• Sarah Wilson

The Lost Art of Pleasure in Transmuting Hatred

Scene . . .

A couple that’s been together for a while are having an intense fight

The blood between them is reaching a boiling point

Someone yells

Fists clench

Their bodies draw closer

This closeness somehow shifts the dynamic

They move from fighting to intense lovemaking

The lovemaking brings them both into deep pleasure

The same conflict that was precoitally stuck in a loop

Now has renewed space to move and shift

There are many ways I could slice and dice why this scene is so common that it’s become practically cliché. I’m most interested in exploring the power of Pleasure in transmuting hatred.

I see hatred, and the shame that stems from it, as contagious. I have been in many situations where I am in a light mood and suddenly something I say or do seems to trigger the person I’m with. Next thing I know they are shooting a prickly comment, look, or something more subtle my way. It can be directly vicious and insulting or be veiled behind social constraints that leave me wondering if I’m crazy for feeling the way I do. Like an arrow, it pierces me, and I can feel it in my gut. Ugh. It’s so uncomfortable. I want to crawl out of my skin . . . numb . . . or vacate. Depending on the situation, my responses have varied in essence from “Ouch that hurt,” to “I’m outa here,” to “Fuck you too.”

I’ve spent quite a bit of energy in the past trying to figure out where this hatred comes from . . . how it started between me and that person . . . and who it realllly belongs to. And while this can sometimes be a useful exercise, I’ve found it more useful to focus on transmuting it once it is in my space. Because the reality is, now it’s in my body . . . now I’m uncomfortable. As an act of radical self-love, rather than play the game of who can push the hatred off them and onto another best . . . what I like to call hate volleyball . . . I’m more interested in how I can transmute this hatred into Love.

I love this way of dealing with hatred because in it, the buck stops with me. We’ve all seen images that first popularized the concept of a train of hatred. They portray a parent’s boss yelling at them, then show the parent coming home and yelling at their kid, then the kid goes and picks on another kid, or yells at their dog etc etc. What if, in these chains of hatred, just one of those people breaks the chain by transmuting it? Then it doesn’t get passed on . . . fails to ripple out. (And this change of course, opens up the new possibility of rippling Love out instead . . . which is, thankfully, also contagious!) What if we could use techniques like this to begin to truly address the major issues that divide our human family like classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, gender biases, neuroconformity, and every other damn thing that keeps us spending our energy on hatred . . . of each other and of our planet.

Perhaps it’s not necessary to explain why a loving experience is preferable to a hateful one? There is, of course, a level of reality where love and hate are one, where both are made of the same sacred ingredients. I deeply appreciate touching in to this nondual experience of reality. And I am also a passionate advocate of choosing to experience and make more Love in this life whenever possible . . . choosing to feel good whenever possible. I still have voices in my head that tell me that choosing to feel good is selfish or unproductive. And, at this point, I have learned enough to know that when I feel good, when I am in Love, when I Love myself, I also am more compassionate, generous, and loving toward other people and my environment. I also more readily have energy and motivation to be of true (not self-sacrificial) service to my community. Really, I become Love. When I love myself, I spread love. When I hate myself, I spread hate. I believe this pattern is a fundamental human truth and is why I whole-heartedly agree with Jennifer Posada when she says, “the world will be changed by people loving themselves, one at a time.”

For me, this dream includes communities learning self-love together, intentionally engendering self-love in one another. Because true self-love is contagious, the potential for transformation of hatred into love when cultivated together in a group, is even more vast. Similarly, there are some cases where self-hatred can use the same words, expressions, and exterior appearance of self-love. Many of us have been traumatized by a wolf in sheep’s clothing and as a result, have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Let us not throw out self-love simply because some people have used the concept of it falsely! To me, the difference between true self-love and anything else that might be pretending to look like self-love, is that true self-love is, at it’s deepest level, inherently loving and empowering to others. I have experienced direct nourishment from being around someone shining in their Love. I have also experienced another’s Love to be loving like the dark goddess archetype, by provoking me to look at things in my life that were are getting in my way of being authentic. Those experiences were challenging for me but ultimately led me to being more self-loving and more empowered. The best readout I rely on for whether I’m in the presence of true love or not is my body. I notice whether my body tenses or relaxes when I’m around someone (Jennifer Posada has a great practice for tuning in to the body to make decisions) and I trust that my body will lead me toward what I need. Sometimes things can get wonky and the person who carries this self-hatred cloaked in the appearance of self-love has a very potent or penetrating energy that makes it hard for me to listen to or trust my body. In these instances, again, support from another individual or group grounded in supporting me on my self-love journey has helped me parse these confusing energies out, and ultimately support me in staying in a state of Love. Importantly, we never have to face these topics alone!

