I’ve dedicated countless years of my life to the practice of self care.
Or, as i am reorganising with words i feel more aligned with, (always), exploring the practice of pleasure.
…Which, as i type it, sounds ludicrous!
That is, if, like me, you squelch into cringe mode at the idea of allowing pleasure, kindness and soft, tenderness towards yourself.
It’s a practice, right?! If you’ve ever read my blog posts or Inspiration Stations, or listened to my podcast or read my Digest, or worked with me 1-1 in my coaching offerings, you might already have an idea that i talk about pleasure. A lot.
But it wasn’t obvious to me. (! 🥴)
However, the realisation that this quest started way back, has been dawning on me in recent weeks. Perhaps i can pinpoint it to the time in the year 2000 , recognising i could no longer continue as i was, trapped in the misery of an eating disorder, anxiety and depression that marked my days and nights. Held me hostage and masked the deeper feeling of powerlessness i felt, in working through grief and trauma.
Or perhaps it was in 1986, going to live with my nan full time, who is a muse of my alter ego Ethel, who i reference, um, all the time (sorry not sorry, she loves you!).
Living with my nan gave me free space to explore what being “me” meant. Exploring creating space for ecstatic pleasure, which i hadn’t touched until that moment. At that time, it looked like bedding down with a stack of books and reading constantly, blissfully, with a thirst that left me parched for more, as much as quenched me with satisfaction.
Writing too, creating worlds i wanted to see, undoubtedly influenced by feelings and victoriana dresses, willow trees, moon dials, Mayan and Incan culture, and 1970s style.
Painting just because i wanted to blend and enjoy colours and see them together on the page. The joy of hue and texture.
Pleasure also looked like a tape-to-tape recorder, where i made radio shows and held dancing and singing and playing-the-organ (yep, organ 🙃) parties with my imaginary friends…
... Just me?
I mean, this still happens my friends, (bar the organ unless, a keyboard dabble) in fact, all of the above feels relevant and lives in me, to this day, in some form. And i realise (gratefully) much of what i do for a living is inevitably fused. We talk of childhood development setting the premises for our adult lives. We get to reference what worked. What didn’t. Sometimes consciously, other times, not so much.
This 1986 safe space, or as i like to call it, “pleasurezone”, 😏, was vital testing ground for exploring my own relationship to creating spaces for others to experience joy and good feelings and empower them with tools to make that sustainable and relevant to their own lives.
Sidenote of shock and realisation - darlings, just remembered that when i started I Feel For You, i referred to it in my intro as the “aural pleasurezone”….how did i not realise the yearning to explore the pleasure principle was so deeply embedded in my cells? ok, back to inner-child pleasure work and how it lives within, always...
The importance of Pleasure as a practice
This pleasurezone was juxtapositioned with the tensions and tightness i carried from as long as i can remember.
Fear and sharp edges kept me on high alert. Hypervigilant. Aware of taking up too much space. Air. land. Worrying about everything and everyone.
Pleasure was an antidote that felt a little “naughty”. But nice. God that was cheesy… but you know what i mean. It was a place i could practice feeling safe. Creating my own safety even when my outer world didn’t reflect it.
This pleasure practice was, for so long, and sometimes still, a secret one. Because we are not supposed to speak of nice things we do for ourselves right?
Guilt plagued, and still plagues my pleasure practice.
It has been a clumsy work-in-progress.
A journey making awkward moves and dwelling in the not knowing…I am comfortable with the not knowing now though. To a certain extent.
So let me rephrase that:
I’m down for not having all the answers. I’ve never wanted to, for there would be nothing left to explore.
But i am still aware of the pressures of living whilst Black. Being a self identifying woman. Being Other. The “mixed race” thing. Having a “complicated” history and existing beyond boundaries (we all do, if we allow it). I cannot ignore the impact. And the blessing. Of all these layers of self.
So it’s a labour of love of getting free. To define my own centre, as Toni Morrison regularly referred to. Example in this legendary interview…
And so, in that, i choose to centre pleasure.
Filling up my cup so i can serve others from that place.
Showing up for myself so i can show up better for the world.
Finding the joy and ease on that journey where possible, especially in the difficult moments.
Choosing to make pleasure a part of the most difficult things. Worries about the planet. The perils of capitalism. The impact of colonialism that is at the root of everything terrible we are currently experiencing related to aforementioned worries. And so much more.
I am interested in creating spaces with community interested in building too.
Choosing how we create our own stories, realities and spaces.
