Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pleasure and pain

Ah, that they were only equally balanced in life.

My philosophy is that there is fortune and misfortune in everyone's life. While things are good, enjoy it but don't be surprised when the bad drops in on you. It is inevitable. Hence, my take-it-in-stride attitude when news of the angioma came along. "Brain surgery? Okay, thanks for letting me know. I was wondering what the next hardship to befall me was going to be."

My friend David told me that his father always told him that life is about problem solving. On any given day, before you go to sleep, what challenges will you face and overcome. I do get frustrated when the problems are caused by the incompetence and stupidity of others. Looking over the credit card bill, you notice that Duane Reade charged you twice for your recent purchace. This will necessitate a phone call, some discussion, possible correspondence to save you from being charged an extra $27.16. In the hour it takes you to complete all the task, you could have been solving a bigger problem. This is the nature of life.

So pleasure and pain, the extremes of the human experience. They are both so distracting. Very little can be accomplished while in the midst of these sensations. In moments of intensity, the brain ceases to form words, the mind goes blank. Having spent the last three weeks in varying degrees of pain, this topic is interesting to me. Why is pleasure in the extreme so fleeting? There is the obvious - thirty seconds? The endorphin rush during exercise - moments? The first few bites of chocolate or something delicious - two minutes? A massage - thirty minutes? A nap on the beach with a tropical breeze - two hours? And as the strength of the feeling intensifies so the the amount of time we experience it diminishes. Why is the same not true of pain? We are capable of experiencing intense, debilitating pain for very long periods of time. Why are the two experiences not balanced?

I never questioned this before. The fortune-misfortune balance makes sense to me having experienced both. In retrospect though I realize I am one of the lucky people on earth. Even with the brain surgery, the good in my life far, far outweighs the bad. There is no formula. There is no way to anticipate either. It is pointless to pursue only fortune or pleasure as life will just get in the way and the disappoinment can be profound.

I suppose that is why some people become heroin addicts. Having no experience with this myself, I rely on the impression I was left with after watching Trainspotting. It (heroin) appears to produce a longlasting, very distracting, even debilitating feeling of pleasure. This inevitably is followed by what appears to be an even more intense degree of pain, as the addict is forced to withdraw. While I was having coffee with Aimee this morning at the Silver Moon Bakery, there was a woman with whom we were forced to sit laughing at nothing we could discern. It was very disconcerting and finally she moved away. I am sorry but anyone who experiences nonstop pleasure with no outside influence appears to be pinwheels-spinning-in the-eyes crazy.

Since my senior year in high school, I like to fancy myself an existentialist. This based on reading Crime and Punishment and Camus' The Stranger. "The benign indifference of the universe." There is no point in cursing the heavens as there is no power out there determined to make you miserable. Stuff happens and it happens to all of us. So then why do I pray? For the most part my prayers are expressions of gratitude for all of the positive in my life. When I am facing adversity or I am afraid, my prayer takes the form of admitting that I may not have control of the outcome. By putting my fears out there, I can relinquish them. I let go so I do not have to worry anymore. Prayer gives me a sense of relief that I do not have to pour energy into a problem over which I have no say. I do not pray in the morning that I will eat enough protein to help my nerve cells heal or accomplish my chores for the day. I can work on that. But I prayed that while I was unconscious during my surgery I trusted that whatever the outcome, it was all cool. I can't even say I ask for a positive outcome because that's not really the effect I expect from prayer. I acknowledge my puniness and I feel better as a result.

Today I am very glad to be out of excruciating pain.

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