The Work of Pleasure

This is the third year I’ve travelled to the Big Island of Hawaii to facilitate a woman’s retreat. As I write this I’m sitting in a sports bra with some sweaty shorts on, underneath a big fan. We’re on “time off” this afternoon. Some of the women have gone to the beach to swim,  one is napping in a hammock and my roommate actually just kicked me out of our shared room so she could masturbate…

Basically, it’s a bunch of friends (some of whom have done the retreat every single year) coming together to do yoga, swim with turtles, feel our feelings, create rituals, go deep, and eat organic food pulled fresh straight the garden every morning.

My favourite part is that there are side-by-side outdoor claw foot bathtubs, so you can lie under the stars with a friend, waxing poetic about life as the palm fronds wave above your head.

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Sounds amazing right?

Except every single year, in the weeks leading up to this adventure, I lie in bed and writhe with anxiety about going. I start panicking and I can’t take a deep breath.

1. Because I have a 2.5-year-old and a 15-month-old kid. (What kind of monster leaves their babies? Even worse, what kind of monster leaves their partner alone with two babies?)

2. Also, I don’t deserve it.

3. Also, life is hard, so this trip doesn’t make sense.

4. Also, my family might die while I’m away from them.

5. Also, how dare I imagine being so carefree?

6. Also, I’m selfish.

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These are the thoughts that keep me up, staring at the ceiling at night.

So I go to my therapist to talk about it and she gets me to do something really weird.

She takes 6 scarves and for each dark thought I have, and one at a time, she drapes the fears over my shoulders and head.

Soon, I can’t see from underneath the fabric, it’s hard to breathe. My chest constricts.

She asks me what my body wants to do.

I drop to the ground and roll up into a tiny ball.

“It’s too much work,” I say. “I shouldn’t go.”

“And now what?” she says.

“It’s hot under here, my face is sweating.”

“Mmmmhmm…”

I stick out a leg to catch some air “the fabric stinks. I’m bored.”

“Yep.”

I sit up and 3 of the scarves fall off my head onto my shoulders. That’s much better. The weight is less and I can take a breath.

“But you know, even with all the reasons not to, I still want to get on that plane,”  I say.

“Okay,” she says “why?”

“Because…I guess…it takes discipline to let myself feel good. It’s easy to stay at home and know that I don’t deserve pleasure- it’s much harder to groove out time for it, on the regular, it’s hard work to be that nice to myself.”

I pull a scarf off.

“I know this is obnoxious and I’m lucky to be having the problem but there’s a part of me that cannot disregard my longing. Let’s suppose that every single person on the planet does deserve to feel ridiculous pleasure at least once a year, if I actually get to, I will not waste my time indulging shame…”

She tries to interject but I keep going.

“…And if I was talking to a friend, I would tell her that “remembering to feel good is an important job. Lightening up has rigor, and resting takes practice…”

Another scarf falls off.

“…I’m going to work this week. My task is called “chilling out” and it’s a motherfucking full-time contract…”

And another one drops. I can see through the gauze now.

“…because life is hard but when I float in the water and hear the coral crack I remember that it can be so, so easy.”

“And don’t deny that dropping the roles we carry as mothers and partners and workers, traveling across the ocean to talk about meaningful shit, braid each others hair and touch each others bodies is a feminist act. It’s radical to not be who we think we are for a week”.

Now I stand up and my scarf session comes to a climax.

“And the real secret is, this effort it takes to practice pleasure makes me a better human. It’s crucial to my sanity that once a year, even though it’s not good timing and I could save the money to fill a cavity, and my family needs me- to get the hell out of town, for all our sakes”.

This is my heart and guts work.

It’s stressful being generous with yourself isn’t it? It feels almost impossible. And deeply uncomfortable.

It’s so anti-culture I’d call the act- revolutionary. Can you even imagine it?

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Don’t hate me. Join me.