(In my practice I offer exactly this kind of support on a sliding scale. I never turn anyone away.)

When I think about what I need and how my body guides me away or toward hatred, I consider how engaging with hatred or love has affected me thus far . . .

Few of us have been taught how to love ourselves or had self-love modeled to us. Most of us have thoroughly learned how to hate ourselves though. I received subtle and direct messages of all the ways that I was not good enough from every direction I looked toward from a very young age . . . or the ways that my “good enough-ness” was conditional upon one quality or another. I’ve spent many years unwinding these toxic messages to find that place of unconditional Love within, and I’ve made wonderful and deep discoveries. And even so, I haven’t healed all those wounds. I believe this shared experience of conditional love and inherited self-hatred is what allows hatred to be so contagious. I still have self-hatred within me, so when I witness hatred or have hatred directed at me, it draws out my own hatred from my depths to be seen at the surface.

Here’s where my differing needs around hatred come in . . .

Usually when my hatred comes to the surface my patterned reaction is to make myself wrong, then to try to figure out what exactly is wrong with me, and to then attempt to appease my self-hatred by “fixing” myself . . . which typically involves some form of denial of my truth, my being, my selfhood. Throughout my life, I’ve created many shells of protective identities this way. Every now and then I can express my hatred by lashing out or trying to make others feel small too. No matter which way I express my hatred, I invariably spark more of it when I act from that place. I have noticed that my body often contracts in these situations, guiding me away from instances where I’m either creating more hatred, bouncing hatred back and forth between me and another/others (hate volleyball), or dealing with a situation or individual that I don’t presently have the skills (or group support) to transform.

However, in some circumstances, the process of having the hatred within me pulled to the surface has been really useful. My body has also guided me toward experiences where hatred has been directed at me. I have found that, in all of these instances, my experience provokes a deep hatred within me to come up from the darkness to be seen . . . and through being brought to the light of my consciousness within a container of deep work and profound support . . . ends up being especially transformative and healing for me . . . alchemizing that hatred within me into love. Each time I bring love to these dark places within me, I become more free to experience myself as the loving truth that I am . . . I become more free to engage with and experience the magic of the mystery of Life . . . I become just simply more free. I walk around lighter. Stunningly, I also expand my compassionate heart toward any that I encounter that have shared this darkness. So this process allows me to love in the face of hatred, which enhances my capacity to hold a strong container for others to love themselves.

I’ve used many strategies over the years to heal the hate within me. I believe there are infinite ways to do so. Some of the overarching categories I have engaged with that have worked for me are;

1) Body-based release: screaming, punching pillows, taking an axe to a downed log, running rapidly, etc.

2) Nature-based release: lying face down on the earth, placing my hands on a tree, standing barefoot on the earth, swimming in the ocean etc.

3) Meditative/transcendent experiences: touching in to the nondual reality that exists beyond right and wrong, weaving that perspective into my walking reality

4) External support: Loved ones, practitioners, retreats, community

5) Opening to Pleasure: can encompass any and all of the above but also brings in an openness to feeling good, to experiencing Love.

I have found all these strategies useful but I’m focusing on Pleasure here because I have found that it not only allows me to transmute hatred after I have experienced it, but it also allows me to prevent it. Have you ever been in a place where you feel so good that someone’s eruption directed at you literally breaks down at your boundary and leaves you only in a place of compassion for the eruptor? I have. Not many times. But enough that I trust that feeling realllly good makes me immune to hatred. In those instances, I don’t spend any time or energy processing the hatred. It is transmuted in the moment and the buck stops with me, without me even needing to feel it. Sometimes, my capacity for compassion in these moments even transforms the hatred in the person sending it out. Often, that person becomes disoriented at receiving genuine compassion during an episode where they have been patterned to expect to create more war. Now, I’m far from this ninja mastery of experiencing self-love and Pleasure at all times. And, I’m reaching toward it by placing Pleasure at the center of my self-care practices.

