Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #157 The Power of the Pleasant Moment
About this episode

Listen to the full episode where Martha will walk you through the steps and also lead you in her guided Silence, Stillness, and Space meditation. It’s a recipe for what Martha calls “a mighty pleasant moment” so be sure to join her!

The Power of the Pleasant Moment

Martha Beck:

I was going to call this “The Power of Being Mighty Pleasant.” “Mighty Pleasant” was what I was going to call this because I have been realizing more and more lately the incredible power of things that we culturally tend to ignore or even denigrate. So mere pleasure is something that a lot of people think of as an indulgence, but more and more I’ve realized that we don’t effort our way into the things that really enrich our souls. We relax our way into them.

Ro and I have been taking sleep lessons from some sleep experts that we met when we were in Costa Rica checking out our venue for our Costa Rican retreat. Some folks were there teaching others how to sleep. This is what they do, and they’re amazing. And we have little Zoom lectures from them, and we put on special glasses to help our brains produce melatonin and use happy lights to wake our brains up in the morning.

It’s all been really revolutionary, but it’s fascinating to learn how powerful it is to be able to relax. And we talk a lot about the racing thoughts that a lot of people have when they’re trying to sleep. I actually don’t have a lot of racing thoughts when I try to sleep because I have learned this meditation that uses small, pleasant feelings to anchor the whole brain, the whole mind. And you’d think this would be kind of a minor thing, right? But it has been so revolutionary for me. And talking to these sleep coaches, I’ve realized how much it’s really changed my life. So I wanted to talk to you about it.

Back when the pandemic started, right at the beginning when we didn’t know much, when people were dying at very high numbers, it was just sweeping through Europe and really, really scary. And we didn’t know what it was, what it would do to people. We still don’t know what it’ll do to people long-term, but we know a lot more than we did. I don’t know if you were terrified during those days. I was not aware of being terrified. I was processing everything just fine in my own waking hours.

However, I stopped sleeping. For two weeks I barely slept. And I was like, “I’m meditating. I’m calm. I don’t know why I’m not asleep.” And it was because I was actually repressing all the anxiety and somatizing it. I really, really did not feel it as emotion, but my body was feeling it, and it would not relax. And I started to get really desperate from lack of sleep. One of the few things that still genuinely terrifies me, long-term lack of sleep. 

And then I ran across this meditation, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to walk through it with you a little bit. And when we do our usual group meditation, I’m going to add this in. And it’s a really simple trigger, the first thing. So get yourself all set. Relax if you can. If you’re driving or something, get as relaxed and alert as you can be. If you’re watching at home, really get a little loosey goosey. Breathe deeply and relax right now. [Coughs] Excuse me. And then sit with your mouth closed and your eyes half-closed. 

And once you’re in that position and you’re breathing regularly, now here is the key. Gently, slightly drop your jaw. Just keep your lips closed, but let your jaw drop just a little bit. It relaxes these muscles here, which are the strongest muscles, molecule for molecule, in the whole body. Now, when you drop your jaw, go from clench to drop a few times. Clench your jaw, then drop it, clench it, and drop it. When your jaw drops, you might get a feeling of release of the slight tension in your face, or it may be quite distinct. But in any case, see if you can find something pleasurable in the release of the tension in your jaw and just really focus on what you’re looking for.

You might be feeling horrible all over your body. See if you can find a tiny hint of release and pleasure in the relaxation of your jaw. Relaxation Pleasure is what the–Shinzen Young is the man who teaches this meditation, and he calls it Relaxation Pleasure. 

So now if you’re sitting or standing up, go to bring your attention to the back of your neck where it joins your shoulders and pull your shoulders back just slightly and then tense them up toward your ears and then drop them. Tense and drop. It’s a tiny movement. Half an inch is plenty, okay? But as they drop up, see if you can find Relaxation Pleasure in the muscles of your shoulder. At the same time, drop your jaw, and you can start. Now, by the time I had gotten to “drop your jaw, drop your shoulders,” I fell asleep. That was how powerful these little– I had shifted my attention to the pleasant feelings inside my body.

