Pleasure, Touch, and Spirituality by Christy Croft


Sitting in front of the computer, I slowly and intentionally insert earbuds, click to start my favorite writing playlist, and open up Microsoft Word. I feel the tips of my fingers resting lightly on the keys, and notice the slight give of each printed square, glossy in the middle from months of 80 words per minute. I lightly tap my fingers on the keys, not pressing enough to type a letter, body motionless except my fingers, watching the absolute stillness of the screen, exploring the edge between pressure and performance with slow, shallow breaths, finally noticing the moment when the edge is breached, the key catches, and a letter appears on my screen, taking it in with satisfaction.

This is how all my writing starts, with a ritual of simple pleasure and partial attempt at channeling. My partner recognizes this move when he sees it. It’s one I repeat throughout the writing process, as I’m waiting (hoping) for the next words to come to me. I’ll stop, lift my head and close my eyes, and allow my fingers to wiggle lightly over the keyboard as if inviting the unseen to move through me and write my piece. If that still doesn’t produce words, I might run my hands from thigh to knee, fingers pressing with increasing depth into denim-covered flesh. Or I might bring my hands up to my face, fingers resting on my hairline, palms lightly covering my eyes, as I experience the instant soothing of darkness and warming effect over closed eyelids, connecting to the me-within so she can help me bring forth missing concepts.

Writing is a pleasurable act for me. As a flow artist and fire spinner, I am familiar with the concept of the flow state — an experience researched and brought into public awareness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As Csikszentmialyi explains it, flow state is the experience of absolute absorption in an activity or task, best experienced when the level of difficulty is high enough to avoid boredom, but not so challenging as to cause you to lose interest. Over the past several years, I’ve experienced flow as a dancer in its exquisite release and as a fire spinner in its intense focus. I’ve also experienced it as a writer, when the flow of concepts exhales language onto the page, words taking on lived meaning as they leave my mind and hands.

Flow feels good. The sensation is pleasurable.

I first starting thinking of pleasure as a revolutionary, deeply spiritual act after reading Christine Hoff Kraemer’s 2013 book, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake.

The erotic is the gravitational attraction of planet to star, the caress of salt water on a sandy beach; it is the pulsing energy of a crowd dancing at a rock concert and the electricity of a first kiss; it is a dog rolling ecstatically in fresh grass; it is a salesperson’s smile when it genuinely touches her eyes. Yet the erotic also moves within us. It is my compassion toward myself when my body is tired and sore, and I stop work for a hot shower and a nap. It is my willingness to sit with anger or jealousy, listening to what they say about my boundaries and needs rather than pushing them to the back of my mind. It is the ability, in the midst of struggle, to give myself the same nurturing advice I would give a dear friend or lover— and to act on it. The gods move in me, reflecting each other, making love, birthing new realities. I am both a piece of God Herself and a mirror of the whole.

For most of my adult life, I’ve held a view of spirituality that is expansive, not compartmentalized, a way of intentionally navigating the world that aligns with my beliefs about myself and my relationship to the divine. Oddly, an entirely secular semester of feminist theory readings at the hands of a hardcore scholar of postcolonial studies sparked in me an awareness of the ways intentional honoring of the sacred bodies of all people through our social justice and human rights efforts can be part of that spiritual practice.

And Kraemer sums it up — that intersection of social justice, human rights, and bodily pleasure — here: “When the right to pleasure is considered to be a basic human right, acts that do not nurture the body become clear ethical violations in a way American society does not currently acknowledge.”

If we believe that the cosmos is sacred and that humans are just one species on one planet that is part of that cosmos, then acts against the body are acts against the divine, and acts that honor the body — that bring it safety and pleasure — become acts of worship. And we have high-holy-day level rites of pleasure — mind-blowing, earth-shattering moments of sacred awareness of bodily pleasure. But we also have everyday moments of devotion and spiritual connection, found in savoring the touch of fingertips to keyboard, the luxurious slide of bare legs between freshly-washed sheets, or the first gentle wash of warm summer air into lungs after stepping outside.

