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Why we are Addicted to Pleasure

by Roland Trujillo 

   A reader writes: I have a pleasure monkey on my back. What can I do?

   You must realize that your addiction to pleasure is a symptom of a cause. Pleasure only feels good when there is a need. It feels good to eat when we are hungry. But beyond a certain point when we are full, eating more becomes downright unpleasant or even painful. Scratching feels good when you have an itch. But when the itch is gone, continued scratching is no longer needed. The craving to scratch is gone, and more scratching becomes unpleasant.

   Our addiction to pleasure is a symptom of a cause: an unnatural need. Here are the causes of our need (you will have to fill your own circumstances to see how any of these apply to you.)

   Tension: Unnatural tension creates a need for relief. The greater then tension, the greater the need for someone or something to provide the release of tension. The release typically takes the form of sex or violence or both. The release is pleasurable because of the excessive tension that became unpleasant. 

   What is the cause of this unnatural tension? The most common cause is resentment. Resentment makes us feel tense, uneasy, irritable, and so on. Resentment also leads to anger, and anger leads to a need for release. The resentful or angry person often takes out his or her hostility on the nearest victim or scapegoat.  

   Another cause of tension is exposure to and reaction to tease. Tease takes the form of excessive stimulation, and various forms of sexual or cruel tease resulting in a need for the draining of the tension from reacting. Some forms of tension causing tease are overt and obvious. For example, an older brother or sister, a resentful mom, or a schoolyard bully can all be incredibly cruel, causing anger and rage. And once a person is full of rage, there develops a need for release.

   Other forms of tease are less obvious. Most of us are in work environments where we are constantly challenged (teased) to be ambitious. Even the presence of somewhat naughty people is a constant low grade tease.

   Once we start reacting to any of these teases, the tease becomes a pressure, and the pressure becomes a stimulus that causes a mental fixation and a build up of mental and physical tension. Soon this cries out for relief. We can’t help but look for something to drain the tension, and when we find such a release, it is pleasurable.   

   Another cause of addiction to pleasure is a need for guilt relief. As long as we are not reconciled to conscience, we feel guilt or uneasiness about the way we exist. Even the life of the average cultural man or woman—the pressure to conform, the obligations heaped upon us, the relentless pressure to be like others and make excuses for the cultural trip laid on us makes us guilty and sheepish before conscience.

   A build up of tension is a distraction to the mind, and so is the release. Anything fascinating, engrossing, and distracting builds up tension by the mere fact that it unnaturally grabs and holds our attention. The need to escape guilt results in an addiction to both tension and its release. Without them we would be bared to the harsh reality we are not ready to face and some things we don’t want to admit. The person who has a guilty conscience needs tension (irritation) to distract the mind. The by-product of the addiction to tension is the addiction to pleasure (the release of that tension). 

  Another cause of addiction to pleasure is teasing ourselves: when we become bored or when we have a need to escape from conscience, we begin to look for things that distract and stimulate. We literally place ourselves in teasing environments. Work environments, entertainment, and even hanging up pin up pictures on the wall provide the pleasurable distraction and tension, leading to a need for release.

   The answer to getting the pleasure monkey off one’s back is to get at the root causes of the unnatural need for relief. We place ourselves in teasing environments and gravitate toward the things that irritate us for the pleasure of judging them and using them to build tension and the pleasure for relief.

   Obviously, the answer would seem to simply be: stay away from tease, naughtiness, cruelty, sarcasm, pressure cooker work environments, gambling, and other tension building fixations. The problem is first of all—until we are change our attitude from one of wanting to avoid conscience to one of wanting to be reconciled to conscience--we can’t survive without tease and irritation to distract the mind from guilt. Secondly, until we learn how to be patient with our fellow human beings instead of resenting them and using them for distraction, we will continue to react and over-react to a variety of stimuli around us in such a way that tension is created. We must love God and His Truth and we must be patient with our neighbor. In other words—when you have no need to escape conscience and you have no resentment of your neighbor, you will have peace of mind and no tension.

   We must also see, really see, that a life of reacting to tease, getting excited over tease, and judging others is not the only sort of life there is. As long as we believe that eating, drinking and making merry is all there is, we will feel cheated if we don’t indulge ourselves. If you will, meditate to find the life just beyond excitement and boredom. When you discover a new way of relating to life, you will find quiet joy and innocent pleasure in a life of discovery and a growing self control.  

   A very wise man once said: if you don’t tease yourself in the first place, then you won’t have a need for relief in the second place.  But until we are willing to give up the ego life of the tease of false promises and the distraction from guilt, we will need our upsets and excitements if only to build up the tension so we can enjoy the relief.

  The sequence is: attention, stimulus, build up of tension, release, sleep. Sleep is the bottom line of a day of tension. It is the bottom line of the build up of tension followed by violence or the mental discharge of seizure. And this life of responding to temptation (tease) and then giving up energy leads to the final sleep of death, when all passion is spent. What does it say in the Good Book: the wages of sin is death.

   Therefore, meditate for the mental distance from tease, so that you won’t have to undergo the agony of responding and then need relief from the tension and guilt for having responded. Learn the discipline of patience. Find the spiritual life, by laying down the earthy life.