I neglected to tell you about a post I wrote on addicts and our relationship to pleasure. Paganism is often celebrated as a container in which members are invited to embrace pleasure in a way that is not permitted in other religious bodies, or that is vilified in the larger cultural context. So what then, for those of us who have complicated and uneasy relationships with pleasure, sex, our bodies, and all that goes along with it?
Check it out! And let me know what you think!
Edit: As my blog is no longer hosted at Witches and Pagans, I am placing it here.
One of the main signifiers of many Pagan traditions are the way in which they seek to reframe the material and specifically the body as holy and sacred. Unlike other religions which might cast the affairs of the flesh as sinful or of a base nature, Pagan traditions seek to break up these associations and honor things like sex, desire, and pleasure. Many traditions today still do their rites naked, as a way of proclaiming their freedom from the slavery of shame modern society places on the body.
I will just put this out there: I struggle with this embrace of the body, and I suspect my history as an addict and an alcoholic play no little part in this. Addicts and Alcoholics historically have problematic relationships with our bodies. Our addictions are embodied obsessions. We experience them as physical cravings that crawl through our nervous system, scrambling our brains ability to think clearly or cogently. The fierce need to experience pleasure becomes a thirst that drowns out all other concerns, a strong steady drumbeat that gets louder and more insistent until you finally feed it. I’ve often experienced my body as a prison, a needy demanding egocentric organism that keeps my spirit-which in my ignorance I think is my TRUE self– from being truly free.
It is difficult for me to trust my body. My body seems designed to deceive me. Its way of reacting to sugar, sleep, caffeine, or anything else that can even slightly alter my mood or mind is quite startling. Pretty much immediately upon experiencing it, my body will flood me with hormones and chemicals demanding more, more MORE!!! I wonder where this leaves me when it comes to that famous in the Charge of the Goddess, “All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are My Rituals.” What does that mean for someone who has a sex and love addiction? For whom the experience of love and sex is dangerous and pathological? What does that mean for someone that has a complicated relationship with pleasure, a person for whom pleasure can cause a series of binges and non-sober behavior?
Another line that gives me pause in the Charge is the line “I am that which is attained at the End of Desire.” I don’t know what Doreen Valiente meant when she wrote this line, but this line makes me smile wryly in the same way that the Michael Jackson song “Don’t Stop Till you Get Enough” makes me smile. I’d never stop if I didn’t stop until I got enough because for an addict, there is no such thing as getting enough. And if the Goddess is what is attained at the End of Desire, then I will never attain it, because for an addict Desire never ends. We have the disease of more, and there is always more to want, more to crave.
So what can be done? I’ve found some success in working to align my “spirit” with my body so that I don’t feel so antagonistic towards my blessed embodiment. I’ve found some success in doing this with meditations that are all about achieving a felt sense of your body. The techniques and concepts outlined in Wendy Palmer’s book The Intuitive Body: Akido and the Art of Conscious Embodiment were very helpful to me. Another thing to be done is to expand our understanding of what “love” and “pleasure” mean and to begin to engage with these words in a wider way. Love can be working in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an animal shelter or spending time with your nieces or nephews. Pleasure can be the feeling of the warm sand on your hands on the beach, or the feeling of the breeze through your hair as you treat yourself to five minutes sitting in the park. The idea is that we are generous with our hearts, and that we find a way to engage with the world in a sensual way. As addicts, we have to find ways to do that which are safe for us, but it is entirely possible.
And while the attainment of the end of desire is not possible, what is possible is the attainment of the end of the tyranny of desire. And I do believe She waits there. And at every step along the way besides.