This is not a practice that came to me easily, as someone who spent years disconnected from my body, valuing it only for its performative capacity rather than its inherent wisdom and worthiness. It came to me through the work of sex educator Betty Martin, through her activity “The Pleasure in Your Hands.” Once you connect with your hands as a center of pleasure, it radiates outward through expanded consciousness to other parts of the body, and everything from fingers to scalp to lungs to toes develops capacity for transmitting spiritual and/or erotic pleasure. And once that shift happens, so many everyday acts take on the potential to be sacralized into acts of devotion and focused meditation, a lived prayer of love and gratitude, an offering of touch and sensation to the divine within.

So I sit here writing now, fingers gliding easily across the keyboard, heart open, mind connected, words flowing, hoping that 2019 brings me and you both exquisite moments of everyday pleasure to fill the contractions between your most expanded experiences of high holy sensation. Happy New Year!

 

Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, storyteller, healer, and consent and sexuality educator whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a focus on religion, gender, and social justice. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests are ever-evolving and include spirituality, new religious movements, religiosity and popular culture, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy. You can find more of her writing at www.christycroft.com.



Categories: Sexuality, Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. I love this post, Christy! Eye-opening, sense-opening. Though I have been a writer all my life, I have not paid much attention to the sensuality of writing itself, especially since I switched from pen and paper (I used to admire and take pride in my writer’s callous) to keyboard. I still find this change-over surprising as someone who has historically resisted technological advances. As I type now (badly) I think I must like it that both hands are involved (even if I still type with two fingers) the sound of fingers touching keys must be soothing. I do notice that when I stuck, movement helps, even a change of position. I have taken to walking around the yard when I am finished writing for the day, because that’s when the get the glimmerings of what’s next.

    Thank you for invoking all the pleasures of being embodied. There are so many many if we pay attention, and they do make life an inherent pleasure even/especially in tough times.

    Like

  2. I like this essay… it is so important to feel the erotic in simple acts… just this morning as I was on my knees re- kindling the fire (only source of heat) I was feeling that erotic pull… and then looking out the window into a crystal wonderland – a rare occurance in New Mexico I felt that same pull to LOVE…that and simple gratitude – just to be – in this little body I once despised. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad your fingers got going and your thoughts poured through them to the keys to your screen and then, finally, to us. Me, I see writing as work, but I’ll still sit there, fingers resting on keys (I have a nice bamboo keyboard, so the feeling is a touch different from plastic keys) and mind wandering as I try to see or figure out where that story is going. Thanks for this touching post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christy, I LOVED this post! It speaks to the center of my spirituality and to many of my intellectual interests.. Audre Lorde (“The Power of the Erotic”) and Starhawk introduced me to the spirituality of the erotic in the early 1980s. And it became more like second nature when I began tantric meditation five years ago. The reason for this is that the tantric Hindus have been elaborating on the oneness of body and spirit for over a 1,000 years, so their understandings are both juicy and profound.

    Of course, coming from a body-denying culture, I always have more to learn. What I found most growthful for me in your essay was your emphasis on the hands as a channel for the erotic: “Once you connect with your hands as a center of pleasure, it radiates outward through expanded consciousness to other parts of the body, and everything from fingers to scalp to lungs to toes develops capacity for transmitting spiritual and/or erotic pleasure. And once that shift happens, so many everyday acts take on the potential to be sacralized into acts of devotion and focused meditation, a lived prayer of love and gratitude, an offering of touch and sensation to the divine within.” Yes!

    I also wanted to tell you that in the research for my book _The World is Your Oracle: Divinatory Practices for Tapping Your Inner Wisdom and Getting the Answers You Need_, I realized that “flow” as defined by Csikszentmihalyi is a type of outward-oriented meditation (or meditation is a type of inner-directed “flow”). That helped me understand how each of these mental states could elicit inner wisdom (or what people often call “aha moments”), because each of them involve flooding the back of the brain with alpha waves, which inhibit habitual thinking, allowing new ideas to surface in the mind.

    Liked by 1 person

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: