“pleasure doesn’t start with orgasm-level excitement. Pleasure starts with the seeds of safety.”

On the impact of stress and need on our abilities as (especially intensive) leaders; on how feeling safe makes us more human and better leaders; on the importance of knowing when to slow down to avoid making a crisis into an everlasting mess.

Transcript and notes:


Recorded 22 May 2023.


Hi, everyone, thanks for tuning in.

I know it's pleasure month. And also the thing that's on my mind is, maybe it's not gonna sound so much like pleasure.

Yesterday I was at a book club. We were meeting to discuss a book, but most of us didn't get most of the way through it. And instead the conversation among these mostly queer, mostly gender-nonconforming, mostly complicated-identitied people, turned to scarcity and fear and need, and how do we create a sustainability in our nervous systems in the world we're in?

And I started thinking about the way that intensives- as intensives we, we are extra attuned to our nervous systems, we are extra in our nervous systems, when our nervous systems are telling us something that becomes the most important thing in the room. And our instincts are good. We ignore that at our peril. But how do we honor the fact that we know that. That we know that we are right that we know we need to listen to our guts, and the fact that our guts are screaming?

And what happens when our guts are screaming at us? One of the people that I was talking to said that when they discover that they are moving from a place of scarcity, they have to deliberately step back. Move back from from what they are thinking and examine it, and make sure that they are not unnecessarily craven.

We do have to protect ourselves. There's no way around it. The world is not as friendly a place as I would like it to be. But we also owe it to ourselves, to each other, to the world- mostly to everybody, everything, every everything, right? In that interconnected way. We mostly, absolutely, need each other.

We need that sense of safety because our bodies, our bodies are designed to move us into a place of crisis when we don't feel safe. And right now, there are a lot of good reasons not to feel safe, and we can't completely ignore them. We can't just talk ourselves out of it. We can't live in some kind of funny, trancy, oblivion. We can't afford to do that either.

So somewhere in the middle is the answer. Somewhere outside of us is the answer. See, the thing is that I say this all the time, right? We're people, we're not meant to live in isolation. We're meant to live in concert with the world that we're in. Because what happens when a person experiences scarcity is that they move into a place of fear. And from that place of fear, we lose our sense of creativity, we lose access to our higher order thinking. We can't function anymore. We just fight. Or run. Or freeze.

Major pieces of the way that we are as humans shut down, while we try to deal with the crisis that's right in front of us. But the chemicals that do that, the biochemistry that makes that happen, also does other things like cortisol. I've been watching my blood sugar closely recently. And it turns out that cortisol is one of the worst things I can do to it. Sugar's not great. But cortisol is much worse.

And anything I can do to downregulate my system makes such a difference to my physical body health. It also makes a difference to the community health where I am a leader, where I am interacting, where I'm in relationship with other people. When I was, you know, 27 or 28, I would react immediately. I would allow that intensive link with the emotional self to drive my interactions. If something happened, I wanted to respond immediately if something came at me, I wanted to come back at it or run away immediately, even if I didn't need to. I still want to, but I do it a lot less because what I've discovered is that if I can get to a regulated place first, it's better.

What is regulated? Regulated for me means that I'm aware of what's going on. But it's not running me. Regulated means that my skin isn't buzzing, that my eyes aren't blurry, that my breath is deep and not rapid. Regulated means that I'm not sitting there feeling like I'm about to burst into tears. Regulated means that I'm not feeling overstimulated. Regulated means that I'm not feeling under slept.

As many of those factors as I can manage. It makes such a difference because as an intensive, it's like, we have the basic fight flight freeze fawn response. And then on top of that, we have our intensiveness. And we have our intuition. And we have our sense of what the world is like.

And our sense of what the world is like-- that's what makes us feel like we're right all the time. Because mostly we are, and we mostly are because probably we're picking up on details and putting together things that other folks don't. We understand connections, and subtle cues that most folks aren't aware of.

There are other kinds of people that have that, too. Some kinds of neuro divergence carry that as a characteristic. Certainly a lot of kinds of trauma carry that as a characteristic. So we're not alone in being able to pick up subtle things and assemble them. But when we do, combined with our intensiveness, combined with all those other things that it means to be an intensive, we can make a big mess of any situation we're in. We can do so much damage if we're not careful.

