A fellow wayfarer in the wilds of the mind wrote:
You can seek to move towards pleasure and away from pain without losing the appreciation of the symphony that is both or losing the deep understanding of their interdependence.
To express my agreement with this statement: Both pleasure and pain are equal parts of a unity which might be called “the being of feeling”. This being includes pain, pleasure, the feeler, the object producing the feeling, and the setting in which it occurs. It is all of these things.
But this only pictures that unity within a single moment of time. The being of feeling also includes the movement of feeling, which is the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. All that “pain” means is, “a feeling we seek to avoid.” It is “pain” because of our aversion, and “pleasure” because of our attraction.
So to avoid pain is also the being of feeling; it is part of the drama that makes up feeling. The attractive nature of pleasure would not be as sweet if there were not other feelings to repel us just as strongly. Pulled between like and dislike, these opposites become part of another being, perhaps “the being of desire”. Without attraction and repulsion, the being of feeling would be disconnected from the being of desire.
The critical difference lies in whether we love the being of feeling as a unity, or only some of its parts. Take for example the contrast between good and evil: A being arises which is both good and evil, as well as the movement of championing good and battling against evil. However, without evil – though we seek to defeat it – the greater unity of which they’re a part would not be (in the sense of becoming a being of consciousness). The champion of good, whose true love is this greater being, will honor evil even as he defeats it for the role it plays toward that being.
Another example: Illness and health are, together, the being of life, which is a constant movement from birth to decay. A doctor who serves the being of life, plays his role by championing health and fighting disease. However, it is critical to the being of life that he not succeed completely. If a doctor were able to eliminate all illness from birth, he would leave the patient incapable of facing other, unknown illnesses that also exist in the world. By granting perfect health, the patient would cease to be robust, and thus real health a would be impossible.
For a genuinely healthy person must face illness. It is never desirable to seek to become ill – part of the movement of the being of life is that we encourage health and promote illness – but without facing illness, a person could not be hardy. A doctor who strives for the being of life will champion health, but also honor illness for the role it plays in that being. It is because we fall ill at times, that we are healthy the rest of the time. In this way, as a unity, the being of life is able to be.
The same with pleasure and pain. If we desire to feel deeply, we must seek out pleasure and avoid pain, but also honor pain when it comes, because it must come if we are to really feel. If we grow too comfortable with pleasure, to the point of feeling nothing at all, we (or God) must push us from our confinement to seek other pleasures, an activity which carries the risk of encountering other pains. To be truly alive – a lover of life – we must embrace all the parts of experience, honoring them for their role, even if the function of those roles seems contradictory.
I am not saying pain and pleasure are equal, or to be regarded equally. Such an identity would end the very being I refer to! The idea is that all parts – even those whose roles are diametrically opposed – are together that being. The movement of being means relating both to the parts (avoiding pain and preferring pleasure) and the whole (appreciating that both pain and pleasure are the life of feeling). In this way we honor injustice even as we strive to defeat it; we honor illness even as we develop medicines to counter it; we honor pain even as we take steps to avoid it. In fact, if we did not seek to avoid pain, we would be denying its role in the fuller aspect of its being! If everything were pleasant, feeling would start to diminish. So the love of being is a love of all its parts, even if some of the roles of those parts demand that we fight against them.1
Since some of the parts of unity require the behavior of opposition, we see how necessary it is to being that we fail at times. Without imperfection, there could not be a consciousness of the higher being of which imperfection and perfection are both a part. That is, it may be the role of imperfection that I constantly seek to improve it, but it is also necessary to that greater being that sometimes I fail at this task. If ever I were to perfect my elimination of imperfection, I would also eliminate the unity I seek, since it is by imperfection that its being becomes known to me.
This does not mean that I will not continue, for the rest of my life, to seek perfection. The movement of the greater being of perfection and imperfection is that I struggle from one to the other. But it does mean that I will honor imperfection, even love it for the role it plays in making me conscious of my goal – even if that love is expressed by my seeking to undo imperfection; for by seeking to undo imperfection, I play my role in the movement of being.
This is fundamentally a philosophy of love, where even hate is loved because both hate and love together – and the lover, the beloved, and all the other parts – make up the greater unity to which this philosophy addresses itself. The being of true love could not be known without hateful things to test it (see “The steed of pain”, below). Thus, what is hateful is also loved, because its role in the being of love is that love will seek to overcome hatred with itself.
This is a world-view in which destruction and upbuilding are both one being. It does not matter that building destroys destruction, or that destruction lays the foundation for building. The two principles are, in their separateness, opposed; but as parts of a higher unity, they are interdependent. The two are intimately bound; just as with the Yin-Yang, they are two, but two aspects of one symbol, two sides of a single coin. They depend on each other, even though that dependence requires the giving way of each to the rise of the other.
As separate parts this could never make sense. The parts describe a universe fundamentally at odds with itself, an unresolvable paradox. But as members of a common unity, the parts are shown to serve the being of something more than themselves – which is also themselves. Through their opposition, the many in fact fulfill the being of the One.
It requires such a higher unity to resolve these warring parts, or else the paradox would never end. If creation and destruction are always at odds, as they must be, how can there ever be harmony? It is in the higher unity – the being of which these two are a part, and which they express by their conflict – that resolution is found. If that be the case, it argues for a resolution of all the manyness and inexplicability of life in a greater unity encompassing them all: a unity that includes temporality, limitation and finitude, as well as eternity, boundlessness and the infinite. Whatever that being is, it is what all this chaos and paradox refers to, in which they must all find their fulfillment.
In the sense of wishing it never to be.↩