Principle 6, Second week
But before we do that, just a reminder….
June 17-19, A number of our friends from Toronto will be going to Hudson Valley Park of Study and Reflection in NY for a workshop and a visit. Want to join us? Let me know if want more info.
The principle of pleasure, says: “If you pursue pleasure, you enchain yourself to suffering. But as long as you do not harm your health, enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.” Principle #6 of the Principles of Valid Action, from chapter 13 of Silo’s, The Inner Look.
This week we continue with our ongoing practice of focusing on one of the 12 Principles of Valid Action each month. Over the next three weeks we considering various aspects of the principle of pleasure. It is interesting to remember that the key thing is that these principles, or guidelines, or however you think of them, is that they are elements that we can form into a discipline which can be practiced at every moment and in every circumstance. They are a kind of dynamic meditation. With time and application these efforts will give all my activities a particular tone, mood, and mental direction. Our goal is to weave these general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life.
One simple way to get started is to recall 2 or 3 examples of when you did (or didn’t) apply the principle and the consequences that followed. Personally, I don’t have any difficulty in coming up with any number of examples where my pursuit of (what I imagined would bring me pleasure) left me stuck with disappointment, disillusionment, or unwanted consequences. In the next weeks we’ll look at how we apply this principle in the present moment, and how we have might apply it in the future.
But let’s start with some personal considerations about the principle of pleasure. As with all these reflections I’ve drawn ideas from conversations with various people, as well as from materials we created over the years. If I can know who to credit for these contributions I will.
The more I work with the principles the more I’m struck by just how strange they are. One thing that has become clear to me is that rather than see them as morals or rules, it is more fruitful to look at the principles as riddles, or clues to a puzzle. This dynamic meditation helps me construct a a style of life that embodies a particular mental direction. This week proved to be a wonderful opportunity to consider again how the principles need to be understood as a whole. This month we consider the pursuit of pleasure and its consequences, next month the pursuit of any end. This month we consider how we can approach the pleasures we desire in a liberating and satisfying way — restricting ourselves in a minimal way (i.e. “If you do not harm your health enjoy without inhibition”). Later we’ll consider we’ll take a broader approach to what actions are allowed (e.g. “If you do not harm anyone you may freely do whatever you like”). And we’ll discover a way to advance on our goals without pursuing them and without enchainment (“If everything you do is realized as an end in itself you liberate yourself”).
The other day I was asked why I thought that “pursuing pleasure would enchain me to suffering”. I thought it was a very good question. After all, isn’t one of the most basic facts about all living beings, that we move away from pain and toward pleasure. That seems to be a matter of definition. And why shouldn’t we obtain pleasure and avoid pain. It seems like a great idea. In mulling over the principle I couldn’t help but note that that the principle isn’t saying that pleasure is bad or to be avoided. Nor is the principle focused on the value of the pleasure I’m pursuing. It doesn’t say you “are allowed” these pleasures but not those, except to say, “If you do not harm your health enjoy without inhibition…” Later in the next principles it will add further clarification about this point, eg. “If you do not harm anyone…” and “…treat others as you wish to be treated.” But this principle itself puts the focus more on the approach to pleasure, on the act, i.e. the pursuit, rather than on the object being pursued. So here it seems it’s not a matter of what turns you on but on how you relate to that pleasure.
Some philosophers call it the paradox of hedonism. Wikipedia says about it that: “…constant pleasure-seeking may not yield the most actual pleasure or happiness in the long run—or even in the short run, when consciously pursuing pleasure interferes with experiencing it.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_hedonism).
Here’s Victor Frankl’s take on it from his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
The more a man tries to demonstrate his sexual potency or a woman her ability to experience orgasm, the less they are able to succeed. Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.
And here’s my take: Part of the issue is that, in practice, we seem to confuse pleasure and happiness (and desire and fulfillment, and pain and suffering… well the list goes on). According to merriam-webster.com
Full Definition of PURSUE
1: to follow in order to overtake, capture, kill, or defeat
2: to find or employ measures to obtain or accomplish : seek <pursue a goal>
I think we can agree that to pursue something is not to encounter it, or enjoy it, but to have it as something to be obtained or accomplished. It is in front of me as something to be accomplished, something that calls me or drives me or demands my attention. Almost by definition I’m locked into, dependent on or, enchained to it. If I don’t get it I’ll be unhappy, or disappointed (at best). My expectation is that if I reach the object of my desire I’ll be happy or satisfied (at least). But is that what happens? Certainly not in my experience. Consider this an invitation to compare it to your own.
When I think about the desires I’ve pursued it’s pretty clear to me that either my attempt to attain what I’m seeking is frustrated or I attain it and find myself dissatisfied and stuck with the consequences. Think of that tempting cake from last week’s story (or whatever it is that entices you). The problem isn’t eating it or not the point is that my internal state is enchained to a cake! It seems disproportionate to say the least. It feels very different when I “enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.”
Don’t believe me? The experiment is easy to do. Put it to the test in your daily life. The results of my more than 40 year experiment is that it is true in the most wonderful and unexpected ways.
These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as on my blog at www.dzuckerbrot.com
We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.