Now after two weeks with very little sleep, my whole body was in pain. I was hurting, but the pleasure in my jaw was just distinct enough that I could focus on it and be oblivious to all the other stuff. It was there, but I was focused on the pleasure in my jaw, then the pleasure in my neck and shoulders. Now you can go through your whole body. If you could go to the back of your spine, tense your back, and then let it just sink a little. See if you can find Relaxation Pleasure in that movement. Clench your thighs and then relax them. If you’re sitting down, notice how your legs don’t have to support you right now. If you’re sitting or lying down. And let your legs relax and bask in the pleasure of not having to do any work right now. Just let them relax.

So we’re looking for very small bits of pleasure that can actually occur right in the middle of emotional or physical suffering. And I’ve actually done this through a lot of things: through surgery and recovery, through dental work that was quite traumatic, through all kinds of things. If you can shift your attention to the pleasant sensation of relaxing, you can start to drop– you can actually rewire, I think, your brain away from paying attention only to what’s frightening and toward the few things that are signaling to your whole body that you can relax. So I’ve been practicing this for, I don’t know, two or three years. When I came across the military method of falling asleep on a battlefield. I was like, are you kidding me? And if you’re in the military, you know that you are taught, they teach people how to fall asleep on battlefields because you may be on a battlefield for a week, and you have to sleep.

And guess what it starts with? Find a place that’s tense in your face. And they start with the forehead. Feel the tension in your forehead, and then drop your eyebrows all the way down and feel your forehead go limp. If you’ve had a lot of Botox, this is moot. You can go to the jaw one. And then they move all the way down the face. It’s very, very similar. And then they have people repeat the phrase in their minds. “Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think.” And allow the brain to feel the pleasure of relaxing away from its usual job of thinking. So I’ve been using this to fall asleep, but after I started working with my sleep coaches, I started to see that this is a key to relaxing in almost any situation. 

So here I am doing The Gathering Room and I have on this vest, and it’s a magical vest. Let’s see if I can make it do its thing. Hang on. Yeah, see it glowing with one red eye like Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Folks, this is an electric vest. It has a little battery pack, and it’s warming me up as I speak. I did not buy it. It was given as a gift. And yes, you can get warm in much less high-tech ways, but I put it on today because I really was feeling quite chilly. And it’s worth indulging yourself to get a small stimulus of pleasure because as you get to pleasure, you can relax into it, even if it’s small. And as you relax into it, I am telling you, everything in your energy will shift. There is such a difference between slightly tense and focused on pain and slightly relaxed and focused on pleasure. They’re going in two radically different directions. And the moment you turn toward pleasure and the experience of pleasure, you start to become like an animal that may be living in the cold.

It may have a wound somewhere, it may not have eaten for a while, but in order to survive, heal and thrive, that animal knows how to relax into the present moment. See the word play there, the pleasant moment, the present moment. You can’t experience these small pleasures without being very, very present. 

They don’t know why, but cats purr not only when they are contented, but also when they are in pain, when they’re giving birth, and when something is very, like a human owner is very anxious, a cat will start to purr. And it seems to bring down the attention and focus it. If you’ve ever sat with a cat purring on your chest–if you haven’t done that, you should try to have the experience. Go to a cat petting facility–they have them in Japan, go to Japan, go to a cat petting facility, lie down and have a cat that purrs a lot on your chest because that sound, I always say, God was having a good day when it came up with cat purring.

And when they do that, everything in them relaxes. And to the extent that even we relax when we hear a cat purr. And I believe all animals have this ability to drop into some form of relaxation. Now, everything that we’ve talked about on The Gathering Room about the spiritual power of manifestation, of making your dreams come true, of being happier in all aspects of your life, every single one of them goes better when you relax. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is not a single situation I can think of that doesn’t get better when you relax, and that includes being attacked. When I was in martial arts, I learned that if somebody attacks you and you fight from a place of tension, you do not fight well. But if you are relaxed and trained to fight, you fight very, very well indeed.

