pleasure and the spiritual path

Last night I attended a dharma gathering with the title of the post — “Pleasure and the Spiritual Path.” After the lesson/teaching, the teacher asked questions and everyone contributed their own thoughts. These are people who are [apparently] pretty advanced in their Buddhist studies, given some of the things they mentioned — things I couldn’t even understand. What is that? A class? A level? A something else? Me, I sit in my living room and do yoga. Meditate as I can. Work at mindfulness. Attend an occasional dharma gathering. I don’t know nothin’ about levels and paths.


The whole point of Buddhism in the Tibetan lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is that everything is impermanent. That’s the essential center of it. And suffering arises by attaching and clinging to things that are impermanent. In the discussion of pleasure and suffering from clinging, the teacher said how very much he loves summer sweet corn from out on Long Island. Oh he looks forward to it all year, and when it’s ready, he relishes every bite, wishes it would last forever. When it’s the last corn of the season, he’s sad, disappointed, etc.  (This is one thing I really love about the Shambhala teachers like him and Pema Chodron. It’s not abstract lofty stuff. It’s about sweet summer corn. It’s about the woman sitting next to you wearing too much perfume.)

So when he asked people to talk about pleasure in a lot of ways — what is it, what’s your approach to it, do you tend toward hedonism or asceticism — the responses were all over the place. Some were lofty and abstract, some were focused on specific experiences, but I was shocked by how many people said they stay away from it because they don’t trust it. WHAT?! They don’t trust it, it’s not going to last, it’s going to go away. Well duh! I’m a yoga mat “Buddhist” and the central message of impermanence sure seems to apply here, doesn’t it? And anyway, doesn’t your own life show you that it all changes?

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to know this. You don’t even have to live all that long to see that things come and go. You go up, you go down, you go up again. Sometimes the downs last a long time, or are very intense. Sometimes the ups do the same. Sometimes life is thrilling, sometimes deeply satisfying, sometimes painful, and sometimes too excruciating to bear. One of the only things you can absolutely count on is that stuff’s gonna change. Stuff’s gonna come, stuff’s gonna go. Count on it.

And what I also don’t understand is why this would make anyone not want to take the pleasure when it is presented? That just makes no sense to me at all, I can’t even begin to understand it. Yeah, happiness, pleasure, it’s all fleeting….so you grab it with both hands! You rub your face in it! You lick it and let the last drops linger on your tongue. You turn it inside and out, scour it. Use it up. Pull it on again and again until it’s too stretchy to stay on. Kiss people, hug people, smile at people, laugh with them, talk. Look look look, immerse, take all you can from it. The fact that it’s not going to last forever makes it even more important, more precious. (Right?) Avoiding happiness because it’s “untrustworthy” means you’re mainly just living in this weird avoiding state or dealing with the hard bits. How can people bear the hard bits if they haven’t eaten up the happy ones? I just don’t get it.

Not too long ago I was telling a group of friends the story about the time a TSA agent was looking at my boarding pass and asked me, “So what’s your specialty?” (I completely forgot that it said Dr. Lori ___ on the boarding pass, so she assumed I was a medical doctor.) So I stood there kind of like a deer in the headlights, figuring it was some kind of secret TSA test question that I’d better get right. I finally said, “Well…..I’m really good at being happy.” She laughed and said no, what are you, an internist, a dermatologist, what? But I loved that this was the only thing I could come up with. I’m a specialist in being happy. So a friend in the group challenged me to put that on business cards. SO I DID.


I blocked out the bits that would allow you to stalk me or call me on the phone.  Which you may already know I hate. 🙂

I have blue(ish) eyes and I’m a specialist in being happy. It isn’t hard or scary to me, I am lucky. But I do wish someone could explain this to me, being afraid to be happy. It’s like rice cookers; I never could understand them, and then finally someone explained it in a way that made me get it. (But I hope no one who reads this is ever afraid to be happy.)

Wednesday, yo y’all. xo

4 thoughts on “pleasure and the spiritual path”

  1. Great post! It reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a friend who said that she would really prefer nothing fabulous happens to her or her family…because she thinks that will be balanced up by something terrible happening. She’d prefer everything just to mosey along on a mid-path. I was quite taken aback at that…as I’m more like you – grab the highs and the happiness while it’s there!

    1. That really is so bewildering to me too, Fairlie. Of course I understand preferring that pain not come, even though of course that’s impossible. That’s not hard to understand at all. I wonder if it feels like some sort of bargain to your friend, a kind of bargaining with God or something. I will give up on fabulous if I don’t have to have terrible. If such a bargain were possible, I wonder if I would be willing to make it. Hmmm.

  2. I am going to venture a guess at why some people are afraid to embrace pleasure: fear of loss. They would rather go without the joy, pleasure and happiness of life than lose it once they find it. I find this bizarre but because I am sort of married to someone like this who lives life in a state of constant misery, I find myself attempting to analyze the reasons why. I bet the reasons are different for each person who is afraid of pleasure, but this is one that I have observed personally.

    1. AH!!! Hey, I’m not sure exactly why, but something in the way you said this makes me think they must believe there are no other chances for pleasure or happiness. If I thought my current pleasure/happiness was it, and there wouldn’t be other chances (or maybe that other chances might take years and years to come), maybe I would feel that way too? I’m not sure. And maybe that is also about having a kind of short list of what equals happiness or pleasure.

      Hmmm. That’s very interesting. I’m so glad you posted — and I’m sort of married to the same kind of person, though the situation is of course so different. Maybe it’s just about learning to take pleasure and happiness in tiny little instances, and learning how to revel in them. This bewilders me so much, but maybe it is about the fear of this being the last chance for happiness.

      Hmmm. Thanks for your comment, for all the reasons. xo

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