What is Pleasure to me?

So many things.

A body-based mindfulness practice.

A vibration that hums with gratitude for Life and being alive.

A state of consciousness where my senses are open and drawing me toward the dynamically shifting stimuli that feel the best to me in that moment.

An action that I take to express and amplify my self-love.

A powerfully healing and transformative energy.

The antidote to hatred.

A sensation that connects me to the lovemaking nature of Life and the creative energy of the universe at large.

A sensation that opens me to the Loving truth that I am.

A state of being that opens me to authentically being of service to my community and my planet.

Something holy and sacred (I capitalize it to emphasize its sacredness . . . which also supports me in shifting any Pleasure-demonizing energies I have inherited)

I hope to continue to add to these definitions and increase my intimacy with Pleasure!

I took a wonderful course on self-love with Jennifer Posada, called the Essential Self Love course. In it she discusses self-love and common barriers to it from many perspectives, and offers Pleasure as her favorite avenue for amplifying self-love. When I began my initial journey with getting to know Pleasure, I thought it would be a light and fluffy journey of doing more things that felt good. I had no idea the journey this topic would take me on nor did I realize that this journey would likely be lifelong. One of the most potent things I learned was that I actually didn’t know what Pleasure was. I realized that many of the things that I once thought felt good to me were actually things that I used to numb myself from feeling at all. As I started to learn what authentically pleasurable activities felt like, I next learned that these things could be pleasurable one moment and not the next. I could take any of those things and turn them into “shoulds” (I should be going for a hike because it makes me feel good) and avenues to avoid or confuse my authentic Pleasure and justify more self-judgment. I also learned that sometimes Pleasure can be “a good cry or a soft pillow under your head when you’re lying on the floor crying.” Essentially, I learned that what feels good to me in any moment is highly dynamic, dependent upon my current state and circumstances, and that learning how to be this authentic with myself was going to take practice, patience, creativity, and a willingness to experiment and be open to practically anything in order to discover true ways of bringing myself into Pleasure in each moment.

I have engaged and reengaged with Pleasure in myriad ways since then. I have come to realize its essential importance to my path and my desire to live as my uniquely Loving self. I have come to realize that for me, it is actually central to every value, belief, and way of being that constitute the authentic me . . . that it fuels my potential to actually live as my authentic Self. And yet. And yet. Even since realizing these deep personal truths, I can lose Pleasure. Walk away from it. Forget it for a time.

(Jennifer Posada’s course also discusses “pleasure resistance” and how common it is for many of us to avoid feeling good).

Luckily, I always seem to find my way back.

I am writing this piece during such a time of returning. It feels so joyous and empowering because it always leads me back to my truest me . . . to a place where I feel the most vibrant, connected, and powerful . . . even through dark times.

This time, I was able to return to Pleasure because of a conflict I recently experienced, and a sudden remembering that Pleasure was an option to transform the hatred I had experienced. I remembered with excitement and began to open to Pleasure. In this instance, I sat quietly with myself and really listened to the rain falling on the roof. I opened to how good hearing the rain felt and as I did, it felt even better. I watched the raindrops hitting the green ferns and vines outside my window. I opened to the beauty of the dazzling pink flowers that so stunningly contrasted with all the surrounding green. I allowed my awe of how the drops of rain made everything look so vibrant and sparkley. I took in all the beauty around me and really allowed it to open me. I then witnessed myself wanting to move on from gazing at that scene. I got quiet and listened to what else might feel good. I sensed that touching my soft skin would feel good. I fondled my breasts and let their softness open to me. I sensed into my shared connection with all my human family on this planet and the beauty of their bodies. I let my hands rest on my soft belly and felt the pleasure of the warmth of my own hands on my belly and the pleasure of my fingertips on a soft warm living surface. After sitting like this for about 10 minutes, I felt totally transformed. It is hard to fully encapsulate this experience in words as it touches into those places that are beyond words . . . I can say that it is absolutely a naturally derived altered state (hello free feel-good neurochemicals) and seems to be similar to how many people describe “flow states”. Just from these few moments of surrender, I went from being triggered to being in a peaceful and pleasurable state and was able to continue on with my day both without being derailed by the conflict I experienced AND with much more attention to the Pleasure available in the remainder of my day.

Through this experience, I remembered so much about why I was drawn to this path . . . this practice . . . this way of life in the first place. I remembered Pleasure’s forgotten potency.

(Note: I have been engaged in Pleasure practices for years now. Sharing the story above offered a beautiful milestone for me in noting how easeful and natural it was for me to return to my Pleasure practice. It has taken me these years of practice to be able to learn to listen to my body like that in the moment, to discern my authentic desires from other distracting impulses/messages, and to have the courage to follow them. It has taken me these years to get to a place where I can access Pleasure so quickly and to have it penetrate me so deeply. There is infinite room for me to grow and learn more! I feel I have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. And yet I also believe that starting literally anywhere with Pleasure offers potent transformative powers.)

A few days later, I encountered a form of hatred that touched me more deeply. It triggered me enough to stay with me beyond a Pleasure practice much like the one I described above. Beautifully, my Pleasure practice and built up experience with feeling good, allowed me to be clear with myself that something in me wasn’t feeling good and needed some attention. I took another few moments in a sensory-based Pleasure practice and then from this space, was guided to some healing words to utilize in that moment. The hatred I experienced had the essence of “you are wrong/broken/toxic not being perfect all the time.” This is a vibration of hatred that I know well and carry within me. The words that came through were “I am doing my best. I trust that I am Love. I trust that this Love is perfect exactly as it is.” These words were exactly what I needed to hear as reciting them a few times to myself dissolved the tightness in my belly. I also felt guided to add these words, or something like them, to my toolbelt for future situations when I find myself bathing in this “lack of worthiness/you are not enough” brand of hatred.

In this instance the Pleasure practice both honed me in on when my self-love was compromised and allowed me to be naturally guided to a practice that would bring me back to it. It also helped me transform this shadowy exchange into Love as my next interaction with the person who triggered this hatred within me was deeply reciprocally loving and supportive, in a way that was even more intimate and connected.

(Another note: My easefulness in accessing guidance like the healing words I received above has also taken me years of cultivating my capacity to listen to my intuition. Discussion of that work in more depth is for another time. I will share, however, that I began opening to Pleasure years after I began learning to cultivate my intuitive listening. My Pleasure practice naturally deepened and blasted open my intuitive gifts and provided a much more loving and grounded container within me to do this kind of work. My Pleasure practice also offered a strong foundation and guidance system upon which I could learn to truly trust this internal guidance.)

Pleasure has been forgotten as a result of being anything from demonized to made irrelevant. In forgetting it, we have lost one of our species’ most potent tools in navigating this wild human journey. We’ve forgotten it so much that it seems counter intuitive to use it as the truly transformative practice that it is. It’s been relegated to a thing that’s “nice if you can make time for it.” I’m here to share with you that it’s so much more than that. I’m here to share with you that it’s as transformative as any other practice you’ve heard of. I’m here to emphasize that if you have any tingle that this way could be for you . . . to go for it . . . in any way you can . . . however big or small. It is totally fucking worth it and will take you places you never thought you’d go.

(If you have no idea where to start, check out the course I mentioned above. It’s life changing.)

I can’t tell you what your Pleasure feels like and vice versa. I can advocate for us all to have the right and the space to discover these sacred truths. I can be your cheerleader on this journey. I can demonstrate my trust in our truly authentic Pleasure being inherently loving and empowering to us and to others. And I can continue to trust my body, and my senses rooted in her, to help guide me toward whatever my true Pleasure is in that moment. I can reach toward modeling this way of being. May I have the courage to continue to experiment, to open to going deeper, to be gentle with myself when I meet resistance, and to lovingly return every time I forget.

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