In my twenties when I was dancing professionally I was cast in a piece about monastic life.
I know, I know, not your usual topic to explore via the artistic medium of dance. Regardless, the ten or so of us dancers went for a long weekend at a Buddhist monastery a few hours from New York City where I was living at the time, as experiential research.
I took off all my jewelry, wore a monk’s robe, got up at 4am to chant and sit in meditation for many hours each day. At the end of each simple meal of brown rice and vegetables, we were to pour a little of our drinking water into the bowl, swish it around and then drink, so that no food was wasted.
It was simple, and austere, a deliberate stripping down of bodily thirsts and cravings.
A few years later I went to a weekend workshop about pleasure and sensuality, also a short train ride from Manhattan. The first night we had homework to decorate the room we were staying in with something for every sense, as though royalty was coming — and the royalty was us.
We were then supposed to slow down, enjoy, and savor each of the things we had chosen to decorate with, as well as touch our own faces and bodies in ways we found pleasurable.
Even though it was a workshop about pleasure and sensuality (so what did I expect?), I found the homework assignment wildly confronting.
I didn’t much consider myself royalty. As a busy New Yorker and hustling dancer, I wasn’t in the habit of slowing down and savoring. I wasn’t convinced I had worked hard enough yet to “deserve” enjoying things. I was pretty sure that touching my face and my body pleasurably was for OTHER people to do (as a way of validating my attractiveness and worth) but not for ME to do.
I almost left the workshop and got on a train back to the City. But instead I bucked up and did it.
Around the room I placed incense to smell, a silk scarf to touch, music from my iPod to hear, flowers to see, figs to taste.
Toward the end of the exercise, I cried for a few minutes, realizing I had never deliberately experienced pleasure — the pleasure of my senses, of my body, of my face — for myself. It had always been for someone else. Or something I’d avoided because it thought it was bad for me. Or something I was convinced I would get around to some day.
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