Why we take a peculiar pleasure in suffering and how to stop

“Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy. Observe the compulsion to talk or think about it.” -Eckhart Tolle

Have you noticed?

We want to be free of pain, but there is a part of us that which takes a peculiar pleasure from reveling in suffering.

I had two decades of depression and anxiety before I came to awakening. Some of the episodes were so debilitating that all I could do was atrophy behind a black cloud and watch my life crumble—watching helplessly, as once again, career, relationships, goals, and very zest for living snap apart. I would have done anything to come out of the dread and try to salvage whatever was left, but also, absurdly, a part of me didn’t want to get better. It’s the feeling that if I get better, nothing inside me will really change. Maybe my outer life will go a little smoother, but it will still be absent of joy, so what’s the point?

When we’re angry, we want to be angry. When we are sad, depressed, lonely, anxious, guilty, fearful—whatever it is, there is a part of us which wants to feel this way. Sometimes we would rather suffer than forgive. We want to run the same painful thought-stories over and over again in our heads. We want to feel the anger and humiliation and unworthiness. We may even create more fearful beliefs and fantasies so we can continue to with the pain.

We see this absurdity frequently in unrequited romantic relationships. In rejection, or in the longing for someone, or even in disagreement with a loved one, the pain and humiliation seems to last a very long time–much longer than many other more serious setbacks.

We see it in the clinging to anger when we think someone has wronged us.

We see it in our patterns. We see it in people who remain in abusive relationships, we see it in the generational cycle of violence, we see it in self-destructive behaviors, we see it in our seeking out the same things we had in the past.

For many of us, the future is always a variation of the past, because we hold on to pain.

If I look at my own patterns of clinging to pain, I see it in long cycles of depression, in anxiety, in addictions, in the drama of romantic relationships, in the need to be right, in longing, and in the emotions that arise from rejection, and in self-destructive behaviors.

Why do we hold on to pain?

Why do we take pleasure in pain?

It is simply because of habituated mind-patterns. Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain-body. The ancients in India called it samskara; in Buddha’s Pali, it’s sankhara. I think of it simply as grooves left in the mind and body from past reactions.

The pleasure comes from allowing the mind to run through its usual grooves. The mind is fast habit-computer, and allowing it to run through its grooves, even painful grooves, feels easier than to stop it.

This is quite a paradox, because the truth is that overcoming misery is far easier and simpler than letting the mind run through its conditioned grooves. We think it is hard because we have forgotten how to release the conditioning.

What can we do?

Using the beyond-karma release method

In Asia, they use this clever trick to catch monkeys. There is a circular shackle or a hole through which the monkey puts her hand to grab a banana on the other side. The hole is just big enough to let in an open hand, but not big enough to let out a fisted hand. The monkey cannot get her hand out if she holds on to the banana. This is exactly what we do with emotions. We grasp them.

Releasing emotions is as easy as opening your hand.

When you experience an emotion, big or small:

Can I make a lot of space for this emotion?
Am I able to let it go?
Let it go

The questions and answers are non-verbal. They help us see the structure of emotion, and this helps us easily release. See the article “How to Release Big and Small Emotions” and the ebook “Awareness and Release” for more.

Resistance

The ego’s resistance is a tricky thing. This method is very simple—there isn’t much to learn or to do. It takes about ten seconds. It can be done at anytime. And for everyone who I know personally who has tried this, and for the many people who give me feedback on this website, it has worked.

Yet there will be resistance. I resisted it as well, just as I have resisted many aspects of waking up from the world of fear and sadness.

“It’s too simple.”

“If I knew how to let go of emotions, I would have done it already.”

“How can this work?”

“What is the mechanism?”

“I can’t use this until I understand more.”

I have no intellectual explanations.

Just try it.

Other release methods

There are other good release methods. CBT takes a reasoning approach to change our understanding of beliefs. Byron Katie asks us to carefully consider whether our beliefs are really true. The Sedona Method is very similar to the beyond-karma method. EFT is interesting—it is a tapping version of acupuncture and its beauty is it can be self-administered in a few seconds.

A side-note on addictions and obesity

These days I exploring how to use awakening to help us with some of the usual struggles of living, such as addictions and obesity.

Addiction to substances such as alcohol and other drugs is a little different from addiction to behavior and belief and thinking patterns. The release method will help with releasing strong emotions that come up when overcoming addictions.

If you are trying to get  past an addiction, my best recommendation is Rational Recovery. Don’t stop trying.

And I feel there is an awakening solution to addictions and obesity. My experience with this is not deep enough and I am not yet able to articulate it as a technique.

Getting back to compulsion of painful patterns, it’s your turn:  Can you see the phenomenon of holding on to patterns of pain in you? What do you consider your biggest emotional problem? Fear? Sadness? Grief? Misery over breakup? Anxiety? Depression? Money? Insecurity? Loneliness? Your weight? Addictions? Health? Are you not able to forgive? Are you despondent over desires?

