Human beings are, by nature, pleasure seekers. Most decisions we make are motivated by either our desire to experience pleasure or avoid pain. And as we go through life, we become explorers to try to find what it is that will bring us that true pleasure.
Unlike the animal kingdom, we aren’t satisfied just living with the bare minimum to keep us safe and secure, when there are a myriad of pleasurable experiences that we want to try. We aren’t complacent, settling for bread and water for survival when there is steak and sushi to be enjoyed. But even greater than mere physical gratification, our desire for pleasure yearns for something even deeper and more meaningful. A pleasure that can only be found through feelings of love and connection.
This brings us to the struggle that exists within the water element in a person. Water represents our feelings and emotions, the pleasures we experience on a soul level. It is at this level that we experience both a yearning for love and connection, as well as a pull toward physical gratification. In fact, research has shown that both feelings of love as well as physical pleasures activate related areas in our brains, known as pleasure centers. The close relationship between the two shows us that desire for physical pleasure used correctly is a powerful tool that leads to love or to enhance existing love.
Just as water is the source of all life and growth, it is the love and connection that we feel that is the source of all of our vitality. When we feel loved, we feel a great sense of pleasure. And when we feel that a lack love and connection, we begin to feel an inner emptiness which causes our brains to look for an easy way to substitute the drought that is caused by our loneliness. We naturally gravitate toward substituting that desire for pleasure with other pleasurable experiences that give us a “quick fix,” fooling our brains to temporarily think that everything is good. This can lead us to indulge in excess pleasure and generate feelings of lust and inappropriate desires.
It is for this reason that mental health professionals have found that many clients that have fallen into the trap of some addictions are at their core looking for love and connection. The void in their hearts that really needed to be filled with love and affection now causes them to look to supplement that lack by indulging in other pleasures that will give them a false sense of satisfaction. That inner pure desire to feel love and connection is replaced with an unquenchable thirst for more physical pleasure. It is because of this that we find that illicit physical pleasures are referred to in the Torah as mayim genuvim, “stolen waters.” (Proverbs 9:17)
In order to become a master over the water element one needs to learn to excel in the following areas:
Our Sages teach us about a trait called gevurah, translated as inner strength or discipline. To understand this trait, we turn back to our Sages in Ethics of Our Fathers, who teach us: “Who is considered a person of strength? One who has learned to conquer their desires.”
To conquer one’s desires does not mean making them go away. It means having them under your control to use them however you would like. When an army conquers a city, the greatest expression of strength is not to destroy the enemy. It is to take them under their control. That is true gevurah, discipline.
The path of elevation encourages us to reframe how we look at pleasure and try to turn it into a growth experience. So, instead of engaging in a physically pleasurable activity just for the sake of the pleasure that we get from it, we try to develop a mindset as to what we are really achieving through that activity. Some of the ways we can be more mindful is to focus on the following:
How this pleasure will give us good health or energy
How it might strengthen us physically, emotionally, or mentally
How it will give us the ability to appreciate the Almighty for the gift of pleasure
How we are utilizing and transforming the raw materials of creation into sources of strength so that we can become the best version of us and serve God better
DEEP, LOVING RELATIONSHIPS
Water is composed of two elements: oxygen and hydrogen. When they come together, they create something new: water, the foundation of life. But the only reason that those elements combine is because of their polarity. The pleasure we experience from love is when two individuals come together — not for selfish reasons or to indulge in their own benefits — but for the specific desire of completing the other. It is also the movement and fluidity of water that symbolizes the flexibility of both parties that allows them to evolve and grow together. Water easily mixes and seamlessly becomes one unit. It is the water part of us that allows us to become one with another.
This adage from King Solomon further draws a parallel between love and water:
“As the face is reflected in water, so is one’s heart reflected in another.” (Proverbs 27:19.)
When we see our reflection in water, we realize that we are looking at ourselves. Successful relationships happen as we begin to see the other as a part of us. On a body level, we might be two separate people, but on a soul level we are connected. The other’s growth is my growth, his or her pain is my pain, etc. The transformation of lust to love happens when we no longer see ourselves as separate entities but as one and the same. Until then, we will still prioritize our own self-interests. If our relationship is centered on our own benefit and pleasure it can be easily uprooted when an outside object of lust presents itself.
When we consistently work on engaging in mindful pleasure and creating/maintaining deep, loving connections in which we focus on the other, we will find that the water realm inside of us will overflow with “waters of life” that will provide us with a life of meaning and vitality.
Based on the book