Have you ever stopped to contemplate pleasure? If you have, have you noticed that our minds crave it? Even demand it?
Pleasure is, by definition, a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. In and of itself, it is a wonderful thing – a beautiful emotion and feeling that we can experience in this human life.
But what happens to this feeling when our mind demands it? When it becomes a necessity for us to believe or feel that we are living a good life?
Then the other side of pleasure shows. The darker side.
Let us explain.
Pleasure comes into being through four stages: perception, sensation, contact and desire. In the first stage: perception, our senses first take notice of an object - we first experience a feeling. This is quickly followed by the second stage during which we experience a sensation from looking at the object. Once we make physical contact with the object, the third stage takes place and we are often suddenly overcome by a desire to own it. Then the final stage occurs as thought steps in and clings to the desire (the want) and turns it into the experience of pleasure. Thought repeats the experience (because it feels good in the moment) and then it becomes mechanical, habitual, and addictive.
What does this look like in real life? Let’s use shopping as an example: have you ever noticed that once you go to one shop to look for something, you have a desire to continue shopping? And the more you shop and spend, the more you want to continue to do so? On the other hand, if you refrain from shopping for a period and the habit has time to wane, you have less of a desire to spend money on something new and you become more contended with you already have.
The pleasure we experience from physical things is relatively easy to recognize. But what about pleasure in other forms? In the desire and subsequent pleasure from obtaining power, position, status, recognition and success (as the world defines it). Pleasure is not only derived from the physical and the material – our mind craves it in all its forms and most often, we do everything we can to satiate our minds addiction to it.
And this is where the dark side of pleasure comes in. Our mind does everything it can to achieve the feeling of pleasure.
There is nothing wrong with having pleasure. The problem comes when we become obsessed with the pleasure and want it to repeat again and again. We become attached to that pleasure. And when we let our smaller self – our ego self, control us – determine what it is we need (i.e. to satisfy this feeling of want and the pleasure derived from it), we will do anything we can to fulfill that need. We begin to put pleasure before everything else in our life – our relationships, love, kindness, generosity, satisfaction with what is and what we have.
That is when the darker side of pleasure begins. We breed and experience hatred, resentment, brutality and war (within ourselves, our relationships, in our communities etc.). And because we are naturally afraid of these consequences – the darker side of pleasure – we look for subtle ways to escape from them, by seeking out pleasure even more – more shopping, more success, more societal achievement - and the cycle perpetuates itself. From childhood until death, we pursue pleasure – whether in secret or more obviously. We allow pleasure to guide and shape our entire lives.
You may ask: why shouldn’t our lives be guided by pleasure when it brings feelings of enjoyment or satisfaction? The answer? For the very simple reason that striving for pleasure inevitably brings pain, frustration, sorrow, and fear. And out of fear comes violence, destruction, and great sadness. If we want to be free from sorrow, and live a truly joyful life, we must understand the whole structure of pleasure. Understanding the pleasure, is not to deny it. But if we are seeking pleasure in life, then pleasure will inevitably find its shadow self; they cannot be separated even if we try to avoid pain.
You may ask: why shouldn’t our lives be guided by pleasure when it brings feelings of enjoyment or satisfaction?
If you want to end the addiction to pleasure, which is to end pain, and to experience true happiness, contentment, satisfaction and enjoyment of life, then you must be totally attentive to the whole structure of pleasure. It is therefore important for each one of us to investigate the cravings for pleasure in our lives closely, hesitantly, and delicately. If we can do this, then we can begin our journey in learning to loosen our addiction to pleasure and learn to be joyful and satisfied with what is in our life each and every moment, which is what leads to true happiness and fullness of life.