That come from what we want to see and make. As opposed to being rooted only a reaction.
We get to hold space for the challenging stuff and still practice pleasure.
We contain multitudes.
Pleasure seeker, activist, explorer. Always.
And now, realising this relationship to pleasure activism is a thread which has run through everything.
All of it. Life, work, love.
It’s been a central vein.
A route to map my life by and guide me to show up for myself and Others. And i expect it will always be so.
For i recognise pleasure is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and each other.
It can of course, feel wonderful. Aligned. A presence like no other.
But i also want to credit and give space to pleasure in ways that don’t usually or traditionally ignite ideas that seem pleasurable.
Taking myself to bed on time. Issa struggle my friends, at my big age, still…
Choosing to practice shifting my state when in grief from experiencing or witnessing harm from racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other kind of abuse or oppression, in order to be able to hold space and community with Others committed to social justice and anti-racism work.
Making mistakes and being uncomfortable.
Keeping my medication on track which means of course regular blood tests which aren’t my favourite (but my blood lady is always kind and talks to me about interesting things…)
…See? All roots and routes lead to pleasure, ultimately!
Pleasure activism enables me to practice vulnerability, opens me up to experiencing love, joy, healing, community, a bigger meaning and purpose, and, feeling better. Holding space for processing, expression the journey, the miracles in the every day, and being present.
To me, this is freedom.
How Pleasure Activism
impacts my work
I’ve spent the last 9.5 years dedicated to (teaching, living and exploring) movement, somatic exploration, embodiment, art, pleasure activism with a career in teaching movement, meditation, coaching, running public events and creating spaces of various types in the UK, Norway and online, coaching, guiding and mentoring artists, creatives and brilliant beings into living their truth, getting free and inhabiting themselves with more space, joy and compassion.
And it’s my favourite thing.
Because I love to see people bloom, be themselves and remember who they are.
Stripping away layers that have felt oppressive. Limiting. Restrictive. Awkward. Uncomfortable in ways that aren’t productive. Things that made them question their brilliance. And instead reject ideas imposed on us created by systems that restrict and confine us, demanding performance disconnected from meaning, forced efficiency and, well, dull sameness. A monoculture that suppresses and constrains the beauty of our individual gifts that enable us to form powerful communities!
So my work is grounded in supporting them to make space for their unique and special sauce.
Cause sauce is more condensed than juice, right? 💦(very important reference on that here)
We do better, in this world, when we learn to embrace who we are, where we’re at right now and what we have. We can connect more intentionally and powerfully to create transformation together in our communities. To see each other, hold space for all that we are and all that we are becoming. Honouring each other, hearing each other, especially the most oppressed voices, which helps us become conscious of how we can support each other to become even more free and brilliant.
Doubt and fear and low self esteem and darkness and blocks and worrying about being enough, having the answers, being wrong, and so on, make us contract.
I want us all to feel free.
And to keep peeling off the layers.
Be forever explorers.
Refusing to submit to boxes we don’t want to be put in.
Claiming ones if we do and if that feels right for us.
But ultimately, banishing guilt about living our whole, full and beautiful selves. Embracing this life and it’s whole circumference. Beyond the lines, borders, layers and barriers that hold us back. So expand and grow - by being who we are.
A moment to honour
my Pleasure Activism lineage
I would love to take a moment to hold space to appreciate and thank those folks who came before me, or who currently live alongside me despite being within other parts of the world in parallel yet unexplainably yet beautifully synced universes.
There have been countless texts that have enabled me to hold space for this realisation and action of centering pleasure in my life and work, including:
Maya Angelou - Even The Stars Look Lonesome
in particular the chapter Art for the Sake of the Soul
With so many parts i could quote from but for today:
“We must replace fear and chauvinism, hate, timidity and apathy, which flow in our national spinal column, with courage, sensitivity, perseverance and, I even dare say, “love”. And by “love” i mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage. It is said that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue with consistency”.
Audre Lorde - The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power
Beyond the superficial, the considered phrase, “It feels right to me,” acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding. And understanding is a handmaiden which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply born. The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.
The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.
Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.
That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be
adrienne maree brown - Pleasure Activism, referencing Keith Cylar, the founder of Housing Works and the first to coin the term “pleasure activism”. the first to ever give modern language to this “thing”, this philosophy that has been a felt sense for so long and described in different ways before now.
Thank you adrienne for giving me so many “YES!” and “I thought it was just me!” mirror moments, i appreciate you so!
