Sitting in a meditation hall filled with a few hundred people in southern India, I wondered what the heck the speaker was saying. Pleasure seemed like a good thing to me at the time. Pleasure, happiness, joy, bliss — it was all the same, wasn’t it? And then I went a little deeper.
The cost of pleasure is always paid with pain (suffering), because pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. The face on both sides of this coin is the ego. The ego arrives in humans around the age of 2-4 years old. You may notice if you watch a child that it is at this time that their eyes will change, just a bit. Suddenly there is a “me” or “mine.” At first it may seem cute, and then not so much.
You could look at the ego as a jar for the many parts, or personalities, of a human being. Each experience allows for a new and unique part (anger, fear, happiness, contentment, excitement, etc.) to be added to the container. Different circumstances or triggers will call up any given part, in any given order, at any given time. Sometimes multiple parts will arise at the same time, and sometimes parts or personalities may not even know about each other.
I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder — ordinary mentally stable people have parts within themselves that do not know about each other. Have you ever heard someone say something in one moment and then a day later contradict themselves? This is an example of parts within their container popping up and out at different times. Both things they stated are completely true to them, in the moment they were said, because of the part that was talking.
Of course, this is an extremely simplified version of a complex system, but the goal is to give your mind a picture of the ego and how it keeps personalities alive.
So what does this have to do with pleasure and pain? Well, the ego’s job is to survive, and to do that it will create an idea and have its person fixate on that idea. It could be a question that needs an answer; it could be an object of affection that once obtained would be “the thing” that would make all suffering disappear. But here is where it gets interesting. The ego will carefully craft the desired idea so that once it is obtained it will automatically lead a person back to pain, because a new object of affection (or a new question) will be introduced to a different personality within a person — and that will begin the cycle once again. It is quite a cleaver program!
There are multiple ways to see the program and begin to dissolve it. Because of its complexity, there are many levels; however I will focus on just one simple technique for you today.
Start by noticing what things trigger different personalities within yourself. Is there something that causes pleasure in your life but always goes sideways, and you find yourself starting from the beginning? What is that thing? An example could be getting a certain car, job, house or relationship. If the thing is taken away, are you in pain? If so, you know that was a game of the ego, because what you were actually experiencing was pleasure, which is conditional.
When the ego has dissolved, true happiness will come from the heart; there will be a sense of knowing when happiness is present. There will be a connectedness with true happiness that cannot be tinkered with by the ego, the mind, or negative thoughts. Happiness just is, and then there can be sadness, or other emotions that flow freely. The expansion of life is about feeling all feelings no matter what arises. There could be happiness, sadness, anger, rage, fear, and — once fully connected — there will not be a preference for one or the other because you are experiencing life and nothing can shake you, because you realize at a deeper level that this is why you came here.