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Permission Slips
by Stewart Blackburn

My dog, Pono, is clearly one of the takers. She just lies around waiting for someone to feed her, or pat her, or perhaps throw something she can chase, although she never brings it back. But for all her slothfulness and indolence, she provides a valuable function. For without her and her idle kind, those of us who get great joy out of giving would have to work harder to find beings to give to.

There are some great lessons to be learned here about giving and receiving. A great many of us are more comfortable giving than receiving things, especially things like love and pleasure. I encounter this often in my classes. Finding ways of convincing the body-minds of these people that it is okay to enjoy life more has been very challenging. Even simple exercises like deeply savoring chocolate to the point of light trance provokes feelings of contraction and restraint. There seems to be a voice deep inside that says something like, "I can't receive more than just this much. I can't go any further." What then does it take to give oneself permission to feel better than ever before?

We all want pleasure and we all want more pleasure in the sense of wanting to feel better. But there is a countervailing force that suggests that getting that much pleasure may jeopardize being loved. In essence, the question is: "If I allow myself to be who I am and fully open to my desires, will I be loved?" And, many of the traditional religions and spiritual philosophies will flatly say. "No. There are certain things that you need to believe and to do in order to get that Divine blessing of Love." If we can't get unconditional love automatically, then it is a small extension to seek the love we crave from other people, like parents, lovers, and authority figures.

I think part of the problem we are dealing with is an implied notion that there is a limited amount of love and that we have to do something special to get some. Why else would we curtail the deep desires we have for fun and joy and all the rest of life's great pleasures?

But love is like the sunshine. We may not be able to see it sometimes, but it's always there, somewhere. So when we really think about it, the idea that someone gives us love or someone else withholds it doesn't really make sense. It's like saying, "Oh, my dear, because you please me so, I will give you some sunshine." "Thank you, thank you. I can't live without you giving me sunshine." That's nuts. Nobody owns the sunshine and nobody can give it away. It's there, always, just like love is.

So when we look for permission to feel better than ever before, it's not as though we have to find it from outside of ourselves. All we need to do is open to it. Giving ourselves permission to be who we are, to give ourselves mental permission slips to be fully alive, is to trust that there is plenty of love for all of us no matter who we are and what we do.

But there is a subtle and insidious way that we withdraw those permission slips from ourselves each day. We can keep giving ourselves permission slips to be who we are and to do what we do, but can we give other people those same kinds of permission slips? When we decide that someone else is doing things that are not the way they're supposed to do them, or that there is something wrong with how they are living their life, then we are saying that person is not allowed to be who they are or to do whatever it is that they do. We are withdrawing their permission slips.

If it's not safe or okay for them to be who they are, can it really be safe or okay for us to be who we are? When we withdraw someone else's permission slips, we withdraw our own. Our body-mind takes the criticism or judgment personally. The only way to convince our own body-mind that we are worthy of love, that we can safely be ourselves, and that being who we are is just fine, is to make it alright for everyone else to be okay. And that means that criticism and judgment need to be kept out of the picture. They have no place here. In order to love ourselves, we must be open to unconditionally loving others and giving them the permission slips they need. When we do that, we automatically give ourselves the sweet permission slips we need to enjoy life fully.

Pono will never amount to much. In fact, I don't think she's ever made anything except little messes. But every day she reminds me that I love her just for being her and that I, too, am loved for the very same reason.

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is:; email:

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