The Pitcher Plant Process

Good day, Dharma-friends!

Our animal capacity for pleasure is an interesting thing, don’t you think? The other evening, at the local meditation group I’ve begun facilitating in West Asheville, we talked about pleasure and spiritual practice, particularly in relationship to the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which says that suffering is caused by desire, attachment, clinging, and so on. What is it that we desire, that we attach to, that we cling to, in an effort to save ourselves (ineffectually) from the loss of our authentic nature as we disappear into conditioned mind? Pleasure. There are a great number of forms pleasure may assume, but when it comes right down to it, pleasure is what we fixate upon, don’t you think, in order to avoid the abyss of no-self (i.e., to avoid leaving behind the self we have been trained to be, and accidentally sink down into the joy of union with Life Unfolding…).

I made the point that I usually make during that group, which is that there’s nothing wrong with pleasure in itself. I enjoy and appreciate pleasure immensely, myself, and I’m grateful for the capacity to experience pleasures of all kinds in this life. It’s when we become attached to pleasure and the things that bring us pleasure, of course, that we get into trouble. The trouble is that attachment blocks our access to the moment and to our authentic nature, which exists only in this moment.

You understand all this already, I would imagine. And yet, I would also imagine that the allure of pleasure continues to pull you into unhappy places, at least some of the time, perhaps a lot of the time. Nearly everyone does, at least so far as I can see, and it takes a tremendous amount of spiritual work for most people to break our common addiction to pleasure.

The other day during a conversation with someone we played around with the image of the carnivorous Pitcher Plant in order to describe the process conditioned mind does around pleasure. You know the plant I’m referring to, I’ll bet. I’ll see if I can find a photo to include with this post. A fly or other prey is lured into the plant by the scent of the delicious nectar inside. Once inside, downward pointing hairs and slippery membranes keep the prey from escaping. Eventually it falls into a pool of acid and is digested. Ugh! What an amazing manifestation of divine intelligence, don’t you think?

In much the same way–see if you can relate to the analogy–we are lured into conditioned mind, oftentimes, by the pleasures it promises us. Once inside, the self-hating voices of conditioned mind (those would be the downward pointing hairs) and the continual promise of escape through even more pleasure (the slippery membranes) prevent us from finding our way back out. And then over time our life force is consumed and gives life to our captor, which in this case is the survival system we call “conditioned mind”…. Haha! A bit creepy, I’ll admit, but it really does fit.

For example, the person I was talking with described a lifelong process in which she is repeatedly allured by the promise of connection into relationships with people of all sorts. The process does not allow for any intelligent discernment, however, so she ends up spending time with people who are not a good match for her, and don’t actually meet her need for connection. She doesn’t feel like she can end the friendships, however, once she realizes that they are not what she’s looking for, because of the guilt she is made to feel, internally. And yet, she still desires connection, and so she continues to onboard new friends. Eventually she ends up with an overwhelming number of relationships that do not take care of her, which consume all of her time and energy, and which pull her away from herself.

Here’s another example from my own experience. There is an intoxicating sort of pleasure that I find in solitude. If I give in to the allure, however, then I end up in a state of isolation, which is not pleasurable at all, and if the isolation continues then the suffering grows and grows.

Do you see how this process works for you in your own life and within your own conditioned mind? How are you sometimes lured into a toxic environment or situation, and what is the pleasure that tempts you there?

As always, I find it to be most helpful to be aware of these sorts of processes, because, as we so often say, with awareness comes choice. Rather than chase pleasure into suffering, let’s follow our hearts–the compassionate clarity that originates from our authentic nature–instead!!!

There’s something for you to consider if you feel so inclined. Be well, friends, and a lovely afternoon!

In peace,