Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Pleasure: The Glue That Bonds


Bonding-Attunement, Parenting

Ouch, too hot, said Goldilocks, pain. Ouch, too cold. Ahhhh, just right, she said, pleasure. As I have come to understand, mostly due to my twenty-year friendship with James W. Prescott, PhD, pleasure and pain rest at the foundation of our development as human beings. We are drawn to and seek experiences that are comforting, pleasurable and we avoid, withdraw from sensations that are painful. Not very complicated, obvious, but we forget.

Carly, twelve weeks new today, helps me reawaken to so many sensations; the light in her and my eyes, of course the temperature, too hot, too cold, the sound of dishes being placed in the cabinet while she sleeps near the fireplace, the softness of her skin, how she rests on my arms, the leaves rustling above, the irregular surface of the road as I carry her down the street, the annoying rumble of stinky cars and trucks passing too near, and on and on. Being social with Carly is very sensual. Everything we share is based on sensation, feelings, looking carefully, with great attention and empathy for cues that we are sharing the meaning of this moment and the next. Active meditation quiets the verbal mind-chatter bringing into awareness all these sensations, inner and outer. Being with Carly is a spiritual practice, one of the best, self and therefore life changing, ever new. Her sensitivity awakens mine, which is, admittedly, pretty dull most of the time.

The body is built to experience pleasure and of course pain. Pleasure and pain are forms of intelligence, attracting and repelling. Leprosy can result in a lack of ability to feel pain and thus loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries, a loss of sensitivity and therefore loss of intelligence. The late Candice Pert, PhD., neuroscientist, known for discovery of dopamine, the pleasure molecule and receptor, described how we are hardwired for pleasure, happiness and joy. Feeling good must be good. Feeling bad is bad. Brilliant, Michael!

While contributing to a panel at the Norte Dame symposium on thriving children and families, I noted that the word pleasure had not been used. Whereupon I was informed by several that pleasure is too sexualized. The word joy is more appropriate for describing pleasurable experiences. Really?

One of the experiences I in-joy with Carly is our ‘swim-swim-swim’ warm baths together. My quest is to have her feel so safe, so warm and cozy that she relaxes her tiny fists as I pour water over her body. I happen to love the water, floating, swimming naked in crystal clear rivers. I was a scuba instructor at the age of eighteen. I would not use the word joy to describe our baths together. It’s pleasure. Feeling pleasure is intelligence in action. Joseph Chilton Pearce, James Prescott and I penned a short essay, Pleasure is the Glue That Bonds Human Relationships, and it is true. I experience it every day with Carly and people I care about.

One of the many things I appreciate about Jim Prescott is his sensory deprivation orientation. Physical trauma of course should be avoided but can be dealt with very effectively when soothed with – you got it, pleasurable nurturing and comfort. Chronic deprivation of pleasure, the absence of pleasurable stimulation, renders the sensory pathways hypersensitive to the denied sensation. Spend a day in a dark room and suddenly open the windows to bright sunlight and you will know what I mean. We overreact.

Clearly what we call bonding at these sensitive early weeks and months is based on pleasure, and the more the better. Touching, carrying, feeling each other’s heartbeat, rubbing her feet, making playful sounds that she, even at twelve weeks, can copy and mimic, and she does with delight. All these and a thousand more pleasurable sensations build a deep, profound foundation, a self-world view that knows the world is safe, to be touched, explored, embraced, yes, with joy and a lifetime of happiness. Pleasure bonds.

In so many ways we have intellectually made pleasure bad, dirty, sinful. The denial, sensory deprivation, of pleasure, inflecting pain and later shame, retards the neural pathways for happiness. The Dali Lama and others observe that happiness is the highest form of wisdom. Think about that. Experiencing pleasurable sensations throughout childhood insures a mature body-brain that is not compulsively searching for the sensations denied, what Buddhists call the realm of hungry ghosts, and the title of the best, most human book on addiction, by Gabor Maté, MD.

Feeling good is good. Pleasure is the glue that bonds human relationships. Let’s skip as much pain, punishment and shame as we can. Replace No! with sensitive-attuned-playful shared meaning. But, you will have to turn off your phone and the noise chattering in your head. Being with Carly Elizabeth helps.

Michael Mendizza