Pain, Pleasure & …

pleasure pain weakness t“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” ~ t-shirt on a (very fit-looking) guy at the gym

“There is no gain in pain. The treasure is in pleasure.” ~ William, my friend Laura’s Bikram yoga teacher

Our culture has a lot of ideas about pleasure and pain. In general, we Americans spend a huge amount of time and money making sure we are comfortable. Very very comfortable. We really, really want to be warm but not too hot and cool but not too cold and feather-bedded and gel-soled and silk-undied. It is the goal of the first world to eliminate discomfort.

Recently, three of my very favorite bloggers have written about various aspects of this:
• Seth Godin on Seth’s Blog. He writes particularly about avoiding fear both here and here
• Leo Babauta on ZenHabits. He writes about the tools for mindfulness and the discomfort of sitting with urges
• And Mr. Money Mustache on, um, Mr. Money Mustache. My hero of frugality, independence and bad-assity writes about the novel and powerful idea of “voluntary discomfort.”

I highly recommend all three of these blogs.  These smart guys talk about embracing discomfort as a cornerstone to creating lives of creativity, kindness, and freedom. I am into living that kind of life – and I’m still making my way there. Here’s a look at my evolving perspective on pleasure and pain … in three bumper stickers.

pain pleasure voluntary discomfort no_pain_no_gain_bumper_sticker

In my late 20s /early 30s, I was a card-carrying citizen of Type A Land. In Type A Land, we go crashing through the forest like hell-bent rhinos. Perfectionism, based largely on insecurity, drove most of my choices. I over-exercised and I over-exercised hard. I believed in “No Pain, No Gain.” I didn’t think it counted unless it hurt. It’s not surprising, then, that when I was introduced to Nia, I was confused, since their bumper sticker reads:

pain pleasure voluntary discomfort no_pain_all_gain_bumper_sticker

Wait a minute…what? In many ways, Nia retrained both my body and mind. Nia invited me to entertain the possibility that exercise could feel good. Instead of overdoing and pushing, Nia offered the choice of pleasure. As a dedicated Type A Landian, this was an essential choice and one that was often a conundrum for me. After all the years of self-punishment, choosing pleasure was a way of re-framing my choices both in and out of the studio. It was a revelation. After practicing for a while, though, I started to ask, “How am I going to challenge myself and improve if I’m only choosing pleasure?”

Good question. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the answer and a middle way.

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