“What would happen if we aligned with a pleasure politic, especially as people who are surviving long-term oppressive conditions?”
my person, who via my favourite song, i would die 4u allows my need to shape shift and embrace all parts of my non-conforming desires.
Empress. Muse. Ancestor and guide.
On: love and compromise
Toni Cade Bambara
“ . . . got to give it all up, the pain, the hurt, the anger and make room for lovely things to rush in and fill you full.”
via The Salt Eaters
“I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough - and I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.”
bell hooks (about Toni Cade Bambara)
“She wanted me to remember that pleasure is political--for the capacity to relax and play renews the spirit and makes it possible for us to come to the work of writing clearer, ready for the journey.”
There are so many i could thank and reference. And resisting making (yet another) playlist but obvs will link you to further reading, watching and listening above should you feel inspired.
And on that, some words on:
Decolonising self care.
After many years of replacing “yoga and movement” in my public work practice (for reasons mentioned earlier) with other words including “self care”, i started to feel…..weary, recognising that it was growing in popularity (good, we all deserve to feel better!) but also becoming a trend which was becoming rapidly co-opted. I found myself in that space (again), conflicted.
Wanting to use language that is accessible. As for so long people asked me to explain what i meant by “self care”, as they did with “yoga” as they do with “coaching” and “djing” which is welcomed, because i feel we all benefit from exploring what we mean, and the words we choose to use. Self care was a vehicle, for a time, to remove myself from the western yogaland that i didn’t and have never felt a part of. More on that here.
I am also hyper aware that these spaces are often dominated by cis-het, able bodied white people.
And i am a beneficiary of that in some of my own intersections as a light skinned “mixed race” Black womxn. Despite acres of macro and microagressions: I am and have been paid less than my white counterparts at a yoga studio, for example. Denied opportunities (blessings in this!), experience numerous experiences of racism and sexism from my colleagues and strangers alike.
So being clear and intentional about what i do and why and for who feels incredibly important to me. (it also isn’t lost on me that this is probably because i’m asked by certain parts of society to constantly explain myself…)
Showing up for myself and others, that is, in pretty much every case in my career to date, creating my own spaces has been deemed “radical” by many. Rejecting the call (and demands) from people to conform and submit to their ideas about how i should “behave”, be unseen, present by body, hair, voice, message…and choose to be my whole self in the world anyway, cultivating community and creating transformational spaces with likeminded people (Babes, we are Powerful, know this, and understand it ruffles feathers when we come together to create the stuff we want to see in the world! )
And instead of conforming and “fitting in” (which is laughable and “foreign” in concept anyway), building my own damn tables since 1980! Defying the narrow minded views on what i was allowed to do, be and say. Challenging the dominant narratives.
And i’m so grateful, privileged and honoured to do this work. None of that would be possible without Others being open to this adventure with me. Willing to be vulnerable and to build, create and explore together. So thank you, world fam, for receiving.
I’ve long spoken and written about this weary feeling around “self care” (pls include “wellness” here for your records) due to this capitalist idea that we need to pay to experience space to feel more free.
Sidenote: There’s nothing wrong with these words i’m referencing of course, so no shade, just recognising the ever endless cycle of Indigenous and Black and Queer folx doing the work, creating movements, building, creating and making things happen, then it’s taken, stolen, appropriated, without credit, by entitled white folks co-opting and diluting the intention and message. It happens over and over and over again.
My work encourages us to resist the urge of taking care of ourselves or practicing pleasure being just another thing we have to do (and spend money on!) Something more to add to the list. In order to feel like we are doing something. Getting somewhere that we are trying to measure. Rank and order and compare.
I’m interested in how we create a scared and meaningful relationship with the things that matter, and help us feel better. Meeting ourselves where we are, and using what we have.
Radical resistance to “overdoing it” looks like the practice of inviting joy and freedom. Seeking pleasure. Making this the centre point that we are creating space for. Rather than the tight and constrictive and co-opted and copycatted reaction to something we need to “fix”.
Less doing, more being.
Because the freedom already exists inside of us, we simply need to “un-do” so we can make space for it.
Hold space for ourselves.
The pleasure principle.
(i know…every time i launch into Janet but i’ll try to curb it!…ok ok, here’s Janet getting her pleasure on)
Over to you!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about pleasure! Do you allow it? Does it come easy? How are you enabling pleasure into your world each day? What do you do? How do you allocate time and attention to it?
Love, dionne x