PleasureA Creative Approach to Life, Alachua, Fl: Bioenergetic Press, 1970/2004.

In Pleasure: A Creative Approach to Life, Alexander Lowen (1910-2008) explains why pleasure is of the utmost importance for a sane and balanced life, and for both mental and physical health and wellbeing.

We are living in another era than Dr. Lowen did. The control of the state has risen about everywhere in the world, the principles of pleasure and self-regulation have largely been abandoned and replaced with a sort of compulsive morality or moralism that interpenetrates today all of life, and of political life.

Hence, the books of the late Dr. Wilhelm Reich and Dr. Alexander Lowen are the reminders today for us that the social policies in place, with their negativistic view of the human being, their tendency to declare more and more of natural behavior ‘a crime’ and to sharply control human behavior, together with the prohibition of psychedelic substances mark a turn in the wrong direction, away from nature and toward more and more structural violence and state control. 

The media do a large part of the social brainwashing of the consumer into believing governments and corporations were more important than the human body; they make believe the citizen that total consumption without reflection is the ‘ideal way of life’—while about everywhere in the world there is conflict, poverty and misery, virtually around the globe.

Wilhelm Reich’s social predictions were harmless against what is really going on today, as the rise of fascism is clearly to be noted everywhere. At the same time, the denial of the body, the body’s needs, the denial of pleasure, the denial of intergenerational love, the denial of border-expanding psychic experiences and a growing general fear-complex that Lowen called ‘fear of life’ make that people, especially in the modern world, have become rudely judgmental overall when only certain forms of love are concerned or mind opening and deconditioning drugs, and the like. The truth is that paranoid leaders can only see a paranoid world, for they are wearing paranoid glasses!

Lowen shows in the present book and actually in all his books that the pleasure principle really is fundamental for human sanity and at the same time, for world peace. In all our modern policymaking, there is a strong turndown of pleasure to be seen and felt throughout and all about. Pleasure is condemned when it is not linked to consuming products; this is of course much more an impact of the corporate world than it is the will or policy of any of our political leaders.

The corporate world has obviously little interest in consumers being self-contained and having their natural pleasures. People, adults or children, who are content and satisfied with their sensual and sexual lives are bad consumers! This is the reason why multinational corporations always agree when governments apply ‘get tough’ policies, raise state control over the citizen, raise punishments and criminal fines and instill in the consumer populace still more fear of life, so that people stop thinking because of the fear barrier—which is, while it is mass hysteria, the ideal soil for implementing total consumption without reflection!

When you read this book, you really feel it is written in another epoch, a time when there was relatively more freedom for the individual for experimenting with the limits and the borderlines, to look over the fence using psychedelics, to think about parallel institutions to the traditional family and to care for the body and its beauty and health. All this is today relegated to a few ‘naturalist’ fanatics who hold tight against the monition that we are sooner or later going to end up with total and global fascism.

It is for that reason a very important book, a must-read for an intellectual today, and for anybody who wants to have a real look at our social problems and who asks, what’s going wrong and why is it going wrong? It is an important book for any citizen who dares to ask the question:

—Why, tell me, do our governments seem to suspect us being criminal virtually from birth? Why do they criminalize more and more behaviors that over the whole course of human evolution were considered as social and natural? Why are they building every year larger prisons and even prison camps that can hold millions of people?

The etiology of fascism was well analyzed by Wilhelm Reich. The present book is more positive in nature. It is well-known that Lowen, when he was asked why he thought Wilhelm Reich had such a bad fate, used to reply:
—Wilhelm Reich had many personal problems …

Hence, he was critical as to Reich’s assumption that only because he had been a maverick researcher, he was persecuted, slandered and finally ended up in jail and died there.

Indeed, Lowen continued Reich’s research very diligently and never faced any problems of the kind Reich was facing. Lowen was a different character, he was a really positive person and the present book is written in this positive and happy tone, and for that reason, if it was only for that reason, it is easy to read. It is also well structured and reasoned through. Lowen and Reich have that in common that both were not only great scientists and doctors but also good writers. Lowen’s diction is easy to read; he doesn’t bombard the reader with medical vocabulary of any kind, but writes in a tone that every intelligent reader can understand, and even for those who may never have heard of bioenergetics.

