A friend of mine Barbara Kuppers, was facilitating a Byron Katie group a week ago. I’m walking down the passage during the tea break and I see that wonderful saying by John Lennon on the wall which says, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”
I’m sure you’ve heard it and loved it, perhaps as much as I have. What came to mind in the moment I read it was,
“Life is what happens while you’re wishing things were different.”
For me, this reformulation captures the essence of suffering in the world. We have an immense and overwhelming aversion to pain and an equally intense attraction towards pleasure. We think that this is the only way it can be.
Vast tracts of our life are spent chasing down and running away from these two polar opposites.
We see and hear and have an experience that opposes our very particular set of ‘likes’ and ‘values’ and our whole energy system goes into an uproar.
By energy system I mean our thoughts, our sensations, our feelings.
We are so used to this that we hardly notice it. The hundreds, yes hundreds of times a day that we encounter things that affront and upset us become the constant noise of our lives and we hardly notice them, except to say, “I’m so stressed, I’ve had such a bad day, he’s such an idiot, I wish this wasn’t happening…endlessly.”
What is equally fascinating is the extent to which I see that most people are not aware of the degree to which they do this.
There is a beautiful line from a Joni Mitchell song:
Everything comes and goes,
pleasure moves on too early
and trouble leaves to slow.
What she is highlighting so beautifully, so poetically, is how we live grasping at life.
This word grasping captures perfectly the contraction, the constriction involved in this need for pleasure.
If you’ve read any of my Self-Esteem work you will know how expansion reflects great Self-Esteem and how its opposite, contraction is indicative of it’s loss.
Can you feel the contracted pain in your moment to moment grasping? Trying to manipulate and control events, people, life?
Life is Change
The line, “Pleasure moves on too early” says that even in pleasure, there is pain, because we don’t want it to end. But everything that has a beginning has an end.
Part of the problem is that pleasure feels wonderful, so we keep pursuing it but the more we pursue it the more we entrench the fear of losing it.
The human organism is designed, for survival purposes, to resist pain and to move towards pleasure.
Definitely a wonderful thing.
It is also designed to be hypervigilant for pain so that it can fix problems before they endanger the organism.
I saw a lovely video recently about Donald Trump – I mean do we not have an avalanche of information about this man in the news and on social media at the moment?
In the video we are presented with the idea that illness is a blessing because it prevents us from dying suddenly without warning. It went on to suggest that Donald Trump was also a blessing in that he reflects an illness in American society, something needs fixing.
Pain is a Blessing.
Leaving Trump aside for the moment, let me simply say that the pain of illness is something we resent and resist yet it is one of the greatest mechanisms designed to help us to take care of ourselves.
What makes this whole story so tricky is that it is appropriate to want happiness in your career, to marry the right person so that you can have the maximum amount of happiness, to be as healthy as possible and so on, but the problem is you will never separate pleasure from pain, they are Siamese twins locked together in an infinite dance on this planet of matter and form and…
We are addicted to pleasure
and we have the fantasy that we can keep pursuing it and feel less pain.
But the more you pursue it,
The more pain you will experience.
I know that this is hard to believe, it seems counterintuitive, but test it. Just begin to notice how often you look forward to some event and you are let down by it.
Just notice how often you resist and resent something painful and the relief from it is momentary and then you are back to the next painful thing.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Everyone has experienced boring meetings. Boredom is painful. Not many people realize that it is painful.
So you sit in the meeting resisting the pain of boredom
1 or 2 or 3 hrs of pain.
Many people just leave the room in their heads, they dissociate into some other reality, some other world outside of the room, texting, ‘Facebooking’…it’s temporary relief.
You leave the meeting and the relief is intense, but simultaneously you are bitching and moaning in your head about the meeting and the people in it and that is deep suffering.
Then you tell your partner about it that evening, with the fantasy that they will support you – you are grasping at the pleasure you hope you will get when they support you. But they are tired of your stories and you get no sympathy.
In fact they try to one up you by telling you their story of suffering for the day.
Then you get divorced because neither of you were sufficiently interested in the other’s suffering.
Grasping has destroyed the relationship.
Another significant arena for the desire for pleasure is ‘Wanting to be right!’
Just notice how much of the time someone says something and you disagree, strongly, and now you get really insistent and passionate and pushy about asserting your opinion, belief, facts…
When you are doing this you are wanting the pleasure of being right, or being approved of for being right and for winning!
Notice as well how there is a sense of desperation around all of this ‘wanting’ which contains the desire for pleasure and simultaneously the pain of fearing you won’t get all of the things you are wanting.
The Pleasure – Pain Model
I met with Dr John Demartini some months ago for a cup of tea, when I asked him to write the foreword to my book. We talked about how he helped me to get away from so much that is not useful in the traditional models of psychology which I was taught at University.
And he sighed and smiled and said, “Yes indeed, most of psychology has not transcended the pleasure pain – model.”
So the big question is what does it mean to transcend this pleasure – pain model? How do we stop resisting the very fabric of egoic life which is, “Wishing what was happening in the now was different,” which is really saying, “I’ve got to run from pain and have more and more and more pleasure.”
A Method…A Practice.
In my experience there is no alternative but to have some form of spiritual or religious practice and I’m not talking about attending church or the synagogue or the mosque, I’m talking about having the experience of something that is outside of wanting more pleasure and avoiding pain.
Prayer and meditation are perhaps the two primary ways to do this, but my experience is that if these two practices are just confined to your place of worship or when your eyes are closed, their impact on your life and your way of being in the world is going to be severely limited.
We all have met people who go to a place of worship or who pray every day and yet the pleasure – pain polarity is still driving their lives.
I use Adyashanti’s True Meditation technique.
I am sitting here, typing this blog.
What am I aware of?
There is this faint sense of chasing down the pleasure of completing a blog that is satisfying and not wanting it to be lacking in quality, but much more deeply there is a Stillness, an energetic Presence, an almost indefinable Beingness that pervades my body, my Being.
It has a richness, a vibrance, an energetic signature that is beyond achievement and reward or criticism and failure.
Am I Good Enough?
There is most importantly no sense of the question “Am I good enough.”
There is no sense of ‘I’ or this moment needing to be different.
In fact the sense of an “I” the ego is marginal, it’s there but is not front of house, it’s not driving me.
Everyone, yes everyone has experienced this at times in their lives. When we forget ourselves, when we forget this identity that we are so much of the time protecting and trying to enhance, when we are lost in laughter or in our passion, deeply fulfilled, that is when Stillness and Presence and Pure Consciousness arises.
My 2 day workshop The Gateway to Peace encapsulates and focuses on these two elements.
How to discover the Stillness, this Presence that is beyond the pleasure-pain addiction of the mind. That’s what we cover on the first day. On the second day we move into how to discover that you are good enough, right here, right now, before the pleasure, the pain, the achievement or failure and most importantly, beyond grasping.
In discovering that you are good enough now, enables the grasping to soften, because after all, the grasping is saying, “I need something more to make me feel better.”
The meditation enables a deeper capacity to experience self love and internal power.
To be more open to reality and to not need to manipulate it endlessly is to discover a lightness of being that is beyond the mind, beyond words, beyond that which is open to evaluation and judgment. Which doesn’t mean that you will stop wanting pleasure and the need to avoid pain, to escape the present moment, but you will discover that your true nature is beyond and outside of thoughts and feelings and you can begin to spend more time there.
What a relief…what a blessing!
In Love & Power,