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Our capacity for embodied pleasure depends on our ability to receive, which is like a muscle that can atrophy if it’s been habitually contracted. A learned sense of unworthiness can act as a barrier against our well-being, keeping us from opening to the beauty that’s all around us. Whether it’s our ability to receive positive feedback and support, or to expect things to work out in our favour, we may be distrustful of goodness even when it stands on our doorstep. But this doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. With practice, we can learn how to welcome beauty and receive pleasure wholeheartedly.

With the expanded capacity to receive comes the awareness of how long one has lived constricted. How long one has felt unseen. How long one has hidden their tender parts away from hostility and invalidation. Imagine the enormity of grief and gratitude that flow in simultaneously, stretching the receiving muscle. As the poet Nikki Giovanni says, “We must learn to bear the pleasures as we have borne the pains.”

Bearing the pleasure means beginning to invite a gentle exploration of love into those jumpy places that anticipate pain, expect abandonment, and brace for danger when it’s no longer there. Instead of dismissing or armouring our vulnerability, we must begin allowing life into those areas that have been cordoned off in self-preservation. We must acclimate, often through grief, to the life-giving nature of love.

For the person with a lifelong habit of contraction from receiving, a skillfully-landed generosity can break the husk on the heart and release the grief of how long they have survived without their needs feeling seen. But know that this grief is the sign of healing, the opening of those places which for too long have been declining love. There is a deadening that can set into the heart that has borne too much pain. When a situation becomes too shocking or painful to bear, we may develop a chronic sarcasm or minimizing attitude that says, “Oh yeah, that’s nothing new.” But over time, this protected way of being can have a sterilizing effect on the entirety of one’s feeling alive.

Coming out of numbness and back into feeling can be initially painful and jarring, like blood returning to a sleepy limb—but those pins and needles are a sign of life returning. The undamming of tears in your unfelt places are what Gibran calls “the pain of too much tenderness,” but this is a healing grief that restores fertility to your soil. 

But don’t bow your head too long in the river of despair. Its undercurrents are strong and may pull you into always travelling downstream. Make a choice against its worship. Thank it in earnest for the softening it makes of the hard ground in you, for the vitality it ushers into the stale riverbed of unfeeling, bracing, and holding. But know the true altar of your worship is with the love that broke you open.

Worship at the altar of your being supported. After all, you are the receiver of too many generosities to count. Count them anyway. As Wordsworth wrote, pleasure “is an acknowledgment of the beauty of the universe…a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man…”Even thinking about pleasure brings pleasure. At any given moment we can attune ourselves to well-being, which is a tributary of belonging. It is that place in our hearts where we are grateful for all that we’re receiving and, for a moment, want nothing more.

Toko-pa Turner, Excerpt From “Belonging.”