Alexander Lowen
Alexander Lowen

This being said, I would like to first just list the titles of the 11 chapters of the book for this gives already an excellent insight into what can be expected from this masterpiece written by a bioenergetic healer and also a great master of his personal life, that was, as he said shortly before he died a centenary, a happy life throughout.

  • Chapter 1: The Psychology of Pleasure
  • Chapter 2: The Pleasure of Being Fully Alive
  • Chapter 3: The Biology of Pleasure
  • Chapter 4: Power Versus Pleasure
  • Chapter 5: The Ego: Self-Expression Versus Egotism
  • Chapter 6: Truth, Beauty and Grace
  • Chapter 7: Self-Awareness and Self-Assertion
  • Chapter 8: The Emotional Responses
  • Chapter 9: Guilt, Shame and Depression
  • Chapter 10: The Roots of Pleasure
  • Chapter 11: A Creative Approach to Life

The notion of power is flawed in our society, and for the dead simple reason that power is so much abused. Every sexual abuse is a form of power abuse; all abuse is but power abuse, but who are those big ‘perpetrators’ who most abuse of their powers? We all know the answer.

In truth, what has been called ‘worldly power’ is indeed often abusive, but the truly moral person knows that it is but decadence and corruption, the betrayal of the citizen that brings about such power. Genuine morality is linked to pleasure, not to the prohibitions of pleasure; it is a morality that is non-compulsive and natural. This morality is not rooted in the personal ego, but in a space beyond the ego.

In other words, the real power is the life force that streams through our bodies and minds, and it is foremost in pleasure. Indeed, this abusive power mechanism is defeated through pleasure and shared pleasure. As long as pleasure is really shared, there cannot be a power problem, it’s as simple as that. Lowen writes:

We must realize that we are all, like Dr. Faust, ready to accept the devil’s inducements. The devil is in each one of us in the form of an ego that promises the fulfillment of desire on condition that we become subservient to its striving to dominate. The domination of the personality by the ego is a diabolical perversion of the nature of man. The ego was never intended to be the master of the body, but its loyal and obedient servant. The body, as opposed to the ego, desires pleasure, not power. / Bodily pleasure is the source from which all our good feelings and good thinking stems. If the bodily pleasure of an individual is destroyed, he becomes an angry, frustrated and hateful person. His thinking becomes distorted, and his creative potential is lost. He develops self-destructive attitudes. Pleasure is the creative force in life. It is the only force strong enough to oppose the potential destructiveness of power. Many people believe that this role belongs to love. But if love is to be more than a word, it must rest on the experience of pleasure. /2-3

The truth is that our leaders consciously lead us astray so as to easily control us. Body-conscious people are no good followers, they are not blindly obedient, they do not believe in conspiracies, and they are not filling the cash registers of gadget stores because they have their satisfaction from body pleasure, not ersatz pleasure. Hence Lowen’s idea that honoring the body is the beginning of real wisdom is true, for it is shielding us from the corruption and betrayal we are facing daily in our neofascist world of global consumerism that feeds at maximum one billion of the seven billion people now on the globe, letting the others starve in misery and die in poverty.

Alexander Lowen Dancing
Alexander Lowen Dancing

The patriarchal worldview with its credo to ‘control life’, ‘control relationships’, ‘control human behavior’ fails at all ends. This is why we are worldwide in this mess today because controlling life doesn’t bring about peaceful togetherness nor is it in any way intelligent behavior. Nature has instituted self-regulation if only humans were ready to follow nature, that is, to follow the intelligence of their bodies and their emotions. If we did this, collectively, the world would quickly become a better place. But for this to happen, we need to rebuild the lost trust with nature, as we, as a civilization, have lost that continuum, that basic trust in nature.

Lowen refers to children and their play as a striking example how the creative impulse works in the human being. I had to think of Pablo Picasso when reading this as he was certainly one of the most creative persons who ever lived, but also a peaceful man, a lover.

