The relationship between pain and pleasure in the development of mastery
by Brett I. Kier | 5 February 2016
Gaining pleasure and avoiding pain are perhaps the most fundamental motivators of human behavior. It has been rightly observed that too often we are in a state of pain avoidance rather than pleasure seeking. This phenomenon of the human psyche is one of the most significant obstacles in the cultivation and development of mastery.
There exists a dichotomous, paradoxical, and interdependent relationship between pain and pleasure in the development of mastery, regardless of the discipline. This is especially true in training the body. In cultivating the requisite sensitivity the body needs in order to be precise in its movements, one must experience a great deal of physical and mental pain; the former experienced through injuries and soreness, the latter through the ego’s struggle for control.
The reality of this phenomenon is a powerful example of the symbiotic relationship between pain and pleasure, and the necessity of approaching the experience of suffering with grace. At its most fundamental level, grace is a form of radical acceptance, not ambivalence or apathy. That is, it is an understanding of the source of one’s experience of pain and pleasure, and the resulting surrender that is inherent in acceptance. Surrender in this context does not mean giving up in the colloquial sense, i.e. defeat, but giving up the false consciousness of the ego. In this way one can understand falseness in the same way that Vedic philosophy understands maya, i.e., illusory. Therefore, grace is in part the act of surrendering one’s false sense of reality.
Graceful suffering over long periods of time is the cement that paves the road to mastery. But what is suffering? There are two kinds: legitimate and illegitimate. The former is pain which leads to positive change, the latter leads to guilt – a deeply self-indulgent form of self-flagellation and mental masturbation that is corrosive to the soul. Graceful suffering always leads to positive change which uplifts and deepens one’s experience and awareness of the Self. The growth produced in these moments is particularly valuable because it is precisely in these moments that mastery is being developed. This kind of bitter nourishment tonifies the heart and subdues the ego’s proclivity to avoid legitimate suffering. Therefore, legitimate suffering, also known as grace, is evidence of the development of mastery along with its subsequent effects, primary being the expansion and deepening of consciousness.
The green Mobius strip shown above illustrates the principles of the relationship between pain and pleasure in the development of mastery, as it is an unending cycle that involves the interplay between two sides of an endless circle. As long as this process continues, the development of mastery expands and opens the green energy of the heart, the spiritual foundation upon which mastery is built.
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”