Pleasure, Play and the Alchemy of Success
Do you find that success is a very nebulous and subjective thing?
The dominant culture has for the better part convinced us that bigger better MORE was the way to go, and still is in many corporate cultures and personal mindsets.
But in the wake of an epidemic of burnout, a shift to counter culture, sea changers jumping in their renovated vans in droves, the evolution of neural plasticity, mindfulness, embodiment practices and so much else, success isn’t about what you’ve achieved but who you are along the way .
And thank heavens for that.
Thats certainly what I found on a personal redefinition of success. My own life changing burnout and health recovery,was being reflected back to me in the way that I was meeting clients on the treatment table.
It screams to me that we need to continue to negotiate with ourselves what success really is. In supporting women in those traditionally high stress CEO roles to renegotiate their relationship with success and the cost it had on their health I discovered something that surprised even me.
But this thing whenever I bring it up to the women I work with changes the game – every time .
We needed to build a new partnership with play and pleasure.
This week I was a guest on Pleasure Rising, a podcast for sex, intimacy, & pleasure consciousness. Awaken and embody the erotic muse within. Listen to the episode here.
Play and pleasure; seem sacrilegious to talk about about this in the same breath as success; but stick with me.
Play and pleasure, really this was just code for rest and “doing nothing” but please let me tell you that the last thing you are going to tell a highly successful CEO, serial entrepreneur, brand strategist or Creative to do is “nothing” . (believe me I’ve tried)
There has been so much written on the importance of idle time and spaciousness for creativity. Most successful people will be well aware of these ideologies, and yet it is so bloody hard to do mainly because our biology is often fighting against us.
Specifically our fight and flight response with adrenaline and cortisol at the helm makes it very difficult to dial down in the moment. (I dare you to try it)
In Chinese Medicine this adrenal rush relates to the Kidney energy, the water element and the ‘Will’ which is experienced as that pushing drive.
You know the feeling, that gnawing sense that ‘so much has to be done’ and specifically by you and only you to perfection, and all of it NOW!
This drive needs to be balanced with the Heart, the fire element and our sense of joy. Simple moments of laughter with colleagues, or that yes moment when you feel accomplished.
As I wrote about here for Blog Society these two need to be working in reciprocity, in ebb and flow for optimal health.
But often we see them as separate.
The urgent striving drive of the Kidney energy is only designed for short sprints, to literally get us out of trouble but in partnership with the Heart fire this drive becomes the fuel source for those longer life projects.
This Kidney – Heart Axis is where the pleasure pain principle plays out in our biology and our emotions; we are either motivated by Fear (The emotion of the Water element) or Inspired by pleasure and joy (The state of our Fire element)
Ideally of course we aren’t swinging from one extreme to the other. (even though we usually are!)
With self care, support and practice we can learn to navigate our way through our everyday lives using our experience of both of these polarities to make decisions from the mundane to the monumental. Using this as one of your guiding principles of success is essential to avoiding burnout and fatigue.
So this is great and all but how do I learn to do this Kidney Heart dance and what the heck happens if I’m already sitting in the rubble of my own burn out?
I hear you!
This is where the alchemy of the elements comes quite literally into play.
Don’t you just love that word alchemy. I do.
Alchemy speaks traditionally with turning lead into gold, spiritual pain into enlightenment, of something seemingly magical occurring within a mundane substance or experience.
I am most interested in the inner alchemy that occurs as we transform the often hard human experiences and beliefs into positive outcomes that are repeatable, functional and enjoyable.
Working with this Kidney Heart Axis we flip the roles of these organs.
Where often we have become addicted to doing, planning and striving with the Kidney adrenal fuel we must rest, soften, say no, sleep, undertake treatment of some sort and slow down any way we can. The operative word in that sentence is ‘we must’, because it’s the thing that allows our Kidney to reload and go again.
Despite this, sitting in the Heart expression, resting and restoring is very challenging for most women I work with.
They are tired and wired (do you know that feeling too?) there are usually so many layers of resistance here, such as identifying with their work or a particular kind of success that is not healthy for them.
The answer in order to be able to sustain this?
We work with the heart and invite play into the room.
Now despite the fact that this sounds like a lot more fun, it’s often just as challenging if not more so. Many of us have been so cut off from our hearts spaces and our sense of joy and playfulness that we feel at a loss to know what to do, if there isn’t a productive purpose behind it.
Without guidance and purpose many of us wouldn’t dive into this work.
Double that with the fact that the word pleasure is so defined by sexuality and its layers of shame in our culture that owning, and desiring pleasure for the sake if it is taboo.
Think of the way chocolate is advertised if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here.
So let me give you a simple and effective example in my own life where pleasure and play has been healing for my heart and restorative for my kidneys and adrenals.
At the end of last year I went through a break up and moved house earlier this year. It was hard.
Much harder than I anticipated for many reasons.
There were a number of months where I really thought I might have a break down of some sort and my mind was awash with disaster stories and fears.
And so I invented “Otter Swimming” Well I’m sure I didn’t invent it, but I did discover it.
Regardless of all the end of the world stories that my mind was ready to play at a moments notice, and the list of apparently deeply essential things to do every single day I threw myself in the ocean and lay on my back and stared up at the clouds. (full otter-pose engaged)
Most days this was only for maybe 20 minutes in-between walking the dog, and answering emails.
But I did it every day, rain hail or shine.
It was utterly free. And it was liberating.
Do you know why?
Because every day when I would tip myself backwards into the embrace of the ocean I involuntarily giggled. A lot. Yup giggled, in a way that I just don’t in real life. (I mean who giggles?!)
I felt utterly bizarrely joyous for those 20 mins.
Now I’m sure there are lots of explanations from the powers of water on the physiology of mammals, to the effect of the expanse of the sky and sea on the mind of us tiny humans but for me I knew this joyous and deeply pleasurable activity was putting me back in touch with my heart.
And so as the weeks progressed and we enjoyed a very extended summer I watched my sleep improve, my ability to notice beauty return, even the food I was eating began to taste better than before. This isn’t some magical event. This is our very clever nervous system and that Kidney Heart Axis restoring back to “factory settings” of rest and digest, and with it my ability to think clearly, creatively and pleasurably.
Hey presto I began to be ‘productive’ in my work again.
It’s hard to make these changes when you’re in the grind, and truthfully the smaller and easier the practice is that you introduce into your life, the higher chance there is of successfully creating the restorative change you are seeking. Because if there is one thing that we all can agree on with success it is that small consistent steps in the direction of your goals and dreams will have no choice but to be effective.
It may not always result in achieving the initially desired outcome but if we are taking our bodies, hearts and drive with us in synergy it will always take us in the direction we need to be going.
It’s with this in mind I focus on helping women to find clarity, creativity and personal power through alchemical coaching.