It is widely recognized that in their games and play children manifest the creative impulse at work in the human personality. Often a high degree of imagination is involved in these activities. The ease with which a child can pretend or make believe indicates that his world is largely an inner one containing a rich store of feelings upon which he can draw. Because he is relatively free from responsibilities and pressures, his imagination can transform his surroundings into a fairy world that offers unlimited opportunities for creative self-expression and pleasure./6

Indeed, most children’s inner reality is intact, their fantasy is unbroken and it is from this inner life that true happiness results.

However, our culture has by and large replaced inner life with outer consumption; it starves us through all the millions of images it projects in our media, as when one’s mind is full of images that are not coming from one’s inner reality, one has lost that inner life. Lowen states:

The denial of inner reality is a form of mental illness./7

When we understand that, we see that we are collectively mad in a consumer society; this may bring us back to focus inside again and on our own body and its needs, as the point of departure for developing our intrinsic creativeness.

Pleasure and creativity are dialectically related. Without pleasure, there can be no creativity. Without a creative attitude to life, there will be no pleasure. This dialectic stems from the fact that both are positive aspects of life. An alive person is sensitive and creative. /19

When I talk about the ‘schizoid split’, I mean the split between the mind and the body, or the left and right brain hemispheres, or in other words, the splitting off of deductive and inductive logic. While most adults think deductively, that is, from the mind toward the body, the child thinks inductively, from the body toward the mind. Lowen writes:

Another simple truth that should be self-evident is that an individual’s personality is expressed through his body as much as through his mind. A person cannot be divided into a mind and a body. Despite this truth, all studies of personality have concentrated on the mind to the relative neglect of the body. /21

And here is the problem. As long as humans are split apart in ‘minds’ and ‘bodies’ and have lost their wholeness, their feeling level doesn’t work, they are then living with a starved body and starved emotions, and their emotional balance is out of order. This is why then, these people become more and more violent. Here is how this can be explained in bioenergetic terms:

The two functions that are most important in this regard are breathing and movement. Both of these functions are disturbed in every person who has an emotional conflict by chronic muscular tensions that are the physical counterpart of the psychological conflicts. Through these muscular tensions conflicts become structured in the body. When this happens, they cannot be resolved until the tensions are released. To release these muscular tensions one must feel them as a limitation of self-expression. It is not enough to be aware of their pain. And most people are not even aware of that. When a muscular tension becomes chronic, it is removed from consciousness, and one loses an awareness of the tension. /22

Feeling is determined by breathing and movement. An organism feels only that which moves within the body. For example, when an arm is immobilized for a time, it becomes numb and without feeling. To recapture the feeling its motility must be restored. The motility of the whole body is reduced when breathing is restricted. Thus, holding the breath is the most effective way of cutting feeling. This principle works in reverse, too. Just as strong emotions stimulate and deepen one’s breathing, the stimulation and deepening of respiration can evoke strong emotions. /22

Breathing cannot be dissociated from sexuality. Indirectly it provides the energy for a sexual discharge. The heat of passion is one aspect of the metabolic fires, of which oxygen is an important element. Since the metabolic processes provide the energy for all living functions, the strength of the sexual drive is ultimately determined by these processes. The depth of respiration directly determines the quality of the sexual discharge. Unitary or total breathing, a respiration that involves the whole body, leads to an orgasm that includes the whole body. /28

Hence, when the emotional flow is disturbed because the body is armored and stiff, unable to fully breathe, both psychosomatic disease and psychopathological behavior will set in.

This is why the contact with the body and natural pleasure is so important, for it literally prevents violence as a ‘negative pleasure function.’ Now, let me continue my reasoning on the patriarchal quest of ‘controlling life.’ Control brings about fear, and fear restricts all bodily movements, it restricts freedom, free thinking, and emotional vibrancy. The natural state is described by Lowen in these terms:

A healthy personality is a vibrant personality. A healthy body is a pulsating and vibrant body. In the state of health the body’s vibrations are relatively fine and steady, like the hum of a smooth running automobile. When the motor in an automobile goes dead, we sense it by the absence of vibration. In a similar way, it can be said that individuals whose bodies do not vibrate are emotionally dead. /34

It may seem surprising that spontaneity and self-control are, despite their seeming contradiction, both facets of natural motility. Self-control implies self-possession, which is the attribute of a person who is in touch with his feelings and in command of his movements. He has self-control because he can choose how to express himself, since his motility is not limited or constricted by chronic muscular tensions. He differs thereby from the controlled individual, the compulsive personality, whose behavior is dictated by his tensions, and from the impulsive individual, whose behavior is a reaction to his tensions. It is a common experience in bioenergetic therapy that the freer a person becomes in his movements, the more self-control he gains. /40

Hence, inherent in nature is self-control; when we follow nature, we do not need outside control, we do not need compulsive morality and endless ‘sex laws’ to behave socially, without harming others. This is how building trust in life enhances this natural self-control and restores pleasure and happiness.

