Fiona Robertson: Beyond the Demonization of Desire and Pleasure

We’ve nearly all been brought up in cultures which view at least some aspects of desire and pleasure as suspect. Certainly, the monotheistic religions have had much to say on the subject. Religious leaders the world over, for hundreds of years, have preached against the evils of too much pleasure, of the dangers of giving in to our desires, be they for sex, music, dancing, food, drink, or other types of sensual pleasure. Many of us have studied aspects of Buddhism, which talks about attachment to desire being at the root of suffering. Spirituality has long been associated with asceticism – the giving up of worldly, sensual pleasures in favour of an austere but transcendent existence. We’ve been taught, on many levels, that we can’t have both; that there is a fundamental choice to be made between our lowly, animalistic, even uncontrollable desires or a higher, more worthy, existence that overcomes those desires and eschews physical pleasure.

However, whatever we repress or disown doesn’t conveniently disappear. It finds its way to the surface, often in unexpected and unwanted forms, including addiction and compulsion. Our inability to fully inhabit our bodies, our inability to fully accept our physical forms – because we’ve been led to believe that there’s something fundamentally wrong or bad about our bodies and what they want – doesn’t make us more spiritual. Denying our desires for what truly gives us pleasure doesn’t make us better people.  Far from it. Rather, it tends to make us fearful, sad, angry, unfulfilled, and leaves us searching for something more, to fill the hole that we feel inside.

– Fiona Robertson, from Beyond the Demonization of Desire and Pleasure

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