Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Seeking Pleasure or Avoiding Pain: Which is Your Style?

Let's face it, we humans live in a dualistic world that has trained us to watch our backs. Yes, we have the greatest of pleasures (warm sunshine, delicious foods, the love of our families and friends, etc.), but we are also subject to the greatest of pain (disease, violence, aging, and death). And since our ego's job is to keep us safe, it only makes sense that it would be acutely motivated to help us seek out safe or pleasurable experiences, and avoid the painful ones.

You might be thinking that this is certainly true for people who live in war zones or poverty states---real survival situations---but maybe you're beyond that primal kind of thinking. The funny thing is that the pleasure and pain principle applies across the board, from physical to mental to emotional and spiritual. Wherever you are on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, from physical survival to self-actualization, you are motivated by some form of seeking what is pleasant and avoiding what is not.

So now comes the question of how this applies to your situation. Looking over your life, would you say that more of your decisions were based on pursuing outcomes you desired, or avoiding outcomes you dreaded? For instance, if you were unhappy in a job or relationship, how did you respond? Did you try to improve it, leave it, or stay in it and armor yourself against its effects? There's no right answer here, because every situation is different, and we all have individual lessons to learn and karma to burn.

When I look at my life, I can see that I've been motivated by both pleasure and pain, but that I've perhaps erred on the side of avoidance. I sometimes stay in the same place for fear of trying something new that might fail or prove dangerous, and thus lead to pain or regret. Of course, that doesn't take into account the ongoing pain caused by staying in a bad situation! My point: we can benefit from taking a hard look at this issue.

This week, I invite you to take an honest appraisal of your life and your relationship with pleasure and pain. Try to see the nuances implied in these general terms. Pleasure can mean safety, health, comfort, rest, love, having enough to eat, or anything that feels good to you. Pain can mean rejection, abandonment, humiliation, challenges, hostility, illness, or anything that feels bad to you.

Good luck, and have a pleasurable week.