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Tabby Biddle

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Pleasure or Pain: Take Your Pick

Posted: 06/05/09 04:15 PM ET

As a Buddhist practitioner you learn that lust, greed and desire are negative qualities - hindrances on the path to enlightenment and in some texts, even evil. You learn that sensual pleasures are better left renounced and the body just a vehicle to be trained and overcome.

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It was 12 years ago when I embarked on my Buddhist journey -- sitting for 10-day silent meditation retreats at Wat Suan Mokkh in Thailand, sleeping on cement slabs and reciting a Buddhist prayer before my scant meals to remind me that I was not eating the food in front of me for pleasure. It was on these retreats that I learned that lust, greed and desire were qualities to be abandoned. Being the experiential learner that I am, I decided to have a go at releasing these "evils" from my life. And with that, unknowingly, I also released some integral parts of myself.

I remember that upon returning from my Asian expedition friends commented on how peaceful I seemed. I felt peaceful. I felt relaxed. I felt like something inside me had shifted for the better. One close friend, however, said to me, "I miss your drive." I didn't know what to make of that statement at the time, but more recently I have found some meaning in those words.

There is a woman in New York City named Regena Thomasaeur who runs something called
"Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts." Regena, otherwise known as 'Mama Gena,' is all about women naming and claiming their desires to live their fullest potential. She gives women permission to feel greedy, lustful and desirous. She believes that women are taught how to study hard, work hard and deprive themselves - but who is teaching them about pleasure? She is! To her, pleasure is the key to a woman recognizing her own power and her full-throttle life force.

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Recently I read a statement by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung: "I would rather be whole than good." His premise was that the "dark side" of human nature needed to be integrated with the "lighter sides" into an overarching wholeness for full self-realization. Unfortunately I didn't have this to reflect on at the time I was pursuing my Buddhist studies.

The Buddhist teachings initiated me on the spiritual path years ago, but it hasn't been until recently that I have taken a closer look at the depth of how those teachings affected me. In Buddhism one is advised to release desirous attachments to eliminate pain and suffering in one's life, however could it be that denying aspects of your very human self causes its own kind of pain?

I cannot discount the wonderful things that Buddhist meditation has brought me - like sitting quietly, watching my thoughts, breathing deeply and finding the space and peace between the thoughts. I cannot deny the growth I have experienced in terms of developing gratitude and compassion at a much greater level than before my days with Buddhism. And I don't know of any other experience that has given me the depth and eternity of spaciousness that I experienced in my meditations in those days of silence. However I wonder today if I walked away from those retreats abandoning a key element of myself -- my desire.

"In order to take a rightful seat at the head of the banquet table of our lives, we have to accept the rightness of our feelings and desires and act on them strongly, always," says Mama Gena.

For someone who has followed (for the most part) a Buddhist philosophy for over a decade, and has trained herself to give up indulgence to live the Buddhist 'Middle Way,' this kind of suggestion could seem grossly out of the question. However for someone who is also committed to discovering one's power and potential as a woman, Mama Gena's philosophy seems like a worthy subject to investigate and definitely a fun one!

So I wonder -- as a woman, could the power of pleasure be the key that unlocks the way to our potential? And could a healthy dose of greed, lust and desire actually be beneficial to our personal fulfillment and path toward wholeness?

Maybe pleasure is one alternate path to enlightenment?

 

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