In my view, we can productively think of ourselves as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Or maybe I should say “think of me.”
I’ve talked about feeling good as what I seek from life.
I want to feel joy, bliss, happiness.
But I don’t talk as much about avoiding pain.
Let me have a look in this area. Will I be letting light into a dark corner or opening a Pandora’s Box?
I personally have a set of pain-avoidance strategies.
One is a ready arsenal of excuses, justifications, and denials. I lob these at others like grenades.
Another is a well-honed story. I spend my off hours getting it just right. And then I sell it to others. (1)
I seem to have an inner radar that can detect when someone else is ruled by the self-serving bias. But I turn the radar off when it’s about to be turned on myself. I excuse, overlook, and forgive my own self-servingness but not that of others.
As I said in 1978, I end up being only invisible to myself. Everyone else sees what I’m doing.
And the more pressed I am into seeing what I’m doing, the deeper I go into denying, excusing, and justifying my self-servingness.
A third strategy for avoiding pain is deflection. It wasn’t me. It was the other guy. Always the other guy. Never mind how long can I keep the ball in the air, how long can I keep representing that it’s always the other guy?
Do that over and over and over and I become coralized from repeated lies.
What I’ve called the upset clearing process is the alternative to all of this. (2) But other folks have other approaches as well.
Fairly common to all of them is encountering one’s experience with simple, bare, neutral awareness. One experiences the feelings that come up. That allows the storm clouds to pass. Resist them and they bunch up and become a real thunderstorm.
I’m no paragon in this area. I keep discovering attachments and hidden agendas that I get reactivated over.
Moreover my whole constructed self was built around resistance so I have a lot of rubble and rubbish around me to clean up from a lifetime of guerrilla warfare.
My memory is bringing up images from my karate days when I was a violence magnet. Fortunately I only used my skills to defend and I seldom needed to actually land a kick or punch. An inch from the face was usually enough.
That was a phase. My childhood rage was at last finding an outlet.
But at some point I, or one, has to turn to processing that rage. “Processing” is an active word. It points to a practice that is essentially passive: “observing.” We get through our upsets by observing – if we can, when the upset occurs; if we can’t, then afterwards, when we’re undoing the damage we just caused.
There are times when pain cannot be avoided. My favorite memory of a moment like this was when a man threw a punch at me when I had my jacket half on and half off. There was nothing for it but to brace myself and take the punch. Wham! And my universe reeled. I extended my pain threshold a country mile from that experience.
I learned from it as well that I don’t need to avoid pain; I can accept pain as a price for doing something that makes a difference.
Very seldom do we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot avoid pain. (3)
Avoiding pain as a knee-jerk reaction died as the result of the training of those times. I had an extra second or two to decide whether I wanted to stay or leave the ranch. Avoidance of pain was no longer the only deciding factor.
So, yes, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But the pleasure being sought is the pleasure of the divine states – love, bliss, joy, happiness. And the pain being avoided is the pain of our vasanas or core issues.
Nowadays I’d stop avoiding that pain and process it instead, following whatever method works for you (and there are many).
Seeking the divine states and processing the vasanas that arise as we do so is, I submit, a path to enlightenment. Our vasanas are, I believe, the only real obstacle between us and Self-knowledge.
In this age, as opposed to the age of a hundred years ago, much less spiritual practice is needed to win what the classical sages knew and prized as moksha, mukti, or liberation.
We call it Ascension and it’s being offered to everyone willing and able to accept the offer. This Ascension is not exclusive but inclusive. Nothing like this has ever happened before on Earth.
Meanwhile, let me not avoid pain, but let me experience it alongside the pleasurable, learning from both, holding on to neither. I do this as a means of moving forward in life on a path of gradual Ascension and enlightenment, leaving my issues behind, one by one.
(1) When I wrote my first book, Quiet Nights at O’Douls, in 1978, I wrote exactly that thought in it. I’m right back to my beginnings.
(2) See “How to Handle Unwanted Feelings: The Upset Clearing Process,” April 25, 2011, at https://goldenageofgaia.com/2011/04/25/how-to-handle-unwanted-feelings-the-upset-clearing-process/
(3) Workshop leader John Enright used to talk about two ways of meeting an avalanche coming down on top of you. You could either say, “Oh, my Gawd, we’re gonna die!” or you could say, “WWWWAAAAHHHHOOOOOOOOOO! What a way to go!”
“WWWWAAAAHHHHOOOOOOOOOO! What a way to go!”
Slim Pickens, Dr. Strangelove