It’s just like Olympic athletes. They need to push and train and be perfectionistic, and then when the time comes to run the race or skate the final round, they have to completely relax and enter the joy of the experience. And all the hard stuff is done so that they are so highly trained that they can go and relax into the moment, and the body will do the routine or run the race for them. I read a book once called Maximum Performance, which was about people who for some reason did incredibly well at something. I think it was almost all sports related, but what they found was that people who had set these massive world records or done unthinkable things generally had trained really hard. And then on the day that they did their magical thing, they didn’t feel very good or they gave up for some reason because they were thinking about something else.

They just decided to just sort of mail it in. But they had trained so much that once they relaxed into it, they were able to outperform themselves. This is also true with things like manifesting. If you really, really, really focus on something and you really, really try to make it happen, and then you completely relax into the pleasant moment, that’s when things start to happen in the real world. So this little exercise of dropping your jaw, dropping your shoulders, dropping into your spine, dropping the pressure in your legs, that is actual magic that actually puts you in a place where the energy you are exuding and the energy you invite will allow the creation of the things you have wanted and the things you’ve trained and suffered for. 

So that is my little disquisition on the pleasant moment, the mighty pleasant moment. This is a mighty pleasant moment. So we’re going to do a mighty pleasant moment of meditation. Now we’re going to go through our regular meditation, and then I’m going to ask you to just, we’re going to do the little pleasure thing. Hang on. I am going to have a drink of water because that’s pleasant.

I was just enjoying the pleasure of drinking a little water, and it was wonderful. So let’s do our meditation and then I’ll answer some questions. You’re already in a relaxed and meditative pose. You’ve been there all this time, right? 

So what I want you to do now is trigger alpha brainwaves with the question: Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the distance between my eyes, knowing that the atoms in my eyes are almost completely made of empty space? Can I imagine the emptiness in the atoms between my eyes? Can I imagine the emptiness in the space between the top of my head and the nape of my neck? Can I imagine the emptiness in the atoms of my throat and neck? Can I imagine the space in the atoms between my breastbone and my spine? Can I imagine the space that is most of my body? Can I imagine the stillness that right now holds all the motion and activity in the universe? Can I imagine the silence beneath all sounds? Can I imagine the pleasure of dropping my jaw just slightly? Can I imagine the pleasure of that resonating through my face and maybe my whole head? Can I imagine the pleasure of allowing my shoulders to drop? Can I allow the pleasure of allowing my spine to relax even if I feel other things in my body? Can I imagine the pleasure of a relaxed spine and relaxed legs, the pleasure of just letting them be fall surrender to gravity? Can I imagine going deeply into whatever pleasure I can feel and focusing on that the way I might focus on the purring of a cat?

Folks, if you’ve gotten deeply into the pleasure of this moment, you have stepped into your magician shoes. You can make things happen from this place, not the force and violence of energy that our culture generally recommends, but from the mighty pleasant moment. It’s really true. Try it out this week.

So Delia says, “Figuring out that I might have ADHD, any thoughts on how to stay focused and how that relates to the pleasant moment?” 

I have extreme ADHD. I don’t know how extreme it is, but it feels very extreme to me, and I have been diagnosed with it by people who wired up my brain and everything, so I know I have it. And this pleasure meditation, sometimes I have to go back and go back and go back, but it’s highly reinforcing in the Skinnerian sense of something that gets rewarded is more likely to be repeated. That’s called reinforcing. So it’s a positive reinforcement to feel the pleasure of it, and the fact that it’s pleasurable makes it easier to focus on. And when I’m miserable and distracted, I can stop and the physical nature of dropping my jaw and that muscle and my shoulders, it’s so apparent. I don’t have to do anything mystical. I can just focus on my jaw. I can do that. And if your jaws are all locked up, drop your shoulders, relax your legs, find a place to feel pleasure and focus on that. Pleasure is meant to be highly reinforcing. It’s meant to be repeated and to give us a reward because it’s good for us, and so it helps us focus.

