How Good Can You Stand It? / by Ariel Carson

What is your capacity for pleasure, delight, and joy in every day life? 

As a matter of survival, we are biologically wired to look for threats in any situation. We often therefore become accustomed to noticing our pain and discomfort, rather than luxuriating in the more pleasant experiences of life. The more time we spend focusing on our pain, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the more it intensifies and grows. Even when we’re committed to resting, releasing, and receiving in our yoga, meditation, or other self-care practices, there are often parts of us constantly fighting to keep our systems on alert. Our relationship to pleasure is intimately wrapped up with our capacity to experience safety. This can breed an exhausting subconscious conflict of interest, which interferes with our ability to freely inhabit a place of joy.

Photo by  M L  on  Unsplash

Photo by M L on Unsplash

When we clearly declare our intention and desire for joy, we begin to understand how we interfere with our access to it. In a somatic framework, a practitioner may help us become aware of parts of ourselves that are literally muscularly “pulling us down”, e.g. rounded shoulders and heavy arms, a tight soft palette in the backs of our mouths, or a compressed abdomen. Some methods advocate manipulating our bodies into different shapes to counteract these pulls, like pressing our shoulders back to open up our chest, or “straightening up” to suck in and flatten our bellies. Alternatively, if we keep our intention in mind while we practice releasing what muscularly interferes with our experience of joy, our bodies tend to grow into these more pleasurable postures on their own with less effort. We can further support this process by consciously becoming aware of when we deem a person, animal, place, or thing trustworthy, so we can release into our experience of it just a little bit more. 

This is a process of allowing our whole selves to organize and recalibrate around an intention. We orient towards joy. Our intention is a drop of ink in the container of water that is our mind-body-self. As it makes contact it disperses and permeates every cell. Then we practice continuing to guide our attention so that it feeds this process. Inevitably we will get distracted, our mind will draw us back toward our pain and discomfort, and we practice acknowledging these elements of experience in a friendly, compassionate, but boundaried way. Though it is necessary to work with what is heavier and darker for total healing, we learn to redirect our attention back to our joy for the purposes of interrupting habitual over-focusing on our pain. We are not ignoring or repressing the uncomfortable aspects of our own experience, but we are practicing our ability to shift our focus when we choose. We can teach ourselves how not to get stuck in the strong pull of pain. By growing our capacity to experience the positive, we actually increase our capacity to process the more challenging experiences of life as well. 


It’s not naiveté to train our selves to orient toward the positive, it’s self-preservation. Hope for the future is a necessary part of what keeps us alive and moving forward. We must embody possibility, hope, and change. As one of my dear friends says, “How good can you stand it?” 


Practice this for 5 minutes in the morning. You can add it to your constructive rest, meditation, or yoga practice. You can even try it while you’re savoring a cup of morning tea: 


First say out loud or think to yourself: 

I commit to fostering my own well-being. 

Pleasure, delight, and joy exude from every cell in my body outward into the world.

I rest peacefully in pleasure. 


Now ask:

Where in your body do you feel pleasure or joy?

When you think of a person, animal, place, or thing in your life that brings you pleasure or joy, where do you sense that in your body? And what are the qualities of this sensation? 


For some, locating a pleasurable or joyful place in your body may feel very difficult at the beginning, in which case you start by asking instead: 

 Where in your body do you feel neutral?

Where is the discomfort or pain in your body slightly less intense than the crux of it? 

Note when your mind inevitably shifts to any discomfort.

Is it actual discomfort or is it just unfamiliar sensation? If it is just unfamiliar, can you remain in that experience a little while longer? 

If it’s actually discomfort or pain, can you bring your attention back to the pleasurable or neutral place in your body?

And as you remain with your attention spotlight shining on your pleasurable or neutral place, can you allow your body to rest and release in that place just a little bit more?