Breath is the answer. Our breath is tied to pleasure; breathing into the spaces which feel stagnant within the body allows us to create more spaces for us to receive. This growth through receiving is found through asking and noticing what we are feeling.
This is pleasure-based mindfulness. Enlivening parts of ourselves that have become dormant through shame, societal expectations, and past experiences, allows us to open up more to life, more to joy, more to pleasure. It made me think back to the times I had made myself small, shamed myself, and shut myself down. These experiences leave imprints. Yet even despite these experiences, I can still be whole, I can still have wants and needs, and those desires are valid. Ultimately, it’s accepting and loving all facets and parts of ourselves, and what it means to be human, as Aisha notes “Total acceptance. About your experience. Total welcoming embrace of what you’re experiencing, and what you want to share, and not making it mean anything; just being with it.”