The Radical Act of Pleasure

Apr 25, 2018

The Radical Act of Pleasure

My good friend Jan sent me a poem the other day. One for my pleasure collection, she said. How is it that poets can cut through the nonsense, with such precision, to crack the heart and mind open?

In The Word by Tony Hoagland he offers:

…. among your duties
pleasure is also a thing
to be accomplished.

How do you measure pleasure’s value?

Duties, pleasure and accomplishment seem like three incongruent words. But in this poem the Hoagland tries to get our attention by using the words duty and accomplishment to speak our language. These are words we love – in fact, it seems we’re devoted to them. Let me be dutiful and accomplished. Those qualities let me know I’m a worthy person! Pleasure – what’s that good for you ask? What’s it worth? How do you measure its value?

Pleasure is a radical act

As I go about teaching and dialoguing with people about pleasure, increasingly I see how keeping pleasure on one’s radar is a radical act. To make creating pleasure as significant a focus as all the other ‘to do’ items on the never ending daily list, is to dare to step off the treadmill of pursuit, for a moment.

Pleasure requires a pause, a breath, a slowing down, a tuning in, and often a looking up and away, perhaps from the all mighty screen. It asks you to stretch your vision outward to the world, that each moment offers something lovely, curious or new. This newness sparks aliveness, imagination and creativity.

Making the Effort

Have you ever noticed the great effort it can take to make that shift – from “things that must be done” to a single care-free moment; to that sense of timelessness those pleasure pauses can bring? The benefits are hard to measure as it’s not particularly concrete or with immediate results. But over time those daring moments add up a growing ability to step off the treadmill and gain the flexibility and resiliency that grows with practice.

Below is the poem in its full array. May it inspire you!

The Word
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 as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend
and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place 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
still exists,
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.

Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin (1992)

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“Madeline offers a safe space to explore what it is that blocks our capacity to live in pleasure. She supports us to recognize our unhealthy associations with pleasure, so we can finally open up to that which provides real power, serenity and love.”

Benoît Cazabon, author, professor, and coach