Pleasure and Joy

Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.

Life in this world is full of pain. But pain, which is the contrary of pleasure, is not necessarily the contrary of happiness or of joy. Because spiritual joy flowers in the full expansion of freedom that reaches out without obstacle to its supreme object, fulfilling itself in the perfect activity of disinterested love for which it was created.

Pleasure, which is selfish, suffers from everything that deprives us of some good we want to savour for our own sakes. But unselfish joy suffers from nothing but selfishness. Pleasure is restrained and killed by pain and suffering. Spiritual joy ignores suffering or laughs at it or even exploits it to purify itself of its greatest obstacle, selfishness.

Sometimes pleasure can be the death of joy and so the man who has tasted true joy is suspicious of pleasure. But anyone who knows true joy is never afraid of pain because he knows that pain can serve him as another opportunity of asserting – and tasting – his liberty.

And yet do not think that joy turns pleasure inside out and seeks pleasure in pain: joy, in so far as it is true, is above pain and does not feel pain. And that is why it laughs at pain and rejoices in confounding pain. It is the conquest of suffering by disinterestedness, by unselfishness, by perfect love.

– Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”

The road is long. I am still so much a creature chained to pleasure. Selfishness is second nature to me. That is why I feel the pinch when I have to do things that serve others above my own needs and wants.

I am reminded by this passage of the question I asked my mother several times before… “Did you not find it 辛苦 to bring us up the way you did? Putting our welfare first in everything, serving Dad and us so much so that you had so little time (even no time at all) for your own wants?” She said no, because she didn’t feel like she was giving up anything. It’s no wonder Zibin told me before that the thing he most admired about my mother was her heart of service.

My mother… doesn’t watch television except for the news. She doesn’t go shopping for pleasure. She doesn’t indulge in teas and lunches with her girlfriends. She doesn’t go to spas or have manicures or pedicures or go for regular facials. She doesn’t even have the luxury to sleep a full 8 hours a night, or to take afternoon naps. Although she grew up in a wealthy family and could have chosen a life of leisure, her life had always been a life full of service and labour to her family and friends, and she’s often taken for granted. Tired and haggard as she often becomes, she NEVER complains about doing things for others. This is something I have never been able to emulate.

I’m a person who more often than not puts “me” first. It stretches me to choose an act of service. This is one cross I must pick up this Lent. Open my heart to whatever God may gift me to help me serve with a joyful heart.

I want to say, “yes” to You again, Lord. Help me to always say YES.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, dear, for the lovely message in this blog entry. What caught my attention most was “And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live”. I think it is a profound statement which many of us do not full appreciate the depth of its meaning.

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