Seeking Pleasure, Avoiding Pain by Matthew Rutkowski

Matthew RutkowskiFor the most part man goes to great lengths to seek pleasure, at all cost, and avoid pain at all cost. I had a friend who once said that life is holding on for the happy moments and just to get through the rest of the time. But to avoid pain and suffering is like avoiding half of life. Pleasure and pain almost go hand in hand. That is, without one there cannot be the other. If life were always pleasurable then wouldn’t it get boring? Wouldn’t we want more and more?

The painful moments signify when we are not in control, when our ego boundaries are temporarily down, when reality is present and reminding us of our short comings and mortality. There are deeper meanings for both pleasure and pain in life. There is nothing in this life that does not have a profoundly deep meaning and reason for being here. There are no mistakes in the physical aspect of life.

Pain is also a key to look into the body more, to give us a chance to live in the body more. When we ignore pain we are ignoring a deeper level in our body reaching out to us to call us to investigate the mind and body connection. Meditation, the seemingly simple act of sitting still, is an opportunity for us to get into a place where our ego boundaries temporarily come down and we are left with only the moment of watching breath and posture. Meditation is an opportunity to look at our life from the inside out, instead of how we normally live life which is usually from the outside into within.

For many of us our brains shoot thoughts around like rocks inside a metal building. They ricochet here and there and go everywhere. Or they run around and around never letting up or slowing down. The mind is incredibly notorious for trying to keep us out of our body, from delving deeper beneath the surface of conscious thought. It’s like the constant mind chatter is distracting us from our bodies more because we do store much of our past emotional wreckage both in emotional baggage and as physical pain and discomfort.

As one sits, it is quite common for legs to fall asleep, or physical pain to arise. It is then the natural inclination to want to get up and leave the uncomfortable situation behind. I have heard though that the more we can adapt to dealing with sleepy legs and painful moments when sitting, the more comfortable we can deal with everyday situations that are stressful events confront us. What it then seems to boil down to is either we try to run and avoid the pain of life, or we learn to remain calm, to breath, relax and investigate the pain that lies in the body and mind connection.

Please understand that I am a big fan of relaxing, unwinding, having fun and good times. But I have learned over the years that this life is more than meets the eye. That everything serves a purpose, that life does not make mistakes or give us insurmountable dead ends. Certain aspects such as physical or emotional pain serve a purpose that cannot be seen with naked/scientific eye. These over looked aspects can lead us to learn more about ourselves, our true selves and nothing can be over looked. Just like in a movie script, well a good movie script, nothing happens in that script that doesn’t pertain in some way to the central plot.

I know from personal meditation experience that when my body starts to hurt my mind tries to talk me out of remaining still and not moving. I have had many situations where I have been training with the group at an intensive retreat, where I wanted to get up and run out of the place. I would get so angry at others who seemed to sit so well and almost looked like they had smiles upon their faces! Although after many years of training in this modality now, I have realized that the anger I had at other’s façade of peaceful bliss was a trigger to something deeper within me that I was not quite capable of dealing with at that time. I have also learned from experience that just because other’s looked at peace, does not mean that they were. We had all been training and sitting for the same amount of time and they were in fact in pain, but they had just been able to “transcend” this element of the mind and body connection–to a certain degree.

With intense physical training, and intense mental training, one can condition their body & mind to indeed tolerate and look at the pain that their minds and bodies cause in a different light. The key is to try to remain calm, developing the “center” of the storm, or the “eye” of the storm. That no matter what turmoil is going on inside of us, we have a base at which we can remain still and continue to breath and relax the body when tension arises. In a certain sense it is like learning to ride the waves on the ocean on a surfboard. Only here the surfboard is one’s awareness, one’s center or Hara as it is called in Japanese. One will fall off of the internal surf board time and time again. The true training is about how fast we can get back into our awareness or onto our internal surfboard. It’s not about detaching oneself from the physical pain signals going on, rather it is like watching and exploring the pain, breathing into the pain, but being able to remain calm and still and dealing with the moment on its own terms. The “light switch” here is about going into the pain and dealing with the pain as compared to pulling away from the pain and burying it deeper and deeper into our being.

When I started to do this Zen training eleven years ago the teacher said that it would take about two or three years to calm the body down and then about twenty to thirty years to calm the mind down. You see the mind constantly wants to distract the effort of learning to breathe and relax into the tension and tightness in the body. In some ways this is like a light switch that can be turned on inside of one’s consciousness and we can learn to focus and relax more into the body. Of course it is easier said than done and one has to develop these skills on their own pace. The “light switch” here is about going into the pain and dealing with the pain as compared to pulling away from the pain and burying it deeper and deeper into our being.

I have also heard from many sources that any disease in the body is a form of trapped energy. By the act of meditation one winds up circulating the blood more and getting blood into places that it does not always circulate as well. For example the feet are a common place that blood does not always seem to circulate to for many of us and that is why we get cold feet. Meditation is not a cure for disease, but it is a strong way to circulate the blood more efficiently, which can help to cycle out toxins in the body which can bound together and aid in creating disease. Of course meditation practice goes along with proper exercise and proper diet, while living a generally healthy lifestyle.

No matter how well we do in life, no matter how much we try to find pleasure and happiness, there is always present this void that cannot be filled. There are times that we cannot find pleasure and happiness so easily, so then what? I also know from personal experience that when I started the spiritual practice these were just words to me. That this void in me was something I had buried deep within me and I would just jump or skip over it without even realizing it. I hardly knew it was there, nor did I care that it was there. But I have gone through my own intense trials and tribulations and found myself at a point, at a crossroads that I could not cross by myself. That is why I began my search to look into myself for answers to questions that only my personal experience could answer. That is a big misconception of a spiritual practice.

Nobody can tell anybody else who and what their true self is. It is up to us as individuals to discover this through our own personal experience and relationship with the Universe. For many years I found myself at a point that the only form of pleasure in my life was the spiritual training itself. So, from my personal experience, I have swung around the gauntlet a few times. I have gone from not believing in the training, to believing in only the training, to believing that everyone should train, to believing that nobody should train. Yes, life in many ways is like a roller coaster. Everything happens for a reason. The stress, discomfort and suffering in life all try to call out to us to look at our conditions, our lives in a different way. It is up to us to either heed that call, or ignore it. We cannot control the rise and fall of emotions, but we can learn to moderate the up and down of the emotional roller coaster by learning to develop our awareness and by deepening our breath.


by Matthew Rutkowski
Matt is a truth seeker. He seeks to go beyond what society says is reality and is a student of life as well as Zen and Yoga. He is a certified Yoga Instructor and has been given permission to teach Zen in the name of the lineage that he trained in. That is