The Cocoon of Pain

Charlotte Joko Beck

We have many ways to cope with life, many ways to worship comfort and pleasantness. All are based on the same thing: the fear of encountering any kind of unpleasantness.

If we must have absolute order and control, it’s because we’re trying to avoid any kind of unpleasantness.

If we can have things our way, and get angry if they’re not, then we think we can survive and shut out our anxiety about death.

If we can please everyone, then we imagine no unpleasantness will enter our life. We hope that if we can be the star of the show, shining and wonderful and efficient, we can have such an admiring audience that we won’t have to feel anything.

If we can withdraw from the world and just entertain ourselves with our own dreams and fantasies and emotional upheavals, we can escape unpleasantness.

If we can figure everything out, if we can fit everything into some sort of plan or order, a complete intellectual understanding, then perhaps we won’t be threatened.

If we can submit to an authority, have it tell us what to do, then we can give someone else the responsibility for our lives and we don’t have to carry it any more. We don’t have to feel the anxiety of making a decision.

If we pursue life madly, going after any pleasant sensation, any excitement, any entertainment, perhaps we won’t have to feel any pain. If we can tell others what to do, keep them well under control, under our foot, maybe they won’t hurt us.

If we can ‘bliss out’, if we can be a mindless ‘buddha’ just relaxing in the sun, we don’t have to assume any responsibility for the world’s unpleasantness. We can just be happy.

All these are versions of the god we actually worship. It is the god of no discomfort and no unpleasantness. Without exception, every being on earth pursues it to some degree. As we pursue it, we lose touch with what really is. As we lose touch, our life spirals downwards. And the very unpleasantness that we sought to avoid can overwhelm us.

This has been the problem of human life since the beginning of time. All philosophies and all religions are varying attempts to deal with this basic fear. Only when such attempts fail us are we ready to begin serious practice.