We probably all have experienced moments in our lives that we wish would never end. Whether they were for a brief moment, like a first date, a vacation or, a long period where the people around us or the job (position) we had were our happiest moments and life was good.
Those moments that when you look back, make us say, “Why did things have to change? Why can’t they be the way they were?”
It’s great to have experienced pleasurable moments and have wonderful memories, but could this be the cause to the pain and suffering we may be living in the present moment?
I know, sounds weird, right? How could beautiful memories and pleasure be the cause of pain?
This question came up not too long ago.
I had an intriguing conversation with a man who had been traveling across South America for almost a year. He had just arrived in Manizales at my friend’s hostel from three days in the Tatacoa Desert. When I asked him about it, the first thing he said was, “I LOVED it so much that I’m NEVER going back!”
He noticed the puzzled look in my eyes, chuckled and said, “If there’s one thing I learned from traveling it’s this; NEVER, EVER go back to a place that you really loved twice. It will only leave you with a huge hole of disappointment.”
If you’re as intrigued over this as I was, keep reading because I asked him to explain:)
“There are 5 major attractions in South America that completely took my breath away the first time I visited them. So much so, that after I left, I wanted to relive the blissful emotions from being there again. So, I went back. Each and every time, it’s like something had gone terribly wrong and they no longer sparked anything for me. You can’t imagine the disappointment of expecting to experience the exquisite, magnificent beauty it once did and be left with a deep, uncomfortable betrayal. So, I no longer go back to the same places I loved that gave me pleasure.”
Now, we may all have our own opinion and conclusion about this. But, if we could put them aside for a while and look at it a little closer, we may discover something we never realized: Pleasure inevitably leads to Pain!
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves. LIFE SHOULD BE ENJOYED!
But, what happens when we hold on and become attached to one particular pleasurable moment?
Aren’t we demanding that life remains static?
But, isn’t life an ongoing movement?
Let’s take a step back and observe it together with an example.
We are at the beach. We go in the ocean, lying on our surf board waiting for the next wave. We watch them coming from far. We pick one. We start paddling to sync ourselves with the break of the waves. Our full and complete attention is on those waves. One comes along, lifts us in the air and carries us forward. Our heart starts racing. Our senses are awakened and receive stimulus energy from everywhere. The sensation is intoxicating. Until we reach the shore and stop moving. We start thinking about what just happened and create an image in our mind of the experience. We want to relive this image. The DESIRE for it to repeat itself arises. Then, we compare our present situation to this image and when it doesn’t meet our expectation, pain is born (disappointment, frustration, anger and so on).
How About Our Daily Life?
Let’s use this example and replace the beach, the ocean, the waves to either the people in our life (family, friends, colleagues), or our career (a past position or one we’re pursuing) or a place, event or activity.
Compared to the image we have in our minds of the way we want others or things to be, we are in conflict with the way they actually are.
We end up depending on others, on their actions and behaviors to make us feel loved. We depend on our jobs, positions and status to make us feel valued. We depend on certain places, events and activities to make us happy. And, when we find it, we want to hold on to it. We want to keep things exactly as they are so we can continue to experience the pleasure it gives us. So, without realizing it, we’re saying, “this is it! Don’t move. Don’t change. I need you to always be this way, so I can be happy.”
Again, enjoying a moment, our job or the people we’re with is a beautiful part of life. The attachment and dependence on them for our happiness and pleasure is the creator of problems and invites misery in our life.
Our pain is the reaction to the attachment
Doesn’t joy lie in the amazing wonder to experience this thing we call life and never stop learning from all it has to offer?
We may not realize just how much importance we have placed in pleasure that we never stop to question it. So, we are constantly pursuing everlasting pleasure in our daily personal and professional lives in many forms.
- The pleasure of a status
- The pleasure of possession
- The pleasure of recognition
- The pleasure of controlling
- The pleasure of popularity and so on.
All this reminds me of my own pursuit that kept me stuck for years.
Prior to leaving my last job, I had the reputation of being good at what I did (managing employees). Of course I loved and was passionate about developing individuals to discover, enable and reach their full potential. But, I also secretly enjoyed the recognition from others and reputation of being a great leader. It gave me pleasure. I identified myself with this and it was a part of my existence. So, it stood in the way of making a major leap in my life for years. It was one of the familiar things I was afraid of losing. What if I would never experience this pleasure again?
The day I realized that being attached to this pleasure meant that I had accepted myself as part of the furniture and that without any of the stuff I was familiar with I had nothing, I saw the danger! The danger in never experiencing joy (not pleasure) in the whole of life. Just like when we see any danger, we don’t stop to analyze the danger, we run away from it. So, I ran.
I gained clarity and a brand new energy in making the change I had longed for. Yes, I faced many challenges and still do. Without the memory of the pleasure of the way things once were, my focus has been on the thing I am most passionate about which brings about a joy in moving forward. That past pleasure just seems like drop in the ocean now.
I shared this with the man. He turned his head and starred at the magnificent view of the mountains around us.
He turned back to me and said, “You know, when I arrived here this morning, my plan was to stay for the night and move on. Compared to the memories of other views and sunsets I’ve seen, I felt there was nothing exciting about this place. But, I was wrong.”
To be able to keep learning and discovering ourselves and the world around us, we must let go of past memories of pleasure and stop trying to give it continuity. Then, every moment becomes a brand new experience. We will no longer make people, events, activities, possessions and so on responsible for our happiness and pleasure. Yes, we may have to deal with difficult situation or respond to others’ behaviors. But, our actions and response will not come from attachment which will put an end to our misery.
Here’s where JOY comes in
Joy (not pleasure) lies in experiencing the whole of life as a fresh new moment. It is long lived and rooted deep inside. But, just mere pleasure without joy is a short-lived illusion that always turns into boredom, disappointment and inevitably pain. When we meet life with fresh new eyes, our outlook on situations will totally transform. Yes, even difficult and challenging moments. You see, if we do not bring a past memory in a current situation, we will treat it as a situation and deal with it. We will not approach it as a problem that can sometimes carry on for days, weeks and months. We will stop trying to control every situation or circumstance in order to relive our fixed idea of pleasure.
In that freshness, we discover a whole new world around us and most importantly, discover all we can do and be beyond our own expectations.
Your turn. Is pleasure the cause of pain?