Jillian says, “I love this. I’m curious how to reset when external pressures perhaps make you stumble out of the pleasant moment, I suppose. Oh, out of the pleasant moment, I suppose. What’s your thoughts on sustaining this through those experiences?” 

It’s been interesting. I mentioned dental work a while ago, and once I was sitting in the dentist’s chair and they had cranked my jaw wide open and were working on some molars at the back of my mouth so I couldn’t drop my jaw. And this has become my go-to relaxation technique. I didn’t know. I didn’t just stumble out of it. I felt like I’d been ejected from the pleasant moment. So what I had to do, if you just get upset by daily life events or you have a kid throwing a tantrum, which can be very, very disconcerting, if anything’s happening that pushes you out of the pleasant moment, it does take some thought, but you notice that you’re not happy and that you’re getting really tense, and I will search my body for any sense of relaxation I can find. cClose my fists and relax them, focus on the pleasure of letting my fingers go. It’s just your whole body becomes this mechanism for allowing yourself to detect pleasure in some way, shape, or form. And because it’s very unpleasant to be totally out of that state and because it’s very pleasant to feel pleasure again, you notice that you’ve stumbled because you’re suffering, and you notice that you found pleasure because you suffer a little less, and in fact, you begin to enjoy. Enjoy–you enter joy at that moment.

Claire says, “Also, neuros spicy. Just got a bad review and burned out at work. How can I string together these pleasant moments when the stress feels endless? My brain knows it will get better.” And she sent a little heart bandaged up because the heart hurts. 

All right, so when you are sad or when you’re in physical pain or when you’re angry, it can feel really, really overwhelmingly negative. And much of that negativity comes from the tension and bracing that we do to try to push it away. So if your heart is broken, or you’re stinging from a bad review at work, all you need to do is find that stinging feeling or that heartbroken feeling and say, “You can be as you are. I relax my resistance to you. I’m going to let go and allow you to break, heart. I’m going to allow you to hurt, body. I’m going to allow you to rage, anger. Go for it. I’m going to relax and enjoy myself while you do that.” And you’ll find that as you drop the resistance to the feeling, it’s just like dropping your jaw, dropping your shoulders. Right now, if you drop resistance, the anger, the pain, the sadness is going on, but I want you to focus on the pleasure of no longer resisting. Isn’t that weird that you can be in really intense feelings and if you drop resistance, there’s enough pleasure in dropping resistance to take your attention to something very, very healing. So give that a try, see how it works for you.

Cheryl says, “Is relaxing into the pleasant moment similar to connecting to the right brain in that moment?” 

I think it is. I mean, you’d have to ask a brain person, a brain scientist like Jill Bolte Taylor. But I would say that the extreme focus on the physical sensation, from what I’ve read, the kinesthetic and proprioceptive stuff that happens in the right side of the brain is probably–you know the left side tends to think linearly and the right side takes care of sensation, kinesthesia, and all that. So I would say this probably does move you–well, it opens up the right side of the brain, but remember, it doesn’t move you into the right side because the right side includes everything. So it moves you into your whole brain and gives you access to what’s hiding out there in the magical right hemisphere of your brain. Yeah.

Dr. Donna says, “I tend to dissociate with my body. How can I get rid of that to enjoy pleasure like this?” 

Do something with your body. Make a tight, tight, tight fist and focus on that. Even if you’re dissociated, you can deliberately lock your fist and squeeze it as hard as you can for a few minutes. You can make it shake with the pressure and then lay your hand gently down on something and allow it to open and relax and be as limp as a boiled lettuce, and then feel the pleasure of no longer holding the tension. And you can do that with your whole body so you can actively tense and then actively relax, and that will connect you to pleasure if you follow the sensation.

Samira says, “Does Martha feel like she is in the one all the time? And if not, when she is off, does she believe that it is just a mental separation?” 

