pain and pleasure are inventions of the sense of self

Vic Shayne
4 min readJan 5, 2023

Vic Shayne
13 Pillars of Enlightenment: How to realize your true nature and end suffering

Pain and pleasure are related to how the sense of self — the bundle of ideas, emotions, and memories that make up who we believe we are — accepts pleasure but tries to avoid suffering. It is the self that creates feelings over these dual aspects of life and we may want to question whether our struggles in life are mostly related to how we are conditioned to react to words and actions.

Even physical pain is experienced as bad and unacceptable because the self rejects it as that which does not contribute to its desires.

the self is a censor and interpreter
In an abstract way we may consider that the self is like a censor-interpreter, approving of pleasure and disapproving of suffering. But beyond this, it is the self that determines whether there is an experience of psychological pain or pleasure. Essentially, that which does not live up to the expectations of the self is unpleasant. And that which does not manifest the desires of the self is also unpleasant.

the experiencer-experience duality
Going even further into this we find that there is an experience of pleasure or pain that requires an experiencer. This experiencer is the self that has fragmented itself apart from the totality of life, which includes all the dualities of good, bad, pain, pleasure, hot, cold, and so on. Without the experiencer (the self) there is no psychological pain or suffering, or a rejection of physical pain.

Nisargadatta said, “Pleasure lies in the relationship between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. And the essence of it is acceptance. Whatever may be the situation, if it is acceptable, it is pleasant. If it is not acceptable, it is painful. What makes it acceptable is not important; the cause may be physical, or psychological, or untraceable; acceptance is the decisive factor. Obversely, suffering is due to non-acceptance.”

in the pain there is joy
For most, it seems ludicrous that one could be blissful in a world of sorrow, abuse, meanness, violence, and conflict. But the word “blissful” is not synonymous with pleasurable. Instead it is more synonymous with the idea of acceptance. Joseph Campbell seems to have put it most succinctly when he said, “Say ‘Yes!’ to it all.” In other words, here we are, living a life; and if we want to live to the fullest we accept life in all its good and bad. By analogy, looking back on my experience of raising two children to adulthood I will quickly claim that it was a wonderful experience. And yet the reality is that there were difficult times along the way. Overall, however, I readily say that I love my children and have accepted the bad with the good. Therefore I characterize my experience with my children as being joyful.

Here is another analogy… a couple of decades ago my mother died. My father has reminisced about his relationship with her many times since her passing. He has conveyed how heartbroken he was. Then I asked him, If you could avoid the heartbreak by never having met her, would you choose to erase the 60-plus years of your marriage?” My father readily answered that he would rather have had the relationship. He said it was worth all the grief, sadness, and longing that came with my mother’s passing.

We do not have to accept the bad with the good, but the bad — the suffering — is inevitable.

Nisargadatta said that “the acceptance of pain takes you much deeper than pleasure does…It is an observable fact that one becomes self-conscious only when caught in the conflict between pleasure and pain, which demands choice and decision. It is this clash between desire and fear that causes anger, which is the great destroyer of sanity in life. When pain is accepted for what it is, a lesson and a warning, and deeply looked into and heeded, the separation between pain and pleasure breaks down, both become experience — painful when resisted, joyful when accepted.”

we do not really change by force
This in no way implies that we must force ourselves to be happy or accept the pleasure even in the midst of difficulties. Nor does it imply that we should think positively and put on a false front. Instead, fully appreciating the role of pain/suffering has to do with a realization of what it is and why we perceive it as such. Using force or positive thinking only perpetuates the delusion of the self. Why? Because it is the self that is doing the forcing.

Nisargadatta taught that we should accept pain and pleasure “as they come, enjoy both while they last, let them go, as they must…The ending of this pattern [being affected by pain and pleasure] is the ending of the self. The ending of the self with its desires and fears enables you to return to your real nature, the source of all happiness and peace.”

consciousness is at-one with the pain
We are all the one and only consciousness experiencing our own selves, not only the human selves, but also animals, rocks, trees, clouds, nature, and so on. As human beings we forget this fundamental truth until we eventually decide to find it. What we see is what we are; what we experience is our own selves reflected back at us as myriad entities and phenomena. We are both pain and pleasure, because we are the totality of all that is. When we act the role of the experiencer then we remove ourselves from the totality and delude ourselves into believing that we are insulated, isolated, fragmented people living in juxtaposition to all else that is apart from this physical body.



Vic Shayne

NY Times bestselling author writing about reality beyond thought, consciousness, and the self to uncover what is fundamental.