I want to talk about our relationship with pain and pleasure and take a look at the relative values of both.
First of all, pain gets very little validation as either a path or a learning tool and it is intimately bound to, even constricted by, time. Pain is generally measured by the time it takes to pass as opposed to the time it takes for us to get its message or make our way.
It’s opposite, pleasure, is generally regarded as good and we don’t mind how much of our time we give it.
As I often do I will turn to the Websters Dictionary for a definition of pleasure and pain.
highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury
suffering · agony · affliction ·
cause mental or physical pain
hurt · cause pain · be painful · be sore · ache · throb · smart · burn · prickle · sting · pinch · twinge · cause discomfort · be tender · kill · play up · sadden · grieve · distress · make miserable/wretched · trouble · worry · bother · perturb · disturb · oppress · harrow · cause anguish to · afflict · cut to the quick · mortify · torment · torture · wound · gnaw at
a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment
happiness · delight · joy · gladness · rapture · glee · satisfaction · gratification · fulfilment · contentment · contentedness · enjoyment · amusement · delectation
enjoyment · fun · entertainment · amusement · diversion · recreation · leisure · relaxation · jollies · beer and skittles, joy · delight · source of pleasure · enjoyment · amusement · diversion · recreation · pastime · divertissement · treat · thrill
“the touch of his fingers gave her such pleasure”
sensual gratification · hedonism · indulgence · self-indulgence · self-gratification · lack of self-restraint · lotus-eating · sybaritism
give sexual enjoyment or satisfaction to
Still Life Abundance by Carmol Scammell
So, there we have it. PLEASURE is all the nice things in life and PAIN is all the suffering.
But is there a case for PAIN being the pathway to a more substantial brand of PLEASURE?
Too often I have been told by well-meaning family or friends to give up on something or someone who causes me pain. But the truth is I willingly suffer for my art. I have put in years to achieve a result that largely goes out into the world unrequited. I have also put in years nurturing relationships with people that others would walk away from. Well-meaning friends whose lives are punctuated with episodes of moderate pleasure in the form of holidays and romantic relationships, advise me to stop “wasting my time” on books, musicals and people who cause me pain and frustration. Their concern is both reasonable and touching. Perhaps on my last day I will look back and wish I’d been more frivolous and spent my time enjoying myself as opposed to wasting my time on projects and people that have given me little in return. Or have they?
Pleasure can certainly be measured in laughter and sensual engagement with food, wine and attractive others. But this kind of pleasure is temporary and requires much topping up and surely when looped on repeat it suffers from a lack of surprise? My pleasure, when it does arrive after years of investment in the form of energy and hope, signals a mark in time, meaning I have produced something of lasting quality. The quality of my investment requires no “topping up” because it will endure and delight others. I hope!
Anyone who has suffered the pain of creating a work of art or making a new scientific discovery has a sense of self-worth and achievement that goes far beyond the simple pleasure of a night out or a holiday. Their joy echoes in that silent realm of spiritual connection that translates into the illumination of everything around them. In short, the person who feels validated by achievement sees the world differently.
This kind of joy is not mentioned in Websters definition of PLEASURE.
And I maintain that only PAIN leads a person to this illuminating brand of PLEASURE.
So, now applying that to relationships with people. In the Websters definition of pleasure we see a selfish focus. Pleasure is measured by what others bring to us. He/she brings sexual fulfilment. She/he brings wonderful food and joyful celebrations. He/she completes us. This pleasure is outwardly focused. Now look at the relationships where you are the giver rather than the receiver. You give to others in order to help them grow and become more fulfilled. You give to others in order to heal them or make them well. You give to others in order to release them from cages of confusion and pain. If the recipient is your child, friend, family member or student you may give for years and receive little in return until one bright day the butterfly emerges from the cocoon with wings fully-formed ready to brace the skies. You know that all the years of support and buffering against the elements have given this person time to grow and with your steady belief in them they are ready to brave the storms and brilliance of that exposing light. They are brave and they are free.
There is a huge difference in the quality of a relationship based solely on pleasure as opposed to one that endures pain and the time of its duration to fund enormous growth in the beloved. True, this kind of relationship often leads to separation as the beloved flies off, but if you are on your own path you will need that wingspan yourself and your paths will cross from time to time.
Beware the kind of pleasure that twines an everlasting loop. It goes nowhere, proffers no-one.
Beware also the kind of pain that refuses to let go of the past. It, too, goes nowhere. The only way to discern who is worth investing your love and time into is to maintain your own trajectory in life and teach by example.
Now I want to look at an entirely different kind of pain that leads the sufferer to a very different kind of pleasure. There are people who give their lives to God. These spiritual questers put their faith in something no-one can prove. They suffer deprivation, poverty and rigid discipline in order to achieve a connection with a God who possibly never answers a single prayer. I have met a few of these people on my travels through life and have observed that their enlightenment comes through endurance and faith. They may never hear God but they seem to find a deeply-felt pleasure in giving to others and denying themselves all temporary pleasure. These people may well be deluded but they have a huge reservoir of spiritual generosity and kindness. Perhaps even God’s silence is part of the pain they use to develop empathy. These people do not judge who is worthy of their time. They give of themselves unstintingly and deem it an investment.
I am not talking here about the paedophile priest or scam-artist guru or self-appointed New Age prophet. I am talking about the simple men and women of any faith or creed who have largely outgrown their doctrines to invest in a living ministry where they are available to those in need. I have seen these people in action and witnessed the transformational results of their love for humanity. To the outsider their lives appear empty and painful, but look more closely and you will see that their souls shine with transcendental pleasure and that their high-grade joy has an angelic lustre. In short, these people are happy and fulfilled and they have earned this peace of mind through years of deprivation and by giving up all the usual pleasures of life.
Theirs is a pleasure earned through pain. I would posit that most of them have given up waiting for God to answer and have chosen instead to act like God.
Pain usually signals illness of body, mind or spirit. But there is another kind of pain, one that marks progress and endurance and accompanies us on the road less travelled. This is the good pain and the one worth enduring.
And finally, the worst pain of all – the pain of sour pleasure. This is the unbearable pain that follows years of indulgence. This is the agonising realisation that too much pleasure hurts and we have wasted our lives partying. Now the music that once made us dance beats into our brains like a drum and the laughter of drunk friends is hot wires to the senses and the feast that once excited us tastes like ashes and our wasted years shroud our souls. We have danced our lives away and the pleasure is agonising.
It is a Midas touch, the gold that buries us in a mountain of futility.
Our pleasure is our pain and only real deprivation can return us to the path that leads to sacred joy, holy light and the kind of pleasure that illuminates the soul.