Furthermore, Lowen explains that there is also a relationship between pleasure and growth, which explains why youth is closer to pleasure than old age; it’s because young people have a greater capacity of excitement. He explains:

The secret of pleasure is hidden in the phenomenon of excitation. A living organism has the inherent capacity to hold and increase its level of excitation; it does not change from inertness to responsiveness, like a machine when its motor is started or the current is turned on. There is a continuous excitation in the living organism which increases or decreases in response to stimuli proceeding from the environment. Broadly speaking, an increase of excitation leads to pleasure, a decrease to boredom and depression. /50

Lumination is also an aspect of excitation in living organisms. We light up with pleasure, shine with joy, and glow with ecstasy. /Id.

The lumination of the human body is surrounded by a ‘force field’ which has been described as an aura or atmosphere. It has been observed and commented on by many writers, including Paracelsus, Mesmer, Kilner, and Reich. My associate, Dr. John C. Pierrakos, has made a special study of this phenomenon for the past fifteen years. This field or aura can be seen by the naked eye under certain conditions. It is shown in early Renaissance paintings as a glow about the heads of saints. /51

The field also pulsates, that is, it appears and disappears at an average rate of fifteen to twenty-five times per minute under normal conditions. The rate of pulsation, like the color of the field, is related to the degree of excitation in the body. When the body goes into involuntary vibratory movements as a result of deeper respiration and more feeling, the rate of pulsation may reach forty or fifty per minute: at the same time, the width of the field extends farther, and its color becomes brighter. /51

Hence, the freedom of emotional flow is a bioenergetic fact as it can be explained by a greater motility and vibrancy of the luminous energy field. Hence, when we follow nature and honor our body and our desires, our luminous energy field will be strong and vibrant, which means we are in a state of good health and our body provides excellent immunitary response. But as our society tries to direct us away from our bodies, we live in our egos and are focused upon satisfying the needs of those blown-up egos, through domestication and acquisitiveness, through ‘settling down’ in and switching, as it were, from dialogue to monologue—with the result that our vibrancy declines.

Vibrant Still in Old Age
Vibrant Still in Old Age

Since the values of a mass society are success and power, the person who accepts them becomes a mass individual and loses his true individuality. He no longer thinks of himself as a person apart from the crowd, since his primary interest is to rise above the crowd. At the same time it is very important to be accepted by the crowd. He abandons the discriminating attitude of the true individual in favor of conformity. His behavior is oriented away from pleasure and toward prestige; he becomes a status-seeker and a social climber. What is worse is that these values infiltrate his home life. They become the criteria by which he judges his children, who must measure up by being both acceptable and outstanding. /73

Power is antithetical to pleasure. It bears the same relationship to pleasure that the ego does to the body. Pleasure stems from the free flow of feeling or energy within the body and between the body and the environment. Power develops through the damming and control of energy. This describes the basic distinction between the pleasure individual and the power individual. Power develops from control and operates through control. It has no other mode of operation. /82

Parents use power to control their children because they were similarly controlled when they were young. Having been the objects of power, they are now determined to exercise power even over their children, which is the easiest way to exercise power. The exercise of power seems to restore, in their minds the idea that they are individuals who have a right to make demands and express them. /84

I haven’t discussed the whole of the book here as that would go beyond the limits of a review. One thing is certain, without the bioenergetic way of thinking, which is the way nature itself ‘thinks’, we wouldn’t be able to look behind the veil of our cultural distortions and we wouldn’t understand why we as a society are hyper-violent and become more violent with each and every year. It is that we turn down pleasure that we bring about violence, and for no other reason.

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