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Sunday, 3 March 2013

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The pain of pleasure

"It is only by enlarging the scope of one's tastes and one's fantasies, by sacrificing everything to pleasure, that the unfortunate individual called Man, thrown despite himself into this sad world, can succeed in gathering a few roses among life's thorns"
~ Marquis de Sade: French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and writer.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it is also the soul of pleasure: that agreeable sensation or emotion; gratification; enjoyment.

Pleasure can be sensual or mental. If, seeking pleasure is sin; sin is pleasure. I am not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things just because many people mistrust; and even more, misunderstand. As a grim skull lies covered beneath the fairest face; so does an abyss of torment lie beneath the surface of the glittering sea of sensual pleasure and dissipation, says an ancient proverb. Pleasure is something that cannot be, shared. Like pain, it can only be, experienced or inflicted. When we give pleasure to someone, like bestowing charity upon the needy, we do so, not to gratify the object of our benevolence, but only ourselves. For the truth is that we are kind for the same reason as we are cruel, that we may enhance the sense of our own pleasure or pain.

Pleasure and pain are like an object and its shadow: inseparable. Pain and pleasure are, only full grown when it is, remembered. If we have done something meritorious, we experience pleasure and happiness; if wrong things, pain and suffering. A life of pleasure or pain is our own creation. Nobody else is responsible. Yet, very often, we fail to learn from pleasure as well as pain. "Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad," said Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and dramatist.

Proverbial

Does pain follow pleasure, or pleasure succeed pain? It is like the proverbial chicken or the egg question: which came first? Whatever came first, one thing is certain: The effect follows the cause because when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure, or vise versa. It is said that a moment of bliss, that superlative-happiness, should be enough for a lifetime; but it is also true that it also departs leaving us with the pain of desire for more ecstasy, more euphoria, more rapture; and in fact, with craving for more pleasure - to want pleasure to the point of insanity. Many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it. We realise not that one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every little bit of the body, has its own secret; which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it. And yet, it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. That is the fallacy of the imposters called pleasure and pain.

And you would always be ripe for it, from before the time of our birth to the moment of our death, we are always in season for the embrace of pain.

To experience pain requires no intelligence, no maturity, no wisdom, no slow working of the hormones in the moist midnight of our innards. We are always ripe for it. All life is ripe for it. Always." From: The Eyes: Emetic Fables from the Andalusian de Sade by Jesus I. Aldapuerta. To experience pleasure, it is the same: one requires not intelligence, nor maturity, nor wisdom; and we are always ripe for it.

Consider the capacity of the human body for pleasure. Sometimes, it is pleasant to eat, to drink, to see, to touch, to smell, to hear, to love. The mouth; the eyes; the fingertips; the nose; the ears; all our voluptuous faculties are not exclusively for pleasure. Apart from having other functions, they impart and intake pain as well.

Pleasure and pain seem to have been, accidentally cast in the same mold. The whole body is susceptible to pleasure and pain, but in places there are wells from which they may be drawn up in greater quantity; but not inexhaustibly. How long is it possible to know pleasure? Rich Romans ate to satiety, and then purged their overburdened bellies and ate again. But they could not eat for ever. A rose is sweet, but the nose becomes habituated to its scent. So are the limits of pain. After a while, the body becomes immune to both pleasure and pain, if indulged in excess. The art of living has no history; but evolves as we partake in life: the pleasure, which vanishes, vanishes for good. There is no substitute for it. Other pleasures come, which replace nothing.

There is no progress in pleasures, or pain; nothing but mutations. Hence, adore simple pleasures; for they are the last refuge of the complex; and remember, pleasure is labour too, and tires as much. The choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation.

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But, when we arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world, that is the beginning of pleasure or pain.

We live in a world where one-half of the world cannot understand, the pleasures and pains of the other. In Sri Lanka, we have no time for such moralising.

We have very few hours in which to enjoy ourselves; for we are pre-occupied with the battle to keep the home fires burning.

For us, the highway of pleasure is crossed by, many tollgates. Thus, we must take our pleasure raw; we have not the time to cook it. Passive pleasure is no pleasure at all. Hence, we have become an entertainment seeking-nation, and not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one because pleasure for us falls within the category of luxury. "Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval.

When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment," said Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism.

Instead, for every nerve that can thrill with pleasure, we are agonised with pain, the pain of living due to the cost of living.

Deadly

Mahatma Gandhi had said there are seven deadly sins: "Wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; science without humanity; knowledge without character; politics without principle; commerce without morality; and worship without sacrifice." But today we have work without wealth; conscience without pleasure; humanity without science; character without knowledge; principles without practitioners'; morality without morals; sacrifice without succour. Thus, we have developed a hierarchy of values in which pleasure is at the bottom of the ladder, and we speak with little thrill of self-satisfaction, of duty, charity, and truthfulness.

We think pleasure is only of the senses; and therefore, satisfaction we have small means of enjoying it. Man performs actions because they are good for him, and when they are good for other people as well, they are virtuous. If he finds pleasure in giving alms, he is charitable.

If he finds pleasure in helping others, he is benevolent. If he finds pleasure in working for society, he is public-spirited. Pleasure is, the only thing one should live for; all else, age like happiness.

I end with this quote: "A life of mere pleasure! A little while, in the springtime of the senses, in the sunshine of prosperity, in the jubilee of health, it may seem well enough.

But how insufficient, how mean, how terrible when age comes, and sorrow, and death! A life of pleasure! What does it look like when these great changes beat against it - when the realities of eternity stream in? It looks like the fragments of a feast, when the sun shines upon the withered garlands, and the tinsel, and the overturned tables, and the dead lees of wine."

- E. H. Chapin. From: Living Words.

See you this day next week. Until then, keep thinking; keep laughing. Life is mostly about these two activities.

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