copywriter toronto
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THE BOOGIE HEARSE:
PLEASURE AS A SPIRITUAL SKILL ©2002


On a fragrant summer day, I saw a funeral procession with the hearse leading.   The hearse driver was rocking out--the mourners couldn't see him and his only passenger couldn't complain--so he was drumming his hands on the steering wheel in time to music.  Did he even realize he was doing it?  Was it unconscious?  Does it matter?  Life goes on.  Pleasure was present.

Pleasure ain't a tool of the devil.  Pleasure is the first aid kit that Big Mama Nature gives us to follow a good smiting by something or other.  We intuitively know that pleasure is powerful enough to put a smile on the face of pain.  So we fear it and wonder how it could deceive us if we let it.

We worry about pleasure.  We question whether we have a right to it.  We do.  We have a right to learn to use it as we need.  Pleasure is a spiritual skill.  We actually have to learn it, just as we learn skating and parallel parking and lovemaking.

The need for pleasure is an inverse evolutionary theory:  We don't have it to survive—we survive to have it.  It's the point of our existence in a primary way.  We aren't solids that got smart —we're spirit that got solid.   And now we're preoccupied with this meat we moved into.

Everything we do while wearing the meat costumes has a sensation;  every move brings wind or impact or scent or flavour or colour.  The primordial ooze didn't grow a brain—we spirits grew something that’s referred to as a cadaver as soon as we climb back out of it.

(Face it, eventually all this sensation wears us out.  Every single time.   Perhaps the pleasure-avoiders think they can slow this down by just not using the equipment.  Nope.  It's ticking whether it's covered with dust or sweat.)

We're here seeking pleasure because there's something about the physical existence, as fleeting and lumpen as it is, that draws us back.  We may be released from the travails of the flesh in the next world, but we don't get to make love or nurse babies or skinny-dip or sleep by a fire or keep caramels by the bed or let dogs on sofas.

Those who deny pleasure, and who do so as a pious gesture, only confess their fear of its power.  They wish us all to be as uninterested as they are, in the firsthand knowledge of healing power that pleasure represents.

Experiencing pleasure is walking a step in angel's shoes.  It's why we came here.  We bought the whole physical package, the whole walking-meat deal, bundled like phone features:  Unlimited choice, unlimited risk, unlimited potential, unlimited pain, unlimited joy.  No charge.  Just return the equipment when it starts to rot.

In my first year philosophy class, the prof smacked a student who opined that the meaning of existence was “to be happy" by saying,  "I took heroin once. I've never been happier."   Dang.  Now what?“  (Never mind that he probably took heroin only so he could say this to his undergrads every year till he retired…)

Professor Heroin’s point is that pursuing happiness ain't it.   We have to be in control of the pursuit of happiness.  Yet if we're not strong enough to live in harmony with pleasure (out of fear of addiction, fear of submission, fear of dissolution by a seductive and powerful force with an ultimately destructive goal)…then we seem to feel we're required to produce a reason for this abdication.

Ideally, it will be a reason that doesn't result in loss of face.  Usually, something lofty like  “Pleasure is simpleminded at best, and lethal at worst.”

And so the smartest among us are the best rationalizers.  And sometimes brilliant achievers.  But still ruled by fear.

Pleasure is a skill like the skill of an athlete, a dancer, an actor, an architect, a musician – always part technique, part soul.  Part meat, part ghost.  Pleasure is the soul getting in shape, flexing, showing its stuff, reassuring, tucking us in, tickling us, soothing us -- in short, making it all worthwhile.

Pleasure says that no matter what happens, or what pain comes to visit, we will live to take pleasure in just one more breath, eventually.  And this sustains us until the miracle when that breath comes.  And do we credit pleasure?  Nope—we credit our “strength,” our stoicism in learning to do without. 

Pleasure is our only antidote for the pains that come as sure as babyteeth.  On the day my doctor confirmed an early miscarriage, I left the clinic dazed, clubbed by grief.  My then-husband insisted that we stop at a convenience store so that he could buy me my idea of pure and perfect krap:  corn chips, coconut bars, and a stack of fashion magazines.

I found myself grinning as I chose the meal of the bereaved.  Is that a lousy, superficial perspective?  Um, no.  It was ingenuous and brilliant.  Of course, I ultimately spent day after day with so many tears running down my face that my cheeks had chapped red lines from the salt.  I thought my body would turn to dust from lost water.  Pleasure doesn't stop pain for a moment; it just delivers balance.

Kids know about pleasure and we teach them to feel shame for it.  As a playroom volunteer in a children's hospital, I saw a bald-headed boy in a rainbow wig.  About nine years old.  He was being allowed a pleasure that he could have enjoyed any day of his childhood.  But only because he was dying—or trying not to—only because he'd achieved a sufficiently impressive level of pain, was he allowed to enjoy something as benign as rainbow hair.

What are we thinking?!

This is how strong our suspicion of pleasure is.  It isn't that we fear all social systems will fail in a pleasure-affirming world, it's that we fear we will come apart.  The world will go on without us and we'll be lying on an opium mat, wasting away from indolence.  Yup.  Some among us will.  The same ones who always have:  The ones who don't have the spiritual skill of pleasure.

It’s a discipline.  It takes daily acquaintance with pleasures minor and miraculous, as a sorceress would learn to use a powerful potion with care and benevolence.  And until we're all taught properly, it will be the people whose lives most need the balance that pleasure brings, who will be least likely to get it.  They suffer from a binge mentality that truly makes pleasure their enemy, even as they feel it's their only friend.

Pleasure is all about balance.  It's the helium we're given to go with the concrete socks.  If we choose not to use it, if we're ashamed to use it, ashamed to be caught smiling on the day after the miscarriage, ashamed to be rocking out in the hearse on a sunny day, ashamed to be welling with desire at our beloved in public—then when the inevitable blows come, how will we know how to care for ourselves?  Will we choose stoicism, as though the cure for pain is to proudly refuse pleasure?—in effect, trying to convince the world that we actually don't know the difference?

Our duty is to squeeze the juice from every moment.  It's neither debauched and libertine, nor saccharine and infantile.  It's why we're here and if we miss the scenery, it's because we've spent the trip with our back to the window, pretending we don't know why we bought the ticket.


Tomatoes on the coffee table
in the sun, where they belong

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