Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Suzanne asked me to say something about pleasure that isn't derived from attachment, since it was sounding like I was defining everything as suffering. Here goes.

1. There aren't two kinds of pleasures, one kind that's attached and one kind that's not. So it is NOT the case that after enlightenment I expect to take pleasure only in beautiful landscapes and authentic teachings, while being indifferent to sweet emails.

2. A great deal of what we are accustomed to think of as pleasure is actually an after-the-fact gloating, or hoarding of it, that's really a very different thing. We're not in general very good at distinguishing between the original pleasure and our subsequent cherishing of the memory of it, but the two are not only different, I think, but actually are antithetical.

3. The original pleasures are terrific. I'm all for them. I am, as Dave has often noted, a shameless hedonist. I live for pleasure.

4. This point contradicts point 1, so don't read carefully here. Some people say that after enlightenment every experience, without exception, is intensely pleasurable. In some sense, anyway.

Here's how it works for me. I get the sweet email. My spirits soar. Almost immediately -- it may even be immediately, I'm not sure -- I get to work on taking possession of the pleasure -- trying to secure it, to turn it from a one-time gift into a permanent income-producing property. The fact that X is someone I admire might mean that a sweet email from her proves that *I* am someone to admire. But now I have to validate that in fact she really admires me and wasn't just being nice. I have to send mail back to check. I have to go back and look at what she might have read of my writing, trying to see it with her eyes, hoping to see a Dale who is really admirable emerge from it. If I established a flirtation with her, that would mean I was even more admirable, right? Or maybe less. Hmm.

In very short order -- the boat is rocking, but the wave of authentic pleasure is largely gone. In trying to secure it I've dragged it into the sludge of my habitual thoughts and patterns. From a new delightful thing it has become just more of the same. That, I think, is a horrible thing to do to a pleasure. It is also, I think, what almost all of us do with pleasures almost all of the time.

And in the meantime, of course, I'm dead to the world. Potential pleasures, all over the place, are floating right past me, unobserved, unenjoyed, because I'm busy dragging my new pleasure down into the sludge.

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