Wednesday 29 July 2015

Pleasure and suffering as an essential evaluation system in life - the connection between the real self and the world

Pleasure and joy, pain and suffering - these are what link us to the world. On the one hand they should not be ignored, while on the other hand they should be treated as means not ends.

If we live without taking any notice of pleasure and suffering, if we extinguish them or cut ourselves off from them - then we cut-off our soul from life, we do not experience life as real - life becomes a theoretical exercise.

We imprison our real self and leave the false self to deal with the world.

But if we regard pleasure and suffering as the purpose of life, accept passively that we should do what gives pleasure and avoid that which gives pain - if we are drawn-through life passively by our psychological responses - if our goal becomes to act strategically to amplify pleasures and avoid suffering... then we surrender agency and become a thing which is caused; merely part of the clockwork.

By living hedonistically, maximizing that which yields happiness and minimizing sources of misery - optimizing our position on the joy-pain axis... we have identified-with our false self.

And if we succeed, we become our false self - we become a bundle of instincts and conditioned responses.

What needs to be done is recognize that pleasure and pain are senses; and senses are a means not an end.

Pleasure-suffering navigates us through life as does sight or hearing. Our purpose in life is neither to devote ourselves to sensory gratification, nor to ignore the senses, but to use the senses. The same applies with pleasure-suffering - we must use these feelings.

We need to:

1. Notice when we experience pleasure or misery
2. Reflect on the source of these feelings
3.Interpret this as evidence of what our real self wants or needs

So, when it comes to our emotional state and the world, we need to Be Aware, Contemplate, then Interpret.

Say I eat ice cream and experience pleasure. To say: I eat ice cream and experience pleasure, therefore I need to arrange my life to eat more ice cream - is error.

To say: I eat ice cream and experience pleasure, but this means nothing - is another error.

To say: my task is to find-out what the pleasure of eating ice cream means - is wisdom.

(So long as meaning is understood in the largest terms - and meaning is not merely 'explained-away' as contingency.)

To say that any source of pleasure and suffering - such as ice cream - is unreal and irrelevant is an error - because this is our connection with life. But to wallow in memories of past ice creams and indulge in fantasies of future ice creams is also error.

Wisdom is to meditate and contemplate upon the phenomena; to consider why ice cream yields happiness, what kind of ice cream, what conditions for eating it - we should introspect concerning what goes through the mind, connotations, memories triggered, people and places associated, what hopes and dreams there are.

We need to know how ice cream makes us feel good and in what way 'good'.

The eye and ear help us navigate the mundane world, but pleasure and suffering help us navigate the higher world, the spiritual world. They are our spiritual senses, essential, indispensable evaluations - despite that the evidence they provide is partial and biased, and would mislead us unless that evidence was interpreted.

Our task is to recognize the information and interpret it.

To yield to pleasure  and suffering would be like a moth flying into a flame - but to reject and ignore pleasure and pain would be to walk through life in a blindfold.


Crosbie said...

I hope this is not too far off-topic, but I have wondered for a while if 'joy' changed its meaning somewhere along the line. It is today used to mean 'great pleasure'. If joy really meant both sides of the coin - pleasure *and* suffering - the importance of joy would be so much greater, and clearer.

Great post, by the way. Your notion of 'spiritual senses' is very powerful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - Thanks - I stole the basic idea from Rudolf Steiner.