The 4 Noble Truths: How To Work With Pleasure And Pain

picture-16Like most of us, many of the clients I work with suffer in one way or another. It might be financially, it might be depression. We all suffer to some degree.

Because of this, many of us attempt to feel better through a variety of means. We seek to get out of the pain, move away from it, avoid it or even stuff it. At the same time we push away our pain, we also seek pleasure. We seek whatever will make us feel better.

So, we do things that seem to minimize our pain by adding pleasure to our life. We eat food that may not be the best for our body but it tastes soooo good. Or, if we are having a bad day, we hit the bars with some friends to cheer us up. We might even take stimulants or medication to help us feel better.

Mainstream marketing and advertisements do their best to address your pain points and promise you a remedy, or they will hit the pleasure seeker in you that will buy whatever makes you feel better.

In Buddhism there exists a great teaching about the nature of life. These teachings are called the 4 noble truths. Rather than get into a lengthy discourse on Buddhism and its teachings, I will just mention these in layman’s terms. If you want to go further, resources at are the bottom.

4 Noble Truths and How to apply them to your Life

Truth 1

The Buddha taught that in life we suffer and struggle. No one is above this fundamental truth. Look around the globe or watch the news. Suffering is everywhere. To pretend otherwise, is to discount the truth of life. We all suffer.


Stop pretending that everything is either “great” or “miserable.” Look around at reality and see for yourself. Acknowledge that you and others suffer.

Truth 2.

Our wanting to avoid our own suffering and the suffering around us by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, causes the suffering. In other words, suffering starts and grows by our own desire to get rid of it.


Ask yourself if you are a pain avoider or pleasure seeker, or both? Get to know the ways in which you avoid your own suffering and discomfort.

Pain Avoiders

In my work with hundreds of men, the common theme is that men are too scared to feel their emotional pain and avoid feeling their feelings. They will hardly wince at physical pain, brave wars, corporate greed and beat each other to a pulp, but emotional feelings are “off limits” for most men.

If you can handle intense physical pain, why not engage your emotional pain or the emotional pain of others? Be fearless about feeling what is painful in your life. On the other side of feeling great emotional pain is perhaps the pleasure you seek. Again, try it and see for yourself.

Realize that the more you push away pain, the more you are likely to suffer.

Pleasure seekers

If you are always trying to feel better and chasing “positive” feelings such as happiness or joy, stop. Stop and notice what happens when you stop. Just sit there and be with it.

For example, you might be a dopamine junkie. You might seek pleasure through extreme sports like I did, or you might have certain addictions that give you a “rush.” Ask yourself, who would I be if I didn’t keep chasing this feeling?

If you really feel hooked by this one, I suggest finding a mentor to help you through it. Unless of course, you would rather chase that fleeting feeling.

Truth 3.

Suffering lessens when we can give up our desire to get rid of it. Freedom is possible.


By you relating to your pain and catching yourself as you attempt to avoid it, the great irony is that you may feel better at the end of the day. It is through being a yes to our experience (including pain) that we become more and more fulfilled in life.

This does not mean dwell on your pain and collapse into it. Suffering becomes a vehicle for our own personal growth and evolution.

Truth 4.

The way to end suffering is the eightfold path and the path of ethical conduct, meditation and mindfulness.


You don’t have to become Buddhist or even meditate to cease the suffering in your life.

However, choose to engage some kind of mindfulness and self-awareness practice. The more you get in touch with your heart and come into harmony with your deepest self, the less you will suffer and the less you will get hooked by the suffering around you.

It is not that you stop feeling the suffering around you. Rather, you feel it deeply and you are impacted by it greatly. Yet, the response is to open to it and face it fearlessly, rather than shrink, contract and run away.

Consider the possibility that suffering exists mainly because of our disconnected relationship to our own suffering. If this is true, the work then, is to engage your suffering, relate to it, get to know it, feel it and over time it will dissipate.

Similar Posts:

No Pain, No Gain

Feel Your Feelings


Reggie Ray: Indestructible Truth:The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism.

Walpola Sri Rahula: What the Buddha Taught

Wikipedia: The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.


  • Fabio

    Reply Reply August 21, 2009

    Me likes.

    I enjoy how you gave practical advice based on the 4 noble truths.

  • Brad Engel

    Reply Reply August 21, 2009

    Recommended reading: Ram Dass’ Journey of Awakening, A Meditator’s Guidebook. The oldy-but-goody suggests a great exercise.

    As I remember it, after entering your meditative state, visualize your thoughts as several different leaves floating by you on a slow-moving stream. As they come into focus, neither reject them nor accept them. Or, neither cling to them or fight them. They’re there, so just let them flow. You’ll be AMAZED at what flows by you, and when you emerge you’ll be more at peace with them.

  • Joshua Gribschaw-Beck

    Reply Reply August 22, 2009

    To me this all sounds like an oxymoron. Truth 4 is to do exactly what Buddah suggests is the cause of sufffering in Truth 2… That said, in my experience…the more I step in to my pain and step in to my pleasure and allow it…the more fulfilled and alive I feel.

    Truth 2 “In other words, suffering starts and grows by our own desire to get rid of it.”

    Truth 4
    “The way to end suffering is the eightfold path and the path of ethical conduct, meditation and mindfulness.”

    I will admit….meditation and mindfulness have led to me allowing whatever is to be (including emotional pain) in my moment……and I experience being more alive and fulfilled more often…the question for me now is….are these feelings of aliveness and fulfillment “pleasure” or is that something else….perhaps flashes of “enlightenment” or “peace”.

  • Campbell

    Reply Reply August 22, 2009

    Dude, this is some straight clear wisdom. Really appreciate the layman’s post. Clean plate club, eat your whole meal, digest, be nourished.

    I f*ckin start to get that. dang. Some of experience does not taste good, but as I’ve heard from a wise man recently, if it is truth it is nourishing.

    Thanks. Appreciate.


  • Syc

    Reply Reply August 23, 2009

    Really enjoyed this post, once we become ‘real’ with ourselves (i.e. honest) that we have emotions…and we experience all of them across the spectrum, life becomes a flow. Even so, this is a life long journey of self-awareness. I have found in my own life that acknowledging the feelings I have help me move forward because I realize another state of being is around the corner. As I read my own comment, I realize that Truth 3 resonates the strongest with me.

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