Tag Archives: pain

Pain and Pleasure Drive Our Actions

hawthorn branch

The Hawthorn tree has lovely flowers but also has thorns – even nature combines pain and pleasure

During my last week’s yoga class my instructor brought up the Buddhist concepts of aversion and attraction, or pain and pleasure.   Yin yoga lends itself naturally to these buddhist principles as certain held postures push us to our limits of pain and are then released in waves of sensational pleasure.  These concepts can be applied to other aspects of our lives.

Buddhism views human nature as being mostly driven by these two impulses – aversion and attraction.  These two areas represent pain and pleasure and it is our human nature to run away from pain and towards pleasure.  In Buddhism there is no “good” or “bad”, just that some things give us greater pleasure and other things give us greater pain.  Furthermore, our emotions distort reality, so our assessment of pain and pleasure is filtered through our emotions.  For example, I might decide based on a few conversations that I do not like someone because of a series of events that skew my reality.  If I had a conversation with a gentleman, and he had a similar morning to mine – too rushed and feeling overwhelmed with the day responsibilities, I might decide that I don’t like that person because of my  negative emotions.  Similarly, I might go to a buffet starved and feeling deprived because I have been on a diet, see all the desserts and look past the vegetables as my urges for the tasty morsels dominate my thoughts.  It’s not that I don’t like vegetables, but I LOVE desserts and I haven’t had one in a long time.

Liberating Ourselves From Pain and Pleasure

Buddhism believes that when we can liberate ourselves from attraction and aversion we can become more spontaneous and authentic.  We will no longer be controlled by our habitual perception of things.  A person who is ruled by pleasure or desire is not free to express his own creative nature.  Desires interfere with our happiness.  The goal is to decrease our selfishness of our desires, stop those things that may harm ourselves or others, in order to find true happiness.  In other words, giving in to our desires causes suffering which keeps us from finding authentic happiness.

Letting Go of Pain and Pleasure

The desire to let go of our impulses is the first step.  By shedding light on what drives our behavior we become aware and enlightened.  While holding a yoga pose I notice that my body starts to shake, some of my muscles begin to ache and my brain tells me to let go.  I also am aware of how my shoulders tend to tense and my face grimaces when I’m uncomfortable, so I try to soften them.  Even though I still have pain during the pose I begin to shift my thoughts on what does not have any pain.

So how can I can I extend my yoga experience into other aspects of my life?  When I notice my negative filter while talking to someone, I tell myself to let go of these thoughts and to just focus on the words spoken and seek clarity where there may be confusion.  When I have a craving, I notice it briefly and then I try to think about something else.  I notice that cravings pass after a few seconds.  I put another thought in my head.   Furthermore, I try to keep my home environment safe – meaning I keep things that cause suffering like potato chips, cookies, and candy, out of the house.  I realize that they may cause short-term pleasure but it is far more outweighed by the negative thoughts of undermining all the good work I have done.  My actions are far from perfect, but I like to gain insight by what drives my behavior so that I can be a more authentic, happy person.  I know that is where lasting happiness lies.



What About Those Areas We Can Control?

We hear about the power of letting go of the things we can’t control.  sailBut what about the things that are difficult and are still within our power to control or influence?  How do we decide how much effort to put into something we feel passionate about, yet may be overwhelming to change?  Most of us in our lifetime have had to come to terms with difficult people, family issues or some other area of pain, unfairness or disappointment.  We vacillate in these situations between feelings of anger when our passion is strong, to resolution when our rational mind takes over, only to have a gathering or event spark the cycle again.

We Need Both Passion and Reason

Kahlil Gibran, an early nineteenth century philosopher wrote in The Prophet about reason and passion saying:

“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite….

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.  If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.  For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.  Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; and let it direct your passion with reason…”

First we need to embrace the fact that we have such strong emotions and that these feelings are what move us forward in personal growth.  Passion can bring light to dark areas.  Reason can bring calm to a storm.  We need both, but we also need to be wise about the power of both and the impact of strong emotions on ourselves and on others.

Emotions Drive Behavior

Often times my clients are awed by how much their emotions drive their actions, particularly when it comes to snacking and non-hungry eating.  If someone is angry over being mistreated their mind is on that feeling.  This often times leads to food cravings of chips, ice cream or candy.   A little pleasure before you know it becomes a whole bag and then a whole bag becomes part of the nightly routine.   This becomes a habit and the feeling never gets resolved.  Instead of coming up with a plan to resolve the feeling, it gets either buried or sparks uncontrolled anger which never gets resolved.

Gain Control With Both Passion And Reason

When trying to influence a person or a situation, consider these suggestions:

  1. Know that what happened in the past, as painful or frustrating as it may be, can not be changed.  You can only impact the actions of the present.
  2. If an individual caused you unjustified pain, first try to look at it from their perspective.  Consider what happened to them in their lifetime to make them act that way.
  3. Talk to the individual or group when you are calm using “I” statements.  “When this happens, it makes me feel…”   “You” statements don’t usually accomplish what you want in the end and tend to make people feel attacked.  We can’t always have guaranteed results, but in the end you will know that you gave it your best shot.
  4. Life is not always fair so sometimes we have to learn to accept a situation.  If you have tried addressing it in a calm, rational matter and it has not yielded the end result you were hoping for, then at least you know you tried.
  5. That is when you know the next step is to accept the things that at that point you are unable to change.  We cannot change a person if they do not want to change.  If you have made an earnest attempt in a sound, rational approach then be at peace and let it go.

We hear about the importance of “letting go” of the things beyond our control.  But from my experience, the more difficult task is to know how much to try before getting to the point of letting go.  This is a personal discovery that depends on the situation and how much it is impacting one’s health and well-being.  It takes energy to confront painful, unfair or disappointing situations or people, but using our passion and reason in a rational way can help us grow and help our ship sail to beautiful sights!