sit by the beach watching the waves,
spend silly times with our friends,
sow a seed and watch it sprout,
spot a new bud on a plant we’ve been watering everyday,
watch the sun rise,
watch a baby play and giggle,
toil in the sun and get sweaty creating a garden or building something,
attentively listen to toddlers narrating stories,
serve without expectation of reward or recognition,
watch a sparrow perched on the window sill,
trek through the forest,
feed someone hungry,
stand under a waterfall,
listen to soft and slow music,
have a meaningful or cathartic conversation with someone,
resolve a conflict,
read a book that gives us aha! moments,
visit a sacred place where we feel a calming energy permeating our being,
go for a walk alone or with someone we connect to,
watch the night sky,
cry out loud from the belly,
eat wholesome and flavorful food,
receive an email from an old cherished friend,
read news about how a group of people came together taking responsibility to do something meaningful,
it gives us joy.
It makes us feel more peaceful.
We feel something within us settle.
It awakens something inside us.
It makes us come alive.
The nourishment that our spirits yearn for all the time.
Since we have all created living contexts (homes, schools and workplaces) which are so often bereft of nourishment, we feel pained but remain unconscious about it! I rarely see very basic needs of children, adults and the elderly being met these days. Our need for silence, for communion with nature, with meaningful connection with people, for trust, for true knowledge, for respect, for love, for leisure, for artistic experience, for nourishing food, for sweating labour, for sunlight, for fresh air and so on often goes unmet in our busy city lives. When we don’t get nourishment, we go against the flow of life. When we go against life, it leads to a building up of pain.
What do we do with this collectively created cultural pain? We do one of three things.
1. Numb it. We watch fast TV, play video games, consume alcohol, take to drugs.
2. Indulge in things that give us a false sense of ‘power or security’ by winning the race run by the popular culture of the pained. We dress up following fashion, buy expensive clothes and jewelry, go shopping in malls and supermarkets, seek praises and rewards from authority figures, seek recognition as being “successful”, throw our “weight” around those we perceive as less powerful than us, chase wealth, want to be the first, the best, the largest, the strongest, the fastest, etc., get into institutionalized religion, and so on
3. Over-stimulate our senses so we get distracted enough from the pain. We get addicted to sugary drinks and salty snacks, watch thrillers, drive fast, watch thrilling games, listen to fast and loud music, and so on
All the three create what we call ‘pleasure’. Pleasure gives us a ‘kick’ as some people call it. We feel ‘excited’. We feel a semblance of ‘control over the situation’. It shoots up our adrenalin levels giving us a ‘high’. It feels like a disco-light, colourful and flashy.
But, if the adrenalin shoots up, it has to drop. If you hit a high, you have to then come down and hit a low.
The problem with ‘pleasure’ is that not only does its effect wear off, it actually creates more pain. We constantly feel the need to feel more powerful, we need newer and more stimulation, more drugging and numbing, more distraction. We get bored with ‘old stuff’. We cling on to our memories of pleasure and try to see how to recreate those experiences again. With every clinging to a memory of pleasure, there is more anxiety and insecurity. When we cannot re-create pleasure, we get pained and depressed. Or we get frustrated, angry and aggressive. We feel low self-esteem. We feel bored. We blame. We suffer.
Today’s misplaced motivation is nothing but a sophisticated form of stimulation. It says “See you will get rich, powerful, noticed, rewarded, recognized, praised, excited, thrilled … if you do this”. Very rarely does anyone motivate us by saying “If you do this, you will feel joyous, free, peaceful, calm, alive….” That is because seeking all these is our true nature. We are naturally drawn to them. We need no motivation for seeking them. But when we feel beaten up by life, we might need inspiration: a word of reminder, support and encouragement to help us tap into our inner strength to try again. This encouragement and inspiration is different from external motivation. Motivation is usually done without any real understanding of why the person is bored and pained in the first place. And that is why it is shallow, unhelpful and detrimental. Detrimental because when we feel the effect of external motivation wear off (which, it will over time) we feel like terrible losers! We end up believing the society’s story about who we are, what we are capable of, etc. We get caught in a downward spiral. That is why the younger we are, the easier it is to get motivated; the older we get, the harder it gets.
In my own life, 'pleasure' has a very interesting place. I find it always being available for me to make use of, no matter where I am in my life. When I feel depressed and find it too much hard work to stay with all the pain all the time, I resort to it – food, place, person, activity or thing. 'Pleasure', a form of comfort, can be used to heal and recharge when used moderately and mindfully. It is only when we settle down there basking in it, refusing to step out that it becomes detrimental to our own growth and well-being. We become complacent and desensitized. Life is constantly pushing us out of our comfort zones. When we refuse to step out, we say ‘No’ to life. Whenever I have resorted to comforts with awareness about what is, using the space to stay with my pain, I have found it helpful. Whenever I have resorted to comforts with a lack of awareness, it has become another distraction from what is, making me more desensitized adding more layers of pain, pushing me further down the spiral.
The question we all need to collectively and carefully look at is this: “What part and how much of our individual lives is fed with nourishment vs pleasure? What part and how much of our society has structures and spaces that enable nourishing vs pleasurable experiences? How much are we impacted by them? How can we reorganize both our individual and collective lives (and their interfaces) to wean ourselves away from pleasure, and co-create spaces and structures that can provide nourishment? Until we do this, we will want to buy, waste, consume, build, wear more and more of what we don’t really need. Party time for Mr.GDP!