Why It Takes Work To Appreciate Pleasure

On the first mindfulness retreat I ever did, I experienced a level and quality of bliss my body and mind had never known before. After all these years, I still count that as one of the great surprises mindfulness has offered. Until then, I had no idea how physiologically profound the experience of meditation can be.

But bliss wears off. When I got home, I was unconsciously trying to hold on to it, which was like clinging to a cloud. Pretty soon, I crash landed.

At the time, I didn’t have experience with the fundamental paradigm shift mindfulness offers on pleasure: If you carefully investigate, you discover that pleasure isn't what you’re actually seeking. What you’re truly seeking is the completion, resolution, or satisfaction your mind typically links to pleasure. While the vehicle may be pleasure, resolution is what you’re really after. Through mindfulness, you discover that all experience is continuously resolving.

From the very moment any sensory event materializes in our awareness, it's already passing away to completion. In fact, it was never truly “there” as a separate, solid thing. So fulfillment is available to us within all experience, all the time. We’re generally unconscious of this fact, believing the fulfillment of our desires lies outside ourselves, and we must chase after it. This is a tough one to remember, even after years of practice!

You could say the process of remembering this is our life’s work. We suffer as a result of forgetting that what we truly desire is infinitely, imminently available to us at all times. Each time we remember, we become complete. That’s why it’s essential to develop our skills.

You can think of our attention as fragmented. It’s scattered, inefficient and there are big gaps in continuity. Mindfulness de-frags our awareness, clearing the channels and closing the gaps, so our ability to attend becomes more consistent. We become more completely attentive. We’re therefore able to participate in the process of our moment-by-moment experience more fully, clearly and wholeheartedly. What we discover again and again is constant, abiding resolution, completeness or fulfillment.

Generally, this is a slow, subtle process that evolves over time. By developing your skills, you’re able to experience satisfaction in more moments of your life, regardless of whether those moments are unpleasant or pleasant.

If you’d like to work with pleasure mindfully, here are some suggestions:

1. Let pleasure come and go.

Pleasure is palliative, healing and restorative. If you’re feeling deprived, it can be tough to let pleasure leave when it’s leaving. The good news is that by doing your best to relax around it, whether physically or mentally, you actually give the pleasure a chance to spread, intensifying the experience.

2. Surrender to pleasure.

Intense pleasure, and intense feelings of any kind, cloud our ability to think clearly — or think at all! Out of habit and self-defense, the mind tends to resist. But surrender is a momentary process. Just give yourself fully to the experience of pleasure right now in this moment, over and over again. The mind always comes back, and with each complete surrender and return, the mind is reassured and gains confidence in the process becoming a more active, willing participant, rather than a hindrance.

3. Separate pleasure from results.

For example, if you accomplished something and you feel proud or excited, let yourself really enjoy those positive feelings! Bask in the experience itself, without getting attached to the outcome or results. Who knows what the next moment will bring? By becoming skillful at fully embracing your experience in this moment, you improve your ability to fully embrace all moments, come what may, yielding greater and greater satisfaction.

4. Choose pleasure.

You may be walking down an ugly city street, but you can still notice that sweet little flower poking up through the pavement. You may be feeling really uncomfortable, but somewhere in your body pleasure may be available to you, however subtle. By choosing subtle pleasure in more challenging moments, you can increase your ability to detect and experience pleasure overall. Make pleasure a conscious choice in your life, relate to it mindfully and it will become a richer, more readily available experience for you.

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