Pleasure & Pain

There are very few certainties in life, but amongst the few of them, are pleasure, pain, and our innate drive to pursue the former and avoid the latter. Our attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain are the source of our survival as a human species as well as the source of our suffering. Simply put, the drive to pursue and avoid is both a very useful and necessary system, as well as a limited one when it comes to our desire to know peace. Certainly, at times, our tendency to avoid our pain until we’re safe or ready enough to be with it deserves all of our respect and humility. The intelligence of the nervous system is worthy of wonderment. 

But, at times when we mistake our tendency to avoid emotional pain or discomfort as a sense of determination, our suffering tends to take on a larger form. In a valiant, yet somewhat misguided effort, we might tell ourselves, tomorrow is a new day. We vow to buckle down harder. We get harder on ourselves, and perhaps also on the people around us, in our resistance to meeting ourselves where we are. We wait for tomorrow to begin, forgetting that we can only begin now. In telling ourselves that life begins again when we’re through whatever it is we’re enduring, we miss momentary relief in the breeze through the window across our skin, in the kindness of the barista’s smiling eyes, at the sight of the sky as day turns to dusk, or when a loved one courageously asks, “what’s wrong?” and we stubbornly deflect the opportunity to say what we’re really feeling. When it feels like we’re swimming against the tides, or worse yet, like we’ve been pulled all the way below what feels at all tolerable, wondering how or if ever we’ll come back up to breathe again, we don’t tend to want to meet ourselves honestly where we are. Must we really blame ourselves? But along with our primitive wiring, evolution also gave us the gift of discernment. With clear seeing, our avoidance is exposed for what it is, and with clear seeing, we begin (again and again) with compassion, rather than layering suffering on top of pain by berating ourselves.

When we come back to remembering the inevitability of life’s promise of both pleasure and pain, we can reconnect with our deeper knowing that our painful days count as much as the joyful ones because life can only promise both for us to know either at all. In that remembering, our dark days become a little more coloured. Upon trusting ourselves in the discomfort of our pain, we might find ourselves counting our days more fully. Instead of resisting the pain, we resist writing days off. We might even find a new way of being in our lives that doesn’t necessitate dichotomizing our days as good or bad. Instead of resisting the pain, we resist the temptation of promising ourselves a new and better version of ourselves tomorrow and accept ourselves as we are today. With discernment, we face the truth of the matter- it all counts. By showing up in the fullness of our pain, we come to better know the fullness of our joy, and with that, we learn to live in the fullness of our lives. 

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