At the end of your life, you will be asked to account for the pleasure of life you refused to enjoy.
The first time I saw that quotation, I had to read it several times to make sure I had read it correctly.
Truthfully, the very idea of it did not resemble one thing I had learned about that end of life experience. I had images of standing before God on Judgement Day and hearing him read all of my lifetime of sins over a loudspeaker for all of mankind to hear. Mostly, I was worried about my mother hearing all I had done that I should not have done and those things I had left undone that I should have done.
Giving an account of the pleasures I had refused to enjoy? Really?
It gives a whole new spin to making a fearless and searching moral inventory doesn’t it?
In an adolescent buzz, most human beings might make quite a list in a hurry, I suppose, but since I had long ago entered adulthood, I chose to take this part of my inventory seriously.
Honestly, I had to begin with getting in touch with what it was that defined pleasure for me, so conditioned I was to thinking in terms of taking care of my responsibilities, doing my duty, fulfilling my obligations, doing God’s will and…..avoiding pleasure.
Stop right here. Ask yourself how you are responding to what I have written so far. Do you think this is frivolous…..a waste of time….an effort in hedonism, narcissism or any other -ism?
Our life is a succession of Paradises successfully denied.
This quotation is attributed to Samuel Beckett. The first quote was attributed to the ubiquitous Anonymous; perhaps Anonymous was too afraid to sign his name, or perhaps someone out there knows???
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As I have worked with this idea over the years, I have come to understand that underneath the avoidance of pleasure is one of those Afflictive Emotions: fear, guilt or shame, inferiority or inadequacy, hate or anger.
Refusing to experience and enjoy pleasure may indicate that I don’t trust myself to set limits or respect boundaries.
The avoidance of pleasure may also indicate a distorted view of God and the world. It may indicate a feeling that I don’t deserve to experience pleasure, delight, spontaneous joy, fun and even serenity.
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Here are some questions that have evolved for me over time to help me with this pleasure issue.
Do I even know what brings me pleasure? Do I know what it is I love to do?
Am I able to experience pleasure in the small gifts of daily life — a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the kind greeting of a stranger, the aromas of food, the festival of colors, textures and patterns, the brush of wind on my face, a warm bath at the end of the day?
Am I able to experience and celebrate the pleasure of a job well-done? Do I enjoy my abilities to do my work, express my creativity, accomplish a task, connect with a loved one?
Do I take the time and the trouble to listen to music that pleases me? Do I make time to read the books I love to read, see the friends who give me joy, cultivate my hobbies, pursue my interests, savor what to me are the good things of life? Do I take pleasure in who I am and can I be satisfied with the way I am?
Am I willing to save the money and spend the money on things I truly love — without feeling guilty?
Am I willing to do the things in which I take pleasure even if others don’t? And am I willing for my loved ones to do what they love to do without feeling jealous or burdened to like those things, too?
Am I able to know at a cellular level that I am the beloved child of God, made in his image — in whom God is well-pleased? Can I be at home with myself and be OK? Am I at home in my own skin? (And what does that mean, anyway?)
I could go on, but these questions are starters.
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Here is what I have learned, taking my pleasure avoidance inventory:
As a recovering codependent, I am responsible for my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual state of being, and that responsibility includes my responsibility to find the spiritual nourishment, the intellectual stimulation, the emotional stability and the physical practices that nurture, support and encourage serenity and peace for myself.
That responsibility for my own “wild and precious life”, to use Mary Oliver’s term once again, includes those things I enjoy that bring pleasure to me, day by day.
And when I neglect these parts of my life, especially the responsibility for pleasure, I can go off the rails into resentment, frustration, fatigue and even bitterness…..and that is when I turn to my addictive behaviors to soothe, distract and numb the pain of not getting that which is vital and even necessary to the care of my soul.
Here’s to pleasure!
Grace to you on this Second Sunday of Advent…..