Meditation: Pleasure, Part I

When we think of pleasure, we think of things that make us happy, bring us joy, makes life fun, and results in a feeling of contentment and joy. Pleasure is defined, as a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. This sounds like a rather simple endeavor. However, not all people agree on what is pleasurable. Pleasure originates in the most complex organ of the body, the brain. There is the disorder known as anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. Another condition, related to a perceived lack of pleasure, is dysphoria which is a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. There are many opinions about pleasure. Some groups feel that pleasure is something that should not be sought. There are other opinions, that pleasure and suffering are the only way we know that we are alive. There are ideas, that when pleasure is associated with rewards, that this can lead to destructive behavior. There is a feeling that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous. That seeking out a more productive and meaningful life may not be a pleasurable experience, but your life may be more satisfying, and therefore you are happier. By constantly seeking pleasure, one will not pursue contemplation, which does not reside in orgasmic thrills, or sensations of warmth, but in deep absorption and immersion, a state we now call “flow.” And during this state there is neither thought nor feeling. You are simply “one with the music. In other words pleasure can inhibit meditation. I am not sure that I agree.

With pleasure now becoming more complicated, it was only a matter of time, before neuroscience would have to get involved. Neuroscience, at one time, felt that only objective behavior reactions could be studied, and pleasure was a subjective reaction, depending on what each individual felt was pleasurable. With new technology in brain studies, that viewpoint, while still being argued, is in the vast minority today. Today, a neuroscience of pleasure can be pursued as successfully as the neuroscience of perception, learning, cognition, or other well-studied psychological functions. Neuroscience did show the evolution of hedonic reactions. Hedonism is a family of theories that all have pleasure as a central theme. There is this conflict between hedonism and religion. By constantly seeking pleasure, it could ruin your life. However, most religions follow the principles of hedonism, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Trying to get into heaven, and avoiding hell at all costs is one of the basics of Christianity.

Pleasure, which looked so simple, turns out to be one of the most complex and misunderstood mental experiences. There are many things that can give people pleasure. Sometimes these pleasurable experiences can lead to destructive behavior. Why can’t things that are perceived to be pleasurable always be good for us? Why can’t we perceive, that in the long run, what we find pleasurable is causing us harm? How are we blocking things that would give us pleasure, and help us live better lives? Chemistry seems to be the answer. The number and the amount of these chemicals, seems to be the elusive answer to the previous questions. As this is explored further, you may get the same feeling that I have, that science is not all that close to an answer.

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