Have you ever been enjoying some experience immensely and then suddenly found yourself holding back? Perhaps you’ve felt guilty to be experiencing such pleasure? Or maybe you’ve suddenly felt what Brené Brown calls ‘foreboding joy’—our tendency to rehearse tragedy when we struggle to fully experience our joy.
Many of us have a rather complicated, perhaps even conflicted, relationship with enjoyment. We long for moments of true enjoyment. We want to be able to enjoy the goodness in our lives fully. We want to be able to lose ourselves in playtimes with our children, or the smell of flowers, or awe at a thunderstorm. We watch our dogs run with abandon and such obvious pleasure and we can’t help but laugh, even as we wish that we could know such pure, unadulterated enjoyment. But when we get opportunities to allow pleasure to overwhelm us and fill our souls we somehow find ourselves holding back.
I can’t remember who said this, or where I found this quote, but I’ll never forget the words: ‘I may have become a clergyman if all the ones I knew didn’t look so much like undertakers.’ This was, of course, written at a time when undertakers had a reputation for being dark and humourless people because their lives and work were so caught up with death. The point was to reflect the extent to which religion was considered something that lacks any real capacity for pleasure and enjoyment. For many people that perception has not changed.
Jesus declared that he came to bring human beings fullness of life. Yet the religion that claims his name is so often associated with a life that is anything but abundant. Too many Christians come across as joyless, stern, brittle, judgemental, and legalistic. In all the decades that I have been a member of church communities, I never once heard a sermon or a teaching about the value of pleasure or how we can maximise our capacity to enjoy life. How can we possibly claim to be seeking to be fully alive without these important truths to guide us?
A PLEASURE-FILLED SPIRITUALITY
I suspect that, in religious circles, there is a deep suspicion of pleasure—which is why so much that brings pleasure is either forbidden or strongly controlled by churches. I have often heard it said that we are only supposed to find joy in Jesus and not in the things of ‘the world.’ But Jesus never actually said that. My reading of the Gospels is that Jesus taught us how to fully enjoy all the goodness that the world offers. For Jesus, it was never about Jesus. It was always about Life with a capital ‘L’.
What would it take for you to see your spirituality as a journey into deeper enjoyment and pleasure? In the last two weeks, we’ve been exploring what abundance really is, and how to seek and receive abundance more intentionally. But abundance is useless if we can’t actually enjoy it. And, more importantly, we are far more able and willing to share abundance when our lives are filled with joy than when we are depressed or lifeless.
I expect that there will be many readers who will resist the idea of enjoyment and pleasure being legitimate goals in spiritual practice. If that’s you, I encourage you to interrogate that resistance and challenge it. But if you’re ready to embrace pleasure and enjoyment as part of your quest to experience fullness of life, read on!
EMBRACING PLEASURE, CLAIMING ENJOYMENT
We do not need to accumulate lots of stuff, be insanely wealthy, or be living a life of opulence to embrace pleasure, enjoyment and abundance. Often the opposite is the case. I know too many stories of people who have a life of wealth and power who are miserable and unable to enjoy their riches.
The gift of spirituality is that it frees us from the illusion that abundance and enjoyment require material wealth or specially privileged circumstances. Rather, a healthy spirituality opens our eyes and hearts to see the abundance that can be found in the most humble of situations. It is often our over-abundance of choice that robs us of our capacity to enjoy. This is why simplicity often leads to greater pleasure. And when we learn to enjoy what is right in front of us, to find pleasure in simple things, that’s when we really experience abundant life.
So how can we practice enjoyment more intentionally? I’m so glad you asked! Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Slow down. Our most intense experiences of pleasure never come when we rush through them. Pleasure requires us to lose ourselves in the moment, let go of everything but the experience, and slow down to truly savour the thing that we enjoy. So many spiritual practices, like stillness, meditation, and listening, teach us to slow down and they can all help us to get better at enjoyment.
- Be intentional. When we have learned to slow down, we can then become more intentional in our enjoyment. This means that we can ground ourselves in the moment, be more present and mindful, and engage more deeply with whatever goodness we may be experiencing.
- Lose the guilt. When we start to lose ourselves in pleasure, that’s when our guilt can kick in. We begin to feel that too much enjoyment is sinful and that we need to hold back and get serious again. This is especially the case if we have strong religious programming to overcome. But in these moments it can be helpful to remember that genuine pleasure (not addiction, which isn’t pleasurable at all) is a divine gift to be enjoyed to the full. And then we can lose the guilt and dive more deeply into the joy and the life it brings.
- Repeat. Finally, if we seek an abundant life, we will need to return often to the things and experiences that we truly and thoroughly enjoy. It may sound strange, but scheduling times of pleasure and enjoyment can be a great way to stay connected with what brings us to life. And it helps to elevate enjoyment to an authentic spiritual practice.
WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE?
How do you respond to the idea of embracing pleasure and enjoyment as part of your spirituality? Do you experience the connection between enjoyment and abundant life? How do you nurture your capacity for pleasure in your own life? What would you add to the list above and what would you change?
I can’t wait to hear your suggestions for living an abundant life filled with real pleasure and whole-hearted enjoyment!
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