The Reality of Pain, Pleasure, and Mindfulness

I’ve been cultivating a mindful practice over the last few months, finding that being more aware of my mind and body has greatly helped me to achieve a calmer, more stable sense of inner happiness and peace. I thought I’d share my learnings with you all.

All things in life are impermanent.  All senses that our body and mind experience are temporary.  Sounds, tastes, or smells come and go, thoughts consume us as quickly as they drift away, emotions move like waves. Life is a mixture of pain and pleasure. When we accept the reality of impermanence, we can learn to control reactions to our senses to help us be happier.

I like to think of our senses as a spectrum. On one end is pain, on the other, pleasure. Our bodies and minds will always move up and down the scale. For example, dreadful fears cause us pain. Whereas sex causes us great pleasure. We cannot fully avoid pain, and we cannot always be in a state of pleasure.

In fact, too much pleasure results in addiction, which is often unhealthy and undesirable. Take for example the 27 club, a group composed of rock-n-roll artists who lived fast and died young of drug-related causes. Their endeavor to always have extreme pleasure brought them to drug addictions and instability. Perhaps that’s what they wanted, which is fine. But I’m in life for the long run.

On the flip side, just as we can become addicted to pleasure, we can also collapse ourselves onto pain, allowing ourselves to suffer more than we need to. Suffering is to pain as addiction is to pleasure. We will always experience pain, but we can make a choice to embrace it and wait patiently for it to pass, or to collapse ourselves onto it and let it consume us. Recognizing the impermanence of pain will immediately help it pass. Whereas letting our body and mind be consumed by pain, constantly wishing for it to go away, will tend to create more suffering.

Lastly, pain opens us up to appreciate the neutral and pleasure states our senses take us into. The more time we spend on the pain side of the spectrum, the better we experience pleasure. I’d strongly suggest watching Brene Brown’s beautiful talk on vulnerability to understand my point even more, which I’ve included below.

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Mindfulness, put simply, is the practice of paying attention to our mind and body, noticing when we experiences pain or pleasure. Instead of escaping our pain and holding onto our pleasure, embrace whatever sense we’re having at this very moment, recognize it as temporary, and see how our body feels. It’s normal to be relieved knowing pain is temporary and sad when pleasure isn’t forever. Notice your reactions, too.

Study our fear, say to ourselves that we’re scared, but return to our body, notice our breath. Notice that though we may be scared or in pain now, that we’re still breathing, that our body is constant. Notice our feet on the ground or our butt on the chair. As soon as we notice our body and mind, we’re reminded of the impermanent state of things. We’re reminded that whatever bad or good feeling we have is temporary. Mindfulness helps us to be more subjective in the way we react to pain and pleasure. Mindfulness helps us find a lasting, stable inner peace.

You can practice mindfulness at any time throughout the day. Practice when you’re scared, when you’re in transit, when you’re happy. Name your thoughts and senses, both good and bad. Notice when you’re scared, or when you’re happy. Find your breath and take a scan of your body, noticing how it’s connected to the Earth. Try a few guided meditations — I highly recommend UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center guided meditations.

I can’t recommend practicing mindfulness enough. It’s helped me face my fears and achieve a very stable inner peace and happiness. I expect it can do the same for you, too.