By Nadia Diamante
What do you consider to be pleasure? In the spiritual world, that word is often relegated into sensual or material experiences. The consumption of delicious food, acts of physical love, or debaucherous nights. Most spiritual practices recognize that the first two are acceptable in moderation. But moderation isn’t a component of unlimited pleasure; maximizing the feelings of ecstasy are. So how do we find the personal freedoms to fall into pleasure without rejecting our spiritual core? Is it about moderation, or intuitively finding that internal rhythm that allows us freedom to explore without giving up on our ethical and moral obligations to each other?
Around a day like July 4th, the Independence Day of the United States of America, this is an even more poignant question. Our country was built upon the tenets of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But only a certain demographic of people are allowed these “inalienable rights.” People of wealth, people of a certain class, race, or status. So how can we consciously free ourselves, when many are not free?
The need for pleasure and happiness is an innate biological need in all of us, and part of pleasure is feeling free to do what makes us happy. Pleasure is liberation from earthly and spiritual binds. Some people find that in a bottle of wine; others find it in a meditating. Some in activism; others in acting out.
The goal is the same, but the differing strategies towards pleasure can seem damaging or selfish. It is good to remember that almost all problems, which is what people consider hedonistic pleasures, are a solution to pain. Pleasure should not be a solution to pain. It should be a striving towards freedom. It should be about being your most authentic, holy, sacred, beautiful and happy self.
Psychologists say that if you are constantly searching for pleasure, in and of itself, without any recognition of other people and your impact on them, you will never truly be happy. You will be bored with everything that makes you happy. The only way to truly honor pleasure, and therefore attain freedom, is to honor pain as well. If one person is impoverished of basic human pleasures, than all people are.
One might say that the true path to pleasure is through purpose. And through purpose we find both our pleasures and our virtues.
Pursuing pleasure as a way forward for emotional freedom can be a very tenuous, temporary road if we do not balance our pleasure with virtue. We are just working from a system where we stop focusing on deprivation as a way to spiritual enlightenment, and work with both the light and the dark. Release of ego and everyday pleasure. The guru. This is what I consider the nature of pleasure: balance.
Epicurious, an ancient Greek philosopher says, “We recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good.”
Our tendency when we receive pleasure, is to try and increase our pleasures. But we must remember that as we increase our pleasures, we may also too increase our pains. Without risk there is no reward and risk harbors moments of shadow. While pursuing the pleasure of ourselves, our liberated selves, where “Happiness is our birthright” as Yogi Bhajan says, we must be prepared for everything, every feeling in the pursuit of pleasure and freedom. And we must be prepared to stand up for the pleasures of other people.
One new facet of hedonism, a word so often applied to lavish nights of partying or material consumption, is called altruistic hedonism. Altru-hedonism is “the idea of maximizing one’s own pleasure by seeking to help others.” When you find unlimited enjoyment in acts of service to others, you can find increase your own sense of pleasure and purpose in this world.
Charity doesn’t have to be about sacrifice; charity can about cherishing every moment of your life with gratitude and wonder.
Yogi Bhajan said “if you want to be happy, forget about yourself and serve others.” This is the ultimate source of pleasure; a pleasure of which we are all connected to and we all seek. We must free ourselves (of labels, judgement, societal programming, patterns, baggage) and forget ourselves. And in that way, we will truly be. Be ourselves. And what is true ecstasy but forgetting the self, the body and the ego, and being immersed in the consciousness of all?