Whatever it is, can you see that a part of you is very resistant and wants to hold on to the suffering? Do you sometimes feel the reluctance to let go of painful stories?

31 thoughts on “Why we take a peculiar pleasure in suffering and how to stop

  1. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    There’s a lot of insight in this post, and I hope it reaches everyone it needs to.

    It’s funny how you mentioned the fast-acting computer and groove analogy for the brain. Just last week, I “laid down a new groove” in relation to an old program I just didn’t want to run anymore. You’re right – it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Certainly, despite ego’s conviction that it’s easier to do what’s always been done than learn something new, that old way takes more energy… And negative energy at that!

    I love Byron Katie’s approach to releasing our stories. I use it frequently.
    I’m also reading a book right now on emotional eating called “Shrink Yourself” and it’s fascinating. Written by a therapist, it’s actually quite insightful and tied to some broader ways of thinking. It’s not the traditional therapist speak (which bugs me, quite frankly!). The book talks about the underlying reason emotional eaters overeat: they feel powerless. It then breaks down four or five sub-areas where that powerlessness is felt most, and I have to tell you, I’ve been applying that knowledge to myself lately and my GOD the results are incredible. I may have always known overeating was a control issue in some way, but just to flip it like that — well, it shifted me.

    Anyhow, before this turns into a short novel, I’ll end my comment, but wanted to tell you I think this topic is not only phenomenal, but something all of us struggle with and could learn to release with the wisdom you’ve shared here.
    .-= Megan “JoyGirl!” Bord´s last blog ..What My Buddy The Body Teaches =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Megan,

      What a wonderful comment!

      The ego is full convinced that it’s easier to what always been done than learning something new–and ironically, it’s more about unlearning than learning, which is easy to do when we can release. You said it beautifully.

      Many people resonate with Byron Katie. I recommend her as well.

      I’ll look up “Shrink Yourself.” I am only beginning to learn to articulate this, but releasing control of how much, when and what we eat, is key. Thanks for the reference!

      Thanks for you insights!

      k

  2. Positively Present

    Great post! I can completely relate to this because before I began working on being positive in the present my mind was so attached to thinking negatively and holding on to suffering. I was so used to it, comfortable with it, that I didn’t want to let it go. There are times when I still struggle to do so but I realize that I don’t need to be in pain. It’s a choice and I can choose happiness.
    .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..a letter to my older self =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Dani,
      “It’s a choice and I can choose happiness.” That’s it, right there. You’ve brought it its essence. The technique simply reminds us it is choice and how easy it is to exercise the choice!
      k

  3. Kaizan

    Nice post! I totally agree.

    Eckhart Tolle also talks about how people suffer from the unconscious belief that getting upset or angry will somehow deliver them a solution. Otherwise why would we bother?
    e.g. someone cuts you off in traffic and you get upset. Why would you do it, unless on some level, you thought it would provide some purpose?
    .-= Kaizan´s last blog ..Never Regret Anything =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Kaizan,
      You made a wonderful point: why would anyone get upset without purpose? Another way to ask is, if we could choose to be happy or unhappy, why would we ever choose to be unhappy? And yet, we do. Because we have forgotten. We have forgotten how simple it is to release emotions. We have forgotten we are not our thinking minds. We are not our ego. All we have to do is be more aware. Be aware of thoughts instead of participating in the thought stories. And, release.

      Thanks for the insight!

  4. Avani Mehta

    Whenever I catch myself in the act of clinging onto pain I feel so silly. I usually try to bargain with myself to set a deadline by which time I will allow pain to go away. This gives me space to stay with pain and yet pushes me to release it – and at both times remain conscious of the fact that holding and releasing pain are both my choices.
    .-= Avani Mehta´s last blog ..Release People Of Expectations, Let Them Be =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Avani,
      You’ve intuitively learned this technique, or a better way to say it is this technique is remembering this intuition. Your description is wonderful. It is about recognizing the onset, which do when you “feel silly” and you are able to feel it fully because you’ve negotiated a deadline, and of course the allowance releases it. Great!
      k

  5. Evelyn Lim

    I can totally relate to your post. Having done so much inner work, I still face times when I am resistant to applying techniques like EFT or the Sedona Method immediately when faced with challenging situation. As much as I know that I will be able to release my negative emotions pretty fast, I tend to hold on to them for a while. Thanks for the reminder on the explanation about pain-body! I do remember Eckhart Tolle describing about it in his book. I thought I was just being stubborn!
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Create Powerfully In Pictures =-.

  6. Nadia - Happy Lotus

    Hi Kaushik,

    I used to struggle with this too. My past was filled with all kinds of pain and suffering. That pain and suffering was my identity because that is what I thought was right. When my spiritual quest began and when I started to study spiritual texts in depth, I then realized that my true nature, my true self is my Buddha Nature or as in Hinduism, the Atman. I saw that the pain and suffering really did not mean anything. It is like Eckhart Tolle says : you are not your pain body.

    Of course, there are moments when I can feel the pain body wanting to say something. So I let it say what it wants to say. I thank it and then let it go.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..“Julie & Julia” & The Happy Lotus =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Nadia,

      A wonderful comment. My experience is similar but I did not go through a spiritual path. Suffering and pain softened the ego and intellect, and a ten day retreat at a Vipassanna retreat and The Power of Now opened me up to a higher possibility. There is an underlying joy in being alive. Human pain does not go away–but it is seen as part of the full spectrum of the joy of experience. There is no suffering. Occasionally, the pain-body does get antsy, but never for long–it is easily recognized and released.

      Thanks!

      k

  7. Liara Covert

    Every experience you have is perceived and reframed for the sake of healing and restoring your wounded soul. How you view stages of your physical existence will vary based on your level of self-awareness. You can choose to sense advantages to every emotion you generate.
    .-= Liara Covert´s last blog ..What is soul travel? =-.

  8. Keith

    Excellent article! It really is filled with so much good stuff. I totally agree with what you said about habitual mind patterns. We train our minds to behave or think in certain ways, whether we do so on purpose or not! After awhile it seems so much easier to just keep on in a certain way than it does to change, but this we must defy! We hold the power to change those patterns!

    Thanks for this article! I know it is doing good!
    .-= Keith´s last blog ..Weigh Anchor! =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hey Keith,

      Thanks for the kind words–and you’re so right, we train our own minds to behave in certain ways!. And we hold the power to untrain!
      k

  9. Brenda

    I like this sentence, Kaushik — “Human pain does not go away–but it is seen as part of the full spectrum of the joy of experience.”

    If life is like a giant wheel of fortune, and pain is one of those slots on the wheel, then no amount of right-thinking is ever going to eliminate pain for good. It will show up again. Avani’s notion of setting a time limit for pain is a good one. So I land on pain, I notice it, I accept it, then I spin the wheel again and release it. What a great game this is!
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Great Cat =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Pain is inevitable. Sooner or later we all come to face to face with ourselves and ask what life is all about. Thinking about oneself isn’t helpful in seeing through the illusion because that is exactly how the false self is maintained–by thought. When we observe thoughts, and get “above” thoughts, we see we never needed these thoughts, and in fact they only take away from what is real. The experience of this moment, spontaneous, natural and flowing, can include pain, but not suffering.

      Thanks for the insight. I hope you are really well, Brenda!

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Liara,
      You’re right in that every egoic emotion can be released. What about the desperation of poverty, the pain of hunger, the pain of cancer, the grief of a loved one’s passing away? Pain happens, and if we release we don’t create any more grooves, then there is no suffering–there is only the experience of pain.
      k

  10. Brenda

    Semantics can be a pain sometimes. Perhaps Liara meant suffering is not inevitable. Or perhaps she’s referring to psychic pain as a choice. But physical pain is inevitable, and no amount of choice can prevent the pain of childbirth or broken bones or bad burns. Physical pain affects my psyche, but I can choose to notice it and accept it and release it in due time without suffering too much. I’m about done with suffering. Suffering may be a choice, but physical and psychic pain are inevitable for everyone.
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Baby Dog =-.

  11. Paul Maurice Martin

    Seems like simple methods are the most effective – at least that’s how it’s worked for me in this area.

    Another thing it seems to me is behind the pleasure we take in our private rants and grievances is that dwelling on them is a kind of pseudo substitute for action. I can’t do anything about what’s happening say in Tibet, but if I focus on it and get upset about it, my mind gets energized kind of like it would if were willing and able to act effectively.

    Of course if it’s something you can’t do anything about it’s really just a self defeating emotion.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Paul,
      Yes, it seems the simpler techniques are frequently more effective possibly because they keep the intellect out. That’s a good point; when we feel powerless we can turn the anger of helplessness inward. That too can be released.

      Thanks for an incisive comment!

      k

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  15. Loriana

    Excellent blog I am so happy I found it. I would love to reblog some of these on my blog.

  16. Natalie Dunham

    I just read this post tonight after searching for “how to stop longing for someone”… You’re so right- it’s an ugly pattern and sick joy to hold onto the hurt so tightly… I tell myself that letting go will put distance between myself and the one I long for. That letting go will make it my choice to regret when we no longer know each other someday… But you’ve gotta let things be what they are and accept that that’s a possibility and hope that feeling better then and now will be worth the loss.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Natalie,

      The emotion of pining for someone is a difficult emotion. But I think it is also an excellent opportunity to awaken. As Dalai Lama said–paraphrasing–that when you don’t get what you want sometimes that’s a wonderful stroke of luck!

      I understand how you feel. It’s difficult. It is exactly what got me started. And today I see it as the luckiest stroke.

      mk

  17. jennifer

    hello
    the thing that matter the most is to forgive one self above all the mistake we have done in past.
    forgiving others is simply but to forgive one self is the hard part. we must remember above the the mistake we have done there is our soul which let things go.

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