Pain and Pleasure

Pain and Pleasure

As animals, we share with all animals strong, instinctive survival drives to gratify desires for food, water, sex, and comfort. We have strong drives to avoid pain, danger, or anything that might harm us or our tribe. Survival entails reducing distress and satisfying desires.

As social mammals, we are born with a need for acceptance, safety, and power. We are born into this world helpless and vulnerable, dependent upon others for our survival. With this radical vulnerability comes a need to control, which we do as babies by making our needs met through crying. We develop other ways of controlling the world as we grow older to gain even greater safety and power. Taken to the extreme, these drives manifest in greed, a lust for power, and the exploitation of others for one’s own benefit.

Because of these instinctive drives, we grasp for pleasure and push away pain. This is natural. Yet we are more than other mammals. We are human. We have a spiritual nature as well as an animal nature. We can love, experience wonder, grace, beauty, oneness, and a sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves. We can experience a sense of purpose. We have creative and artistic drives. We can experience deep empathy and connection with others and enjoy loving and being loved. We can differentiate gratification from fulfillment, seeing that one is transient and the other can last a lifetime.

We also have the human capacity to derive meaning from our experiences. Herein lies our salvation. If you can positively reframe distress and cravings as valuable messages and give them meaning, then you can achieve freedom from addiction.
To begin, remind yourself that all experience is impermanent, just as everything is impermanent. When you are feeling good, savor your experience, knowing that it will pass. Let go when good times pass, without grasping. Without grasping, there is no suffering.

Regarding pleasure, Gandhi put it best when he said, “Renounce and rejoice.” Renounce a life focused on the pursuit of pleasure and replace it with the pursuit of love. Ironically, when pleasure comes to you, you can better savor it without the pain of knowing it will soon pass.

Just as you let go of pleasure when it passes, so do you face pain when it comes. Pain comes in many forms: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Some pain is of your own doing, while forces beyond your control impose some upon you. You may feel pain in your relationships from neglect and abuse. There is the pain of poverty, destitution, social alienation, and lack of opportunity. Many people experience depression, anxiety, and despair. There is the spiritual pain of a lack of meaning, purpose, and connection to something greater than yourself. There is also the vague feeling of emptiness that can pervade your soul. Some pain is random and senseless, such as for the victims of natural disasters. Pain can be unjust, such as the pain of poverty, lack of opportunity, oppression, or abuse. Some pain is inevitable, such as the pain of loss, disease, decline, decay, and ultimately death.

While pain may have no merit, it can also be a gift. One helpful pain is the daily, mundane discomfort your body produces to keep you alive and well. This pain includes hunger, thirst, heat, cold, the need to urinate and defecate, and the physical pain of injuries. You would soon be dead if you could not experience and respond to these pains. Another pain is the pain of Karma. The painful consequences of unskillful actions teach you how to live in harmony with the world if you only listen. Many understand karmic pain, in retrospect, as the source of their salvation. Their despair awakened them into recovery.

It is right and good that you do what you can to minimize your pain and distress constructively. Some pains can be alleviated. Some cannot. For those that cannot be eased, you have no option but to accept and bear your pain and search for a way to make sense of it. Acceptance is the key. Ground yourself in the realization that this Universe is sacred and that what happens is sacred, even senseless pain. With profound humility, you accept what you cannot change. With this act, suffering diminishes.

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