Precious forests are burned to the ground. Island communities completely destroyed. Cities suffocated underwater. Bodies extracted from the rubble. Verbal threats of nuclear war volleyed back and forth.
How can choosing pleasure be the right choice during times like these? How can I even talk about pleasure as smoke blurs the sun, ash falls on my front steps, and friends cannot return home due to the massive fires in the nearby Columbia Gorge?
We should be sad, or angry, or to spring into action.
Mourn the forests!
Punish the teenagers who started the fire!
Start planting trees as soon as possible!
Choosing pleasure is selfish, insensitive and unnecessary in times like these!
I don’t believe this story to be true! Reconnecting to pleasure is the best possible thing we can do.
Let me be clear, that when I talk about pleasure, I am referring to the feeling of when our deepest needs for intimacy, connection, creativity, play, and service to something bigger are met deeply rather than on the surface (e.g., creating intimacy through deep lovemaking with a soulmate vs. watching hours of porn).
When we meet these needs and experience deep pleasure, we experience the world in a significantly different way than we see modeled by the dominant culture. We also create new possibilites for ourselves and everyone else about how to live together on this planet.
One of the major fires in the Columbia River Gorge was started by some teenage boys throwing firecrackers off a cliff into the forest. There is considerable public outrage, calling for punishment of the boys and their families. There is little pleasure experienced about this fire by those who love the Gorge or, I can imagine, by the boys and their families. By choosing anger and sadness we perpetuate the story that “they” are evil, and “we” are good. Us vs. them. Villains vs. victims. When this escalates, it looks like the terrifying banter between the U.S. government and North Korea. Choosing pleasure upends this pattern.
What would choosing pleasure look like in the situation of the Gorge fire? We could throw a dance party and invite the boys and their families as the guests of honor. We could forgive their negligence and finally extinguish the social fire of hatred that still burns strong. We could connect impacted families and band together to help them rebound. We could dance and play among the charred trees, allowing our laughter and song to penetrate their roots and be distributed along the mycelium mat to the entire area. We could leave feeling connected and inspired to rebuild the trails and restore the parks.
I’d like to believe the forest would repair and regrow faster when the community supporting it and living in it is filled with love and pleasure, than with hatred, fear and sadness.
Fire is a necessary ingredient for cleansing and rebirth. My prayer is that the Gorge fire can help burn away the blame and anger swirling through our region, that is mirrored and amplified across our country and the world. And what may rise from the ashes is more connection, more gratitude for the natural environment, and a deeper sense of community. The seeds we need to plant in the ashy, fertile soil, are seeds of pleasure.
There is value and importance in feeling anger and sadness and fear. Anger tells us something needs to change. Sadness shows us there is something to be let go. Fear indicates that something needs to be known. We need to feel all these things, accept and appreciate them, and help understand what they have to teach us.* And then we get to choose whether we are willing to experience pleasure — to shift into ease and play, creativity and connection.
Choosing pleasure is a revolutionary act that redefines how we interact with one another, with the natural environment, and how we experience the world. Choosing pleasure creates new possibilities for how we solve problems, respond to catastrophe, and function together as a society. Pleasure becomes a compass for us to follow as we create a more beautiful world together.
* Inspired by the teachings of the Conscious Leadership Group
Photo: Stephanie Yao Long | The Oregonian/OregonLive