What Place Does Pleasure Have in an Emergency?
Written by Emily Athena
If you live anywhere on the west coast, chances are you are or were close to a fire or socked in with smoke. To our nervous system, this is an emergency. Being afraid or uneasy is an appropriate response to these conditions. We are evolutionarily hardwired to engage with (fight), run away from (flee), or disassociate from (freeze) threats, and fires and smoke are most definitely threats to our survival.
However, at this very moment most likely you are somewhat OK, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this. While you might know that intellectually, your body could still be on high alert. How do you tell your body that despite these dangerous conditions, you are OK?
There are more nerve pathways running from the body to the brain than the brain to the body, which means that telling yourself you are OK via speech or thought is not the most efficient way to communicate with your body. Most bodies respond more readily to changes in feeling. Then the question becomes, how do you change how you feel during a time of emergency?
3 ways: External orientation, body attention, and pleasure!
First, look around. Let your eyes leave the screen and wander through the space you are in. Can you see that despite what’s happened, your current surroundings are a safe place to be? Let your eyes register what is safe and pleasant about where you are. Take your time with this. You can even name the safe things in your environment to yourself (soft blanket, green houseplant, tea kettle, etc). Do you notice any changes to your breath, body, or thoughts by simply looking around? External orientation informs your body that in this exact moment, you are safe where you are.
Being vigilant about staying informed is an appropriate response during an emergency, but it can get overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, see if you can take a mini-break from the information hunt and instead notice your body.
- Can you feel your body?
- Can you feel your lower body?
- Can you feel the effect of gravity on your body or maybe where your body makes contact with the support beneath you or ground below you?
- Can you feel a place or sensation in your body that feels pleasant? If not pleasant, neutral?
Focus on that for as long as your attention will let you. Again notice if there are any changes in your breath, body, or thoughts by doing this. Maybe all you feel is grief. That’s OK. Can you feel the aliveness in feeling such a profound emotion and perhaps the relief of releasing tears if that’s what wants to happen?
Taking in even the smallest bits of pleasure makes more space within us to handle adversity. It strengthens our wherewithal to withstand stress. What stress drains in us, pleasure replenishes.
Pleasure is anything that feels good. Think about the simple, embodied, everyday pleasures that are readily available to you. Orient toward those things that bring you more in touch with the feeling of pleasure in your body as opposed to numbing out and escaping. You probably already experienced this by looking around your space and noticing your body. Some other examples include laughter from watching comedy, connecting with loved ones, helping out or volunteering, sharing a meaningful conversation, smile or hug, cuddling, listening to your favorite music, dancing, positive imagery, eating your favorite food, self-pleasure, sex, etc.
All of it counts, even 10 seconds of feeling a little bit better than terrible is a respite for your nervous system. Engaging in pleasure is not selfish, frivolous, or escapist. You do not need to do anything to deserve it. Pleasure is a healing resource and a necessary part of living through an emergency. Engage with it and gently encourage others too as well. Our communities will be stronger for it, for when we are connected to pleasure we are kinder, more present, and more available to those around us.