Pain and Pleasure, Suffering and Happiness; Dealing with Dualities of Life.
Pain and Pleasure, Suffering and Happiness; Dealing with Dualities of Life. Plus explanation of my hiatus.
Lately in my life I have been exploring the nature and mechanisms of pleasure and pain, suffering and happiness. This has been done on the theoretical and experiential levels. My intention here is to deliver a succinct understanding of these four human experiences, so we can navigate them in a peaceful and balanced way. This text will have a very spiritual flavour, touching on Buddhist and Yogic understandings of Maya, ie the grand illusion we call life.
Disclaimer: Even though I write these words and express enlightening ideas, I make no claim to being perfect. I experience the ups and downs of being human, just like all of us. This article is a toolkit for riding those waves with optimal balance and peace.
There are two main things to understand when it comes to pleasure and pain, suffering and happiness. Firstly, pain is not the same as suffering, and pleasure is not the same as happiness. They are four distinct experiences. The second thing to understand, is that pain and pleasure will always exist in human life, while both suffering and happiness are optional. Let us now unpack a clearer definition of these four experiences.
Pleasure and pain are sensations that arise in the human body. They can be physiological, emotional, or even mental and spiritual. Pleasure is an umbrella term that lumps in all the sensations we prefer. It typically includes base indulgences like food and sex, but can also include higher- level pleasures like flow states, the exercising of skill, and apprehending new knowledge. Even friendship is a form of pleasure. Pain typically refers to sensations we do not prefer, such as physical injury, breakups, grief and loss, stress and anxiety.
Pain and pleasure will always exist in life, whether you are an enlightened monk or a blue-collar criminal. Pain and pleasure is a single duality, two ends of a spectrum, which help us define the “quality” of a sensory experience. As with all dualities, pain and pleasure can often overlap and interconnect. Too much pleasure can be nauseating and sickening…We eventually need a break. Similarly, it is possible to enjoy pain, if you associate it with meaning and virtue. Pain and pleasure always roll in and out of our life, like tides brushing against the shore of our experience.
Let us now explore the practical ways for dealing with pleasure and pain. The first step is accepting that they will always be around. Every sensory experience has a tone of pleasure or pain woven into its fabric. So it is no good to deny, resist, or escape these forces. The only sane response is to allow and accept them.
The second big insight for dealing with pleasure and pain, is to recognise the Buddhist principle of impermanence. This natural law tells us that all forms, whether a person, a chair, or a feeling, is subject to change. Nothing lasts forever. All things come and go. Birth and death infinitum. This means that every hint of pain and pleasure you experience will come to an end. So rather than adding extra resistance onto an experience, wishing it weren’t so, simply embrace that is transient. Whether a sore foot or a sad heart, remember the mantra, “This too shall pass”. The circumstance mustn’t even change… All that must change is your point of focus, until your experience is enveloped by a new ocean of stimuli. You don’t even need to try or execute a process… It will happen automatically.
The problem is when we block this natural flow of new experience by attaching onto old experience. We build the habit of drudging up old events, hitting the replay button as we mutter and curse about past negative experiences… Or a slight variation, we take a present experience and then overlay it with mental chatter, sometimes pleasant but sometimes very harsh. The problem is when our mental ramblings are incessant and not aligned with truth. So what I advocate here is to drop our extra layers of resistance and attachment to certain experiences. We are much better off to accept every experience, to experience it FULLY, so that we have exhausted its dimensions and can finally let it go. In short, feel it fully then let it go.
So far we have looked at some tips for dealing with pain and pleasure. One is to accept they will always be coming. The other is to accept they are always transient and going. So feel it fully, then naturally let it go. No need to add extra mental resistance.
Now we will explore the definitions of suffering and happiness. We have already eluded to the idea of suffering, but let us dial up the lucidity of this concept even more. This is best done when contrasting suffering with pain. Pain is the raw sensory data of your experience; The tingle of that sore foot, the compression in your heart. Suffering however is the overlaying of mental resistance. It is when the mind kicks off its engine of complaining, judging, and negative self-talk. This stream of suffering creates a ricochet of additional pain and suffering, sending shrapnel through the physical mental and emotional body.
So what are some ways to minimize suffering? I know of two main techniques. The first is mental override. This is the practice of noticing when you are getting stuck in negative self-talk and stories. With the light of awareness, you then choose, “No, that’s enough. I acknowledge that I experienced pain because of XYZ, and I see that I’m creating a story or mental re-run around it. But now I wish to cultivate a new attitude and story of ABC…” Then maybe you will breathe up through the chakras, dispersing that new story through your energy body. The other key technique which can help end suffering, is simply finding stillness. So if you are suffering, take a seat and simply allow yourself to be still with your pain and suffering. Let them move through you and be seen, with no extra input from you. Eventually these feelings of pain and suffering will pass through your energy field, and your energy field will be clean and clear once again. This is a common outcome of meditation. Accessing stillness, the pure light of awareness and non-doing, is an ultimate tool for re-setting our mental emotional and physical state. Furthermore, practicing the art of stillness will help make you more aware and attuned when slithers of suffering start emerging within you, meaning you can be quicker to address it.
Finally let us explore the meaning of happiness. As mentioned, happiness is distinct from pleasure. We often associate happiness with the attainment of desired outcomes, like money, status, achievement, romantic love, ect. But these things are more likened to pleasure than happiness. As spiritual teacher Aaron Abke once said, “If your happiness is dependent on a particular outcome, it is not true happiness, because the moment you lose that outcome, you will lose your happiness along with it. Real happiness occurs for no reason at all.” Happiness is simply the absence of disfunction. It is the absence of ego, complaining, resistance and longing. It is to arrive in the Now, as your destination of contentment, joy, and peace. To help elucidate the experience, other synonyms for this kind of happiness include silence, stillness, presence, peace, meditative mind, no mind, witnessing, emptiness, fullness, bliss, pure Tao, pure energy, pure consciousness, joy, love.
Let us now summarise the content of this article with a bullet-point cheat sheet.
- Pain and suffering are different things, and so too is pleasure and happiness.
- Pain and pleasure will always exist in human life. They are qualities woven into the fabric of every sensory experience.
- The best ways to deal with pain: Accepting it will always come and go, so experience it fully then let it go, without adding extra mental resistance.
- Pain is the pure sensory data, while suffering is the additional layers of negative stories and self-talk. Suffering creates extra ricochets of pain in the body mind and emotions.
- Ways to treat suffering includes mental override and simply finding stillness.
- Happiness is not pleasure or physical attainment. It is the absence of disfunction. Happiness is a state of being, where we arrive in the now as a full cup of energy, awareness, and peace. It is to experience the fullness and beauty of existence through the body and mind. It is to find peace and joy simply living in the moment.
I hope you enjoyed this article. May you accept pleasure and pain, let each experience flow and transform, finding happiness through stillness, silence and presence. Through the shadowy throws of suffering, may you find the light. It is always there. Namaste.
I’m not sure if anyone noticed my lack of Facebook posting lately, except for sharing a few links. It’s not that I have been lazy; Quite the opposite, lol. Rather than writing and sharing drib drabs of random articles, I have spent each day working on a big project behind the scenes. I am creating some comprehensive recourses so I can share all my specialized knowledge with you. I am very keen! Do not think I have been lazy, lol. The gems are coming. Namaste!