The force and strength and intuitive understanding of what has impact, and our intuitive use of that understanding to make what we do powerful, means that we can hurt so many people in so little time. And this is the thing that so many expansives will tell us is damaging to them and to the world.

There'll be like you can't be intensive, because you're damaging. And what they're pointing to is that thing, that thing where when we're activated, and we're moving fast, and we're using all those instincts, and we're using all of our gifts, we can do vast amounts of damage in very short periods of time.

They're not wrong, we can. And they are wrong, because it's not that we need to stop being intensive. It's that we need to be self aware-intensives. This is why I started doing this work.

Because I was watching. I was watching intensives in like leadership, in the tech world, in the startup world, at the head of companies- because, of course we're innovative. Of course we're disruptive. Of course, we're all those things. And we are stubborn enough to follow those impulses and those instincts and those understandings, even when everyone around us is telling us we can't. And that's how we ended up at the heads of tech companies.

And I was watching intensives at the heads of tech companies making giant messes. Because they didn't know. Because they were doing the best they could with the tools they had. But there was no awareness of this matrix of behaviors and skills and powers and gifts that makes us who we are.

And so it becomes absolutely imperative that we are aware of our own brains. That we understand what the impact is. That we have the skills and the tools to regulate ourselves, or to just shut up until we're able to be in a different place. To help people around us understand that when we get up and leave a conversation when we get up and leave the room when we take a pause when we make it quieter, what we're doing is making sure that we don't do damage.

And also it is imperative that we have- it is imperative that we have good ethics. It is imperative that we meet our own needs that our needs get met as part of the project of everyone's needs getting met. That if our needs aren't getting met in our company, for example, that our needs are getting met somewhere else.

For example, maybe our needs for emotional support or validation are getting met somewhere else. Because it's not right to expect people who work under you to validate you consistently. Sure it's fine to say "you're my advisor, I want your opinion on this," that's different.

But if you just need someone to gas you up, that's not your staff. You can hire a coach, you can have family members and friends do it. But you got to make sure that that need is getting met. And there are places where it is and isn't appropriate for that need to get met. And that's true. I hate the word appropriate. But it's true in this case.

And so you have to, we have to, make sure that especially when we're leading organizations, that we're checking in, that we're making sure that everybody's needs are getting addressed. That we're checking in, that we're making sure that everybody is getting supported. And that that means us too. Because when we are supported, when we feel replete, when we feel filled up, when we feel safe, we make better decisions. We have better insights.

We are actually more effective at our jobs, at our leadership, in our relationships, when we feel safe. And if we can't, because sometimes that's life, right? Sometimes, you can't, you can't find enough. Sometimes it's survival resources, like food and shelter. And sometimes it's emotional resources. And sometimes it's other things. But sometimes we just don't have access to them.

It is important, it is vital for us to slow down. And I know we hate slowing down, especially when we're under stress, or excited about something. Slowing down is not a thing. But we have to. We have got to slow down. Because when we slow down, when we slow down, that's when we reduce the risk of harm. That's when we do the best that we can even under the circumstances. Slower, quieter, more spacious: not things that come naturally to us.

But when we create those spaces, when we run off the energy in other ways, when we, when we just take a moment. When we create a buffer for ourselves, between us and our own intensiveness, then our nervous systems can soothe and calm. And when our nervous systems can soothe and calm, then we're able to be better people, we're able to be better leaders, we're able to be better influences in the world.

And that, all of that, are the tendrils, the little tiny beginning tendrils of roots of pleasure. Because pleasure doesn't start with orgasm level excitement. Pleasure starts with the seeds of safety. With the tiniest threads of connection. With just the beginnings, just the beginnings of not being activated. That's where pleasure starts.

And so if you're having trouble, like a lot of us are, reaching these ecstatic heights of pleasure, with being excited about things with feeling amazing about things. If the things that usually make you really jazzed are just barely hitting the meter at all. There's probably a lot of stress under it. There's probably a lot of anxiety under it. There probably needs that aren't getting met under it.

And when those needs start to get met, then the wholeness bubbles up from underneath. It won't necessarily lead you to ecstasy in the middle of a crisis. But it may, may give you a beginning.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you soon.