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The Wisdom of Undisciplined Pleasure
by Stewart Blackburn

I found myself at dinner the other night with a charming woman who teaches another form of shamanism and as we were talking she made several references to discipline in a spiritual context. Now I've always been an anarchist of sorts and have consistently rebelled against rules and discipline. Certainly I've had respect for those disciplined individuals I've encountered, but I never saw in their lives any reflection of the superiority of their discipline over my own seemingly random style of practice. In fact, as I've tried to take note of which practices produce which results, the disciplined people I have known haven't seemed to me to be any happier and, in many cases, were often significantly less happy than their undisciplined counterparts. As I continued speaking with my friend I become increasingly agitated until I blurted out that I was a very undisciplined person and I thought that that made a lot more sense than being disciplined. She did not understand my point of view, and perhaps others may not either, so here is an explanation of my thinking on the subject.

For the most part discipline is based on fear. It makes the assumption that there are many temptations that effectively distract one from the noble path of self-realization. Without the use of discipline, passions such as anger, greed, and sexual desire can prevent the aspirant from seeing the truth. Within this assumption is another one that says that there are parts of us that are less valuable than other parts and that unless we conquer these less valuable parts of ourselves we cannot truly progress. Discipline implies that there is a conflict within each person between our higher, more noble aspects and the baser, animal drives. It does not look on the human being as one glorious, fully-functional whole. Rather, it splits the person into "good" and "bad" parts, where the "bad" parts can betray the "good" parts and lead the person astray or worse.

Now, pleasure is the currency we have to evaluate one thing versus another. If I desire both more salad and more dessert, but I only have room for one, I will choose the one that will likely give me more overall pleasure. If I have to choose between going out dancing or fulfilling my responsibility as a babysitter, I will choose on the basis of overall pleasure, recognizing that there are major pleasures involved in meeting my responsibilities (and some serious pain issues with not meeting them). The relative importance, that is how much total pleasure I get from each, is, of course, entirely up to me according to how much I value those pleasures in the moment. Just the same, we all use pleasure as the medium of equating two or more disparate choices.

The more one plays in the inner realms the more one feels the call of something very big and powerful that feels extraordinary. People tend to call this by names that reflect their cultural and spiritual upbringing. Some people use names that suggest the source of this calling is outside of themselves, like God, Allah, Jehovah, Shiva, and Vishnu. Others find names that reflect their sense that it is internal, like Buddha-nature and Higher Self. And still others use names that do not reflect interiority or exteriority, like the Tao. By whatever name it is called, it is a feeling, an increasingly powerful feeling, the pleasure of which becomes quite irresistible.

The initial ability to be aware of this call from within/above/everywhere is dependent on one's ability to feel in general. This means that a person has to be willing to feel the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant experiences that he/she encounters and to do so without fear or judgments. This ability comes from the conscious practice of feeling. Thus, it involves learning how to deal with conflicting feelings, how to manage intensity, and most importantly, how to be aware of oneself at many levels. It is only by the courageous attitude of being open to all aspects/fragments/passions of ourselves that we can become adept at feeling fully. It is in this space that we can feel and see with the heart that which beckons us with such fervor.

As we experiment with pleasures of all kinds it is natural to find some more interesting and satisfying than others. It is also natural for us to find that our tastes change over time. An unsatisfied desire, a craving, will persist, at least at some level, until it is satisfied. And once satisfied it usually miraculously disappears. By allowing desires to be satisfied we can let them go and find greater satisfaction in other, often deeper, pleasures. It is a process of learning and is fostered, not by restrictions, but by permission and acceptance. In this process we learn what works for us and what doesn't wisdom.

The skills of discernment and self-confidence are learned by making choices and evaluating the results for ourselves. When we give ourselves the freedom (Kala) to choose based on our own inner wisdom we cultivate the skill of discernment (Ike), that is, the discrimination to see which of two or more choices will likely give us the most pleasure in the long run. The more we practice that inner evaluation and see what the outcome is (Pono), the more our self-confidence grows (Mana). Discipline, on the other hand, involves some system whereby decisions are made based on some standard and found consistent or inconsistent with that standard. Thus, the only skills learned are those of how to obey the decrees of some predetermined concept. I contend that it is by paying attention (Makia) to how we feel in the moment at all levels (Manawa) and by using the comparing and assessing qualities of pleasure that we can most wisely decide which course of action to take in the moment.

We do not learn how to love (Aloha) by being disciplined. We learn to love by being wholeheartedly undisciplined, to love with great abandon and to feel the fullness of life without thoughts or judgments.

While some people may genuinely get pleasure out of discipline (and some, of course, enjoy being "disciplined"), the focus is still on pleasure. I think that it is very useful to step away from the logic of the warrior style of living (discipline and protection) and to look at how we can create our lives differently using pleasure as the basis of decision making instead of fear.

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