“I’ve learned more from pain that I could’ve ever learned from pleasure.” Pint.erest is unsure who came up with this, so I cannot attribute the quote to a specific author. My apologies if it was you and I’ve failed to give you credit.
Oh Pinte.rest, you do throw eclectic things my way, and I love you for it. On the weekend, you showed me this little quote and it generated thought, and frankly, some resistance. So I will respond to the algorithm-generated content you send to my inbox with a blog post. I trust you will find it, and when you do, please attribute it to me: Augusta.
I’ve learned a whole lot from pain. It’s true. Decades’ worth of learning, and I don’t think I’m done. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned from pain include the following:
Pain isn’t personal. We all experience it and it’s part of our human experience. It wakes us up, makes us change courses, helps us move forward in a specific direction, or helps us slow down and rest.
Pain can be layered with suffering, or as I’ve come to understand it, all the stories around the pain we have created through conditioning. Which leads me to another little nifty quote that feels true to me: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” (again, who the heck wrote this? Mark Twain? The Buddha? If this was an essay at University, I would get an F). The distinction helps me in the midst of turning my pain into suffering, as I slow down and just breathe through it.
But have I learned more from pain than pleasure? Of course, I have. Am I ok with that? Not entirely. I think I’ve grown biased to what pain can teach me, and neglected to appreciate pleasure for what it can give, beyond the obvious notion that pleasure feels…good.
So pleasure for me, and I suspect for other humans as well (you? tell me about it in the comments, please) is fraught. It comes bundled up with unease, guilt, and shame even. It often comes with a sense that I’ll need to pay for it in some undesirable way.
Take for example sex. It’s been on my mind lately, you know, since it’s come back on the menu of extra-curricular activities. After a delicious night at my new lover’s home, I drove back to my house with a weird sense of unease. ‘What is this about?’ I thought. ‘Ah eff it, I’ll just listen to music and forget it.’ Several hours later, I realized that I have this rumbling fear in me that won’t settle. I have doomsday scenarios popping into my mind. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. I have the strong sense that I will be punished. My mother, who had been sexually abused as a child, was shaming and harsh with me in my early* sexual explorations. And there is stuff left over from that, naturally.
Who said pleasure doesn’t have much to teach? Take that Pin.terest.
Another example is food. I LOVE LOVE LOVE to eat. I love all kinds of food; I love to cook; I love to go to different restaurants and I’ll part with a lot of my money for some delicious eats. But for so long, I had to punish myself for that love of eating and food, so much so that I turned into a bad habit that turned into a disease. I think for the most part, I’ve been able to uncouple the pleasure/punishment association in the food department, but once in a blue moon I see it go back towards it. And of course, like most of us, I often eat completely mindlessly and don’t really enjoy this thing I really enjoy.
In my opinion, I’ve done well extracting the diamonds out of the pain mine and I will continue to do so. Pain is not about to stop visiting me, or any of us as long as we are living, breathing humans and I’ll have ample opportunities to keep learning from it. What I’m not as good at is distilling the lessons pleasure wants to teach me. And so, my dear Pint.erest, I want to thank you for laying out the path of my spiritual work for the next little while. I owe you.
*As a young school age child, say between 5 and 8