Last week I wrote about sprinkler heads.
Why would anyone stop to read about sprinkler heads?
Because it’s really about pleasure, and adapting to changes that block our pleasure.
Maybe for you, it’s the sound of rain on the roof that triggers a pleasure response. Or perhaps you’re drawn to the beach, where the rhythmic splash of the surf and the caress of warm breezes relaxes your soul. Some prefer the mountains, with the scent of pine, and expansive views. Still others are drawn to the city, where light and movement persist. Wherever you’ve found yourself prone to relax, forget your stressors and relish the moment, I’m writing about that spot. I’m writing about our brains associating sensations (like the sound of the sprinklers) with pleasure.
Then something happens to change the sensation.
- The sprinkler heads need replacing, and the new ones make a different sound.
- Construction of a ten-story condominium interrupts your favorite spot at the beach.
- A stuffy nose blocks you from the aroma of pine trees on your mountain hike.
- The building across the street hangs a huge neon sign that blocks your view of the city.
And the pleasure is gone.
That’s what I’m writing about! We all relate to pleasure. We want it. We need it. Without it, life is drudgery.
How do we find pleasure once it’s gone?
(That’s why you’re reading it.)
Hang with me, for this five-part series will get you there.
Today, I’m going to share with you a little more in depth about an obstacle I’m facing that is more challenging than changing sprinkler heads. It’s an obstacle that has been steadily crimping my pleasure for several years now, and one that I think many of you can relate to:
I was going to knock around the tennis ball with my husband well into my 70’s. I was going to be that 80-year old still running the 5-K. I was going to dance in sexy high-heels well into my 90’s. I was going to lift bags of potting soil and bend over to tend the garden perhaps to 100.
Something ordinary and un-interesting cut off those pleasures well before their time: aging. In this aging body, they’ve labeled it many things: fibromyalgia (which I called the boogie monster in this article), arthritis, bone spurs, bulging discs and even a non-bony union of the subtalar joint. (Geez!) Whatever they’ve called it, it’s been one thing after another, and it’s always left me with a choice between:
getting to do the active things I love or
feeling good enough to function in daily responsibilities.
I fought it for a while. When my right shoulder hurt all the time, I taught my left arm to swing the racket. Then my left shoulder hurt. With both shoulders, a hip, low back and ankle hurting, I finally left the tennis court.
Eventually, even less strenuous activities like ballroom dance, yoga, biking, walking and gardening produced pain, which crowded out the pleasure.
For many people, this is “just a part of aging.” They don’t talk much about it. They just don’t do as much as they used to do.
Does aging necessarily mean life without pleasure? Is aging a slow process of peeling back the layers of pleasure until, at last, we’re ready to say goodbye to this cruel world?
I stepped back to think on this.
What was it about that vision (of being the active older person) that gave me pleasure?
Was the pleasure response from running, playing tennis, dancing, yoga, biking, walking and gardening from their associated sensations? Was it from the pounding of my joints on the pavement? Was it from the sweat rolling down my face as I darted side to side across the clay to reach the yellow ball? Was it from seeing the same houses as I biked around our neighborhood day after day? Was it from the gentle breeze on an evening walk, or the impression of the soil between my gloved hands as I planted a new flower in the yard?
Or could that pleasure response also come from something inside? Something I perceived or believed?
When I thought about the pleasure response that came from being an accomplished, active senior, it wasn’t really about the sound, or the scent, or the tactile input. What was it, then?
Could it have been pride of achievement, of being better-than-average?
I admit I’ve enjoyed that feeling since childhood. As the fourth of six children, affirmation and attention came from being the smart one, the honor roll student and the fastest in relay races. I could recite the alphabet before my school-aged brother when I was two years old. I could out-spell all of my older siblings by the time I was eight. I did algebra from my brother’s 9th grade textbook when I was ten, and, by the time I was thirteen, I could cook, clean and budget better than my mother.
Maybe so, then. Maybe I’ve held an erroneous belief all these years, and didn’t ever notice it.
If aging—and its associated decrease in good sensations—continues this way (as it likely will), then where can pleasure be found, if not from the feeling of being better-than-average?
(It never should have been from feeling better-than-average in the first place, but that is beside the point!)
My experience with aging is just one example of how loss of pleasure can be related not only to a change in physical sensation but also to underlying perceptions or beliefs.
Maybe you had to stop and examine yourself, too. Maybe a challenge you faced persisted to the point that you had to look deeper into yourself to question why you struggled to adapt to your loss. Maybe you didn’t even realize you held erroneous perceptions or beliefs, until you had to stop and examine the matter.
Yet, here we are: a change in sensation, a change in some bodily function, a change in something beyond our control, a change that keeps us from achieving that which we believed would make us feel better– and pleasure eludes us.
What can be done?
How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again?
That’s where we’ll pick up next week.
(Oh, yes, you have to wait a week!)
In the meantime, I hope you’ll join this conversation by commenting below (in orange, where its says “Leave a comment.” What changes in sensations, or functions, or other losses seem to rob you of the pleasure response in your brain? What underlying perceptions or beliefs have you identified in between your ears?
“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC