avoid pleasure, embrace pain?

At a lecture in Albany, New York, I met a 92-year old cancer patient who came with his two adult sons, all of them Quakers. The sons are GSG readers and pressed me to help their father understand how important an alkaline, raw, plant-based diet is in eliminating cancerous growths.

The elderly man, who is fit and lively and looks to be in his 70’s rather than his 90’s, said to me,

“I’ve lived a long life already.” He then told me he is still a practicing psychotherapist.

“You’re still active and productive, and your family clearly wants you to stick around. So why not stick around?” I asked him.

He thanked me for the lecture I’d just given. And then he shared with me something that has been on my mind for weeks, ever since that night.

“I teach my patients,” he said, “to avoid pleasure seeking.”

Huh? Maybe this is ingrained in Quakers. It won’t fly with us regular folks, I thought.

“My patients avoid pain,” he continued. “But pain is instructive. It doesn’t last forever, doesn’t even last long, usually. On the other side of it is growth and redemption.”

“What you teach,” the elderly gentleman said, “is just that. To embrace a change that is new and difficult at first, and foreign. Painful at first. For the reward on the other side of it.” He assured me that if nothing else, I’d convinced him that there is only abundance on the other side of that learning curve.

I signed his book and said goodbye to the absolutely lovely Quaker men, and they went on their way.

But since then, I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of how everything good in my life is a result of having done something initially painful.

What pleasure do you seek, for comfort or pain avoidance, that is in the way of your progress?

What pain are you avoiding that is actually a temporary, purposeful process that can take you beautiful places?

Think on it with me. And actualize it. As Kristin says to me, sometimes, of pain,

“There’s no way through it, but through it.”

I have a renewed commitment to doing hard things. Even when they’re painful.

5 thoughts on “avoid pleasure, embrace pain?

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  1. I just had my sixth child and I liken this mans idea to childbirth. I’ve never commented before here, but this was so compelling to me at this time. I had the hardest pregnancy of my life this year, dealing with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and being hospitalized and still breastfeeding my youngest through it all. I survived, my toddler survived and our precious daughter survived. Everytime I see her smile, it truly takes the sting out of my almost deathly pregnancy. I would’ve never gotten to love her and know her had I not gone through that very hard trial. And even the painful process of giving birth. You’d think with each child it’d get less scary, less painful…it doesn’t. I’ve had them all naturally, not even lying in a bed. This time though I was so weak, it made me more scared than ever. I prayed and begged, while in active labour, for it to go quickly, I didn’t have th strength to go through any more hardship. My prayers were answered and she was born in 20 minutes. I’m grateful for the pain, for the hardships in life, for they teach me so much, and they also bless me immensely, eventually.

  2. Robyn,
    (I posted this a couple days ago but it somehow disappeared into cyber space so I’ll try again)
    It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. Life has kept me extremely busy but also very well and happy lately. I wanted to comment on this post though because it is very true to my experience with life. There’s a saying I think fits perfectly here: “You will remain the same until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain it takes to change.”

    I remained the same for a long time (in a destructive marriage, a sick and unhealthy body and a sad and lonely spirit) until the pain of staying was too great so I changed (divorce, single working mom, green smoothie girl lifestyle) and now I am happier and healthier than I have ever been. Thank you Robyn for creating and providing the way for me to make the change. And you know the pain involved in doing so was not so bad because the pay off has been so rewarding.

    I like to call these life changing experiences “painful pleasures” because truly pain can be pleasure when we choose to learn and grow from it. (Childbirth is of course a perfect example of a painful pleasure). Recently I had the opportunity to attend Marine Boot Camp in San Diego as part of an educators workshop and can I just say it was an amazing painful pleasure! I am so grateful for the many experiences life provides for us, both through pleasure and pain, which allow us to find greater power, purpose and peace in our individual paths in life.

    Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts here. (I hope this doesn’t get duplicated if so I guess it was meant to be said twice.) Hope your Thanksgiving was joyous and blessed!

  3. Sometimes, I hear something or read something and I get an immediate gut reaction…a reaction telling me, “this is true”. What the gentleman said to you about avoiding pleasure seeking and not avoiding pain caused that gut reaction in me. Especially during this season, when everything seems to be focused on doing more, buying more, eating more and seeking more pleasure, that is wonderful advice. A very wise man. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Your post reminded me of my high school swim team moto-‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body!’ Great reminder of being greatful for pain to feel greater joy in living!

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