I know that I’m in the one all the time. I think I always feel it these days. Yeah, but when I do feel off, oh yeah, I had a moment yesterday when I did. No, I always feel like I’m in it. I was having a really rough moment, but I know that I’m surrounded by presence, by consciousness. I feel when we do that meditation and I say the space inside us is continuous with the space around us, that space is God to me, and it can’t not be connected. It makes no sense at all to me that it could be disconnected. So it’s not like I’m enlightened or anything, but I do always feel like I’m in the one. I’ll let you know when that doesn’t happen because I’m not special.

Catherine says, “How does the pleasant moment relate to sense drenching? Can I release the little tension, then imagine the taste and smell and mouth feel of eating a luscious, dark fudge brownie?” 

Why, I hope you do, Catherine! In fact, I’m doing that right now. I’m imagining a hot fudge brownie. Yeah, all the pleasures come together, all of them. In our culture, we tend to just reduce it to sex and food, but it’s any little thing and every big thing all put together. You’re on the right track there. We are made to enjoy.

Okay, Kate says, “How can we use this technique to address a project we’re procrastinating on? I fear if I relax, I won’t actually do the thing.” 

Well, the fear is what’s keeping you from doing the thing or the displeasure of it. So you can add pleasurable things like a wonderful electric vest or even just a soft, fuzzy anything. You can put something around you to make the task itself–it could be a task that has nothing to do with body temperature, but if I say I have a scary email to write and my socks are itchy and scratchy, I’m going to put on some soft slippers and then do the thing, because the overall load of tension goes down when you enter pleasure, and then there’s less–you need to devote a little less energy to tolerating what’s going on. So you get more regulated when anything is pleasant for any aspect of the self, and then every task becomes more doable. Now, try it out.

A couple more questions. Mary Jean says, “I’m a sex therapist and I spend so much time thinking about how to help people feel more present and playful during intimacy. Any thoughts about the relationship between the present moment and sensuality?”

Yeah, I am glad you brought this up because our culture does focus so much on sex and food that a lot of people try to force themselves to be very present, and that in itself becomes a tension that can get in the way of us feeling pleasure. Again, if you’re like a cat, it’s not trying to feel anything. It just likes pleasant sensations, so it goes into them. And if you find yourself, we can actually get performance anxiety sexually. So if you find yourself doing that, drop your resistance to the tension there. Say, “It’s okay. You can feel whatever you want.” And paradoxically, relaxing your resistance to the tension of trying allows the tension of trying to relax. Does that make any sense? I hope it does. Mary, you go and work with people on this, you know it far better than I, but I would say just relaxing even with the failure to relax is the beginning of getting to the objective you want, which is just being present for the pleasant in your body.

Finally, Cleo says, “If you’re in a state of extreme anxiety or distress, is a feeling of comfort enough? Please can you link this to the KIST, the Kind Internal Self-Talk?” 

If you’re in anxiety or distress, the Kind Internal Self-Talk you want is stuff you’d say to a little animal or a little kid, “You’re okay. I’ve got you. You’re going to do fine. It’s all going to be all right. It’s all going to be okay.” [Coughs] Excuse me. Now, as soon as you get to that place, I could feel my body relax just a little bit just from saying, “You’re okay, I’ve got you. It’s all right.” Oh, there’s a little part of myself that is really responding to that right now, and what that does is it gives me access to the pleasant moment. Now that I’ve got my protector voice and my little kid feeling somewhat comforted, now I can go, I’m going to tighten myself up and then drop. I’m going to release my jaw, and I’m going to keep up the Kind Internal Self-Talk: “You’re okay, you’re going to be fine.” Well I really physically just sink into the very points in my body that have a sensation of pleasure, and it just becomes a self-reinforcing loop.The strength of the calming kind voice gets greater because pleasure is magnifying it, and pleasure magnifies more because the kind voice is giving it space. So I hope you all have a Mighty Pleasant week, and I’ll see you again in one week here on The Gathering Room. Bye!

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