Pleasure

This is an excerpt from Chapter 24 of "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible" by Charles Eisenstein.

"Pleasure, remember, is among other things the feeling we get from satisfying a need. The more powerful the need, the greater the pleasure. To follow this principle requires, first, accepting that our needs are valid and even beautiful. And not just our needs, but our desires as well, coming as they do from unmet needs. Hold your breath, and your need for oxygen generates a desire to breathe. Stay too long at a dull job, and your need to grow will generate a desire to break free of limitations. Society tries to confine or divert that urge to break free, channeling it toward something inconsequential like drunkenness, video games, or bungee jumping, but what are these pleasures next to the exuberant expansiveness of real freedom?

To trust pleasure is to controvert norms and beliefs so deep that they are part of our very language. I have already mentioned the equation of “hard” with “good” and “easy” with “bad.” The fact that words like “selfish” and “hedonist” are terms of disparagement speaks to the same basic belief. But the logic of interbeing tells us that among our greatest needs are the needs for intimacy, connection, giving, and service to something greater than oneself. Meeting these needs, then, is the source of our greatest pleasure as well.

Pleasure and desire are a natural guidance system that directs organisms toward food, warmth, sex, and other things that meet their needs. Are we to imagine that we are exceptions to nature’s way? Are we to imagine that we’ve graduated past that guidance system, moved on to a higher realm in which pleasure is no longer ally, but enemy? No. That is a thought form of Separation. The guidance system of pleasure works in us too. It does not stop at the basic animal needs of food, sex, and shelter. In all its forms, it guides us toward the fulfillment of our needs and desires, and therefore to the unfolding of our potential.

To trust it again, after all these centuries, is a journey that might begin, for those of us who are most alienated from it, with the conscious, deliberate fulfillment of whatever trivial pleasures are available, building the habit of self-trust. As that muscle of discernment grows stronger, we can use it to choose greater and greater pleasures, which correspond to the fulfillment of deeper and deeper desires. It is for good reason that hedonism has always carried a faintly subversive air. To choose pleasure, even the most superficial, and to embrace and celebrate that choice, is to set in motion a process that upends the Story of the World. Eventually, the superficial pleasures become tedious and unsatisfying, and we move on to the kind of pleasure we call joy.

To follow this path strikes at the heart of the program of control, and outrages the intuitions of anyone affected by that story. Images come to mind of the consequences of the wanton pursuit of pleasure: rape, sexual abuse, overeating, shooting heroin and smoking crack, sports cars and private jets … for the sadistic there is even the pleasure of torturing and killing. Surely, Charles, you can’t be serious in advocating the pleasure principle. Surely, it must be tempered with moderation, with balance, with self-restraint.

I am not so sure. For one thing, let us ask, how many people ever really pursue the pleasure principle? How often does anyone pause before a decision and honestly consider, “What would really feel good to me? What action right now would truly be a gift to my self?”? I am advocating a dedication to pleasure that is almost unknown to us. Perhaps pleasure isn’t quite the right word for it; perhaps I should use the word joy, except that I want to emphasize that pleasure and joy are not two separate things, the first getting in the way of the second, but, rather, are on a continuum. Bring to mind a moment of real joy or connection, a moment at the bedside of a dying loved one, perhaps, or that breakthrough moment of forgiveness melting away a decades-long enmity. I am remembering the time I encountered a doe in the woods, and we stood, just a few feet apart, looking at each other. And I am thinking of my eight-year-old son Philip, looking long and innocently at me this morning as I dropped him off at school, saying out of the blue, “Dad, I love you.” You have experienced moments like these: the joy of connection, the momentary dissolution of separation. Bring one to mind, and compare it to the feeling of binging on cookies, looking at pornography, or lashing out in anger. Based on what feels the very best, what would you choose? Which of these is the best gift to your self?

Can you see that our notions of selfishness and restraint have been turned on their heads? Can you see the enormity of the crime that has been perpetrated upon us, cutting us off from our guidance toward Reunion?"

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