Being Present With Pain, Normalizing Pleasure, and Mastering the Art of Resilience

Being Present With Pain, Normalizing Pleasure, and Mastering the Art of Resilience

Anna Keller

Contributing Writer

alkeller@goshen.edu

 

Palms resting against the surface of a gentle stream, dancing, embracing a loved one, a home cooked meal, the first few warm rays of sun after a long winter. All of these things have something in common: receptivity.

 

Receptivity requires being vulnerable enough to allow a sensation to permeate our being. When the body is used to stress, trauma and overstimulation it can be difficult for us to view that vulnerability as safe.

 

I think that it’s uncomfortable for people to publicly discuss things that feel good because of the stigma that pleasurable experiences are shameful. There’s also a misconception that pleasure is always synonymous with sex. It’s not.

 

I see non-sexual pleasure as the solace we seek in food, art, music, literature and nature. We rely on these things to get through a bad day, week, year. Yet, we often forget to slow down, savor and experience life.

 

As a community, we place a lot of importance upon productivity and tend to view being as a leisurely act — not as a necessity.  Sometimes the best thing we could possibly do is absolutely nothing. Even if just for a minute.

 

However, it’s especially hard to be okay with feeling good in a world that is broken and hurting. Most times after reading the news, feeling good feels bad and that’s probably a normal human response.

 

My boyfriend recently reminded me that to be able to look away from the pain that you do not directly experience is a privilege that not all can afford. It also says a lot about the state of our world that freedom is not free.

 

Western society is oriented around hard work, but at what cost and who pays for it? Let’s not forget America’s history of profiting off of slavery, as well as stealing the land of Indigenous people, and how those histories have been perpetuated to this day.

 

How the criminal justice system is a modern day continuation of slavery, how I.C.E. camps at the border resemble WWII concentration camps and how fast fashion brands like Forever 21 break child-labor laws for profit. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

How do we acknowledge all the grossness of the world and at the same time foster space for things that rejuvenate us so that we can keep fighting to dismantle our collective mess? I guess it starts with accepting that the question is too complex for there to be one right answer.

 

Choosing to be present with both pain and pleasure are forms of radical resistance. I’m not talking about that fake-enlightenment-think-no-bad-thoughts kind of “presence.”

 

I’m talking about when you try to meditate and your arm itches like crazy all of a sudden, when you remember every embarrassing thing you’ve ever said, when you consider all the people you’ve hurt and decisions you regret.

 

I’m talking about being in THAT mental swamp and not attempting to run from it. If we can’t face our own internal chaos, we are not going to be prepared to be present with chaos in relationships, politics, social justice, etc. To me, that is why the personal and the political will always be inseparable.

 

This semester I am taking Personal Violence and Healing, taught by Regina Shands Stoltzfus. During the first week, we each had to create a “Resiliency Plan,” which Stoltzfus has used to replace self-care, a practice that has been popularized to the extent that it is starting to lose its meaning.

 

Self-care is often watered down to trendy face masks and Chipotle. Which, don’t get me wrong, have their place, but are examples of how it has become about what you can buy to feel better, instead of how you can regularly practice supporting your mental health without spending money.

 

I used to have an aversion to the word “resilience.” I thought it meant that you just had to tough it up, put on a brave face and ignore pain.

 

I now understand resilience to be the courage it takes to look directly at the pains of your life, the pains you inflict onto others and the pains others experience that are foreign to you — to honor those pains, hold them, empathize with them, listen to them, and grow from them.

 

It’s okay to feel pain and it’s okay to feel pleasure. Both are necessary, and finding the balance between the two is a lifetime’s work.

 

Take the time to rest, to reflect, to feel, to connect and to recenter, in whatever ways you can and with the resources available to you. I have found these practices to be the keys to my own resilience.

 

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