Pleasure is not a feeling commonly associated with public speaking for many, and brain science research published recently gets to the very heart of why this is so.

This column about pleasure emerged from great pain evoked in me by the new findings, which made me suddenly aware of the hellish learning environment in which I first started making sounds on my road to saying my first words. As a result of that early distress, expressing myself coherently in certain situations was a great challenge for decades.

Thus, this column represents a turning point in my life work of facilitating environments that support liberated expression.

The past few months I’ve been citing brain research about “the gaze of attunement” (see here), starting with how we learn to attune with other humans through extensive languorous mutual gazing with mom starting around age 4 months. If this “mother mirroring” is not compromised by stress, depression, etc., the gazing is totally pleasurable for the infant.

Now comes the finding that at around 6 months, babies begin shifting their gaze to studying mouths when people talk to them. Thus begins the incredibly complex process of learning how to speak. (See “Babies Read Lips.”)

But if the parents have not established a pleasurably spacious learning environment through extensive attuned gazing, the learning process is fraught with anxiety. In the months it takes for the first words to emerge, and the years before sentences begin to form, speaking has become neurologically coupled with stress. And even more damaging, the brain has wired itself for how we approach all future learning.

So did you grow up in a dependably pleasurable learning environment? With the best of intentions, how many parents are able to provide that in the world of hurt in which so many live? Am I the only one who’s first communication teachers were a depressed mom and a rage-aholic dad?

Humans are designed to learn best in a pleasure zone, but it’s no wonder that most classrooms seem to be anxiety mills that recreate the first “home school” experienced by so many of us.

Learning in Pure Pleasure Presence

Recently I was struck by the dependably luxurious pleasure field of the Speaking Circle. Relational Presence, which is founded in the finely calibrated “gaze of attunement” we were meant to get as infants, is the priority for the audience as well as for the person up front. In this secure environment, with no demand to perform or even to speak, we discover how to transform public presence into the pleasure it is meant to be.

It is common for a new participant to be flowing along nicely and suddenly ask anxiously, “Is my time almost up?” I’ve always wondered why this happens, considering that the room was a pure pleasure field right up until that question. I have come to realize that the person was having a flashback to a very young age when looking into certain eyes was the traumatic equivalent of staring into the double barrel of a loaded shotgun. (Imagine that kind of learning environment!) Even one or two moments of that kind of terror in an otherwise pleasurable turn colors the whole experience. This is why video can be most useful.

When participants come to trust themselves to be themselves in an enriched, supportive learning environment, they find that the pleasure zone is portable and can be taken out into the “real world,” any time, any where.

© Copyright 2012, Lee Glickstein. All rights reserved.