We are born seeking pleasure. According to some, it is the feeling that motivates us the most. However, our relationship with pleasure is not so straightforward. Both pleasure and pain can get a little screwy in our heads. Denying ourselves certain pleasures out of fear, health, and even growth in some cases, we understand that sometimes we seek it in unhealthy and hurtful ways. We make concessions though for that hot, steamy, sweet delight because we “earned” it somehow. We were good that day.
Business vs Pleasure
Whether we pull away from it or rip off all our clothes and get into it, we are driven by our pleasures daily. And why wouldn’t we want life to be delicious? Around a table, in bed, even alone. Our pursuit of pleasure brings us to our food, to each other, and even back to ourselves. But it cannot always be delicious, we have to get down to business. There’s a time for play…a time for work…a time to indulge…a time to restrict…a time to say “don’t get ahead of yourself”…I have to work: I have goals. I work hard and I play hard. So we separate the workweek. Five days on. Two days off. Some of us don’t even know how to take time “off.”
Pleasure as Recreation
When we’re not working, many of us refresh ourselves with a little recreation, be it through physical activity, video games, food, music, and yes… even drugs. Taking psychedelics for medicine, therapy, and spiritual use is deemed permissible, even beneficial. Recreation, however, steers us into irresponsible, even dangerous territory. Nonetheless, recreation is as vital to our wellbeing as work is–a time for amusement, enjoyment, and pleasure. Is there an argument for recreational use in this regard?
Recreational Drug Use
Some would say no. A plant medicine facilitator who will remain nameless told us that, in his opinion, recreational use is any that occurs without a guide. He likens it to traveling to a major foreign city with a native versus exploring the city alone. The guide is the native. Those with a thirst for adventure might reap much enjoyment and nourishment from their journey, but everyone would agree that knowing a native greatly changes one’s experience of a city, usually for the better. Then again, on our own, if well-prepared, we’ll discover and experience things that we never would have in the company of a native. Either way, there is no telling where we’re going to end up.
In the 14th century, the word “recreation” was introduced into the English language meaning: “refreshment or curing of a sick person.” According to that definition, recreation is therapeutic. And heaven knows everyone, in America especially, could use a little refreshment. We live to work; we don’t work to live. Thus, the conventional thought is that we work to enjoy our life at the end of it. Strange concept.
The English language turns everything into a work-related activity. To work. To work up to something. To work someone in. To make it work. To work out. To work up to something, like an appetite. All we do is work. As they say “all work and no play…” or as they ask, “Is this trip for work or pleasure?” More so than any drug, we draw a harder line between work and pleasure. Yet, those who do not distinguish between the two are called “the masters of living.”
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.” –Francois Auguste De Chateaubriand
So, what about both? Our pleasure is serious business.
Some studies have been conducted that evaluated the role of pleasure in eating. One from the University of Texas took a group of people with high cholesterol and put them on a low-fat diet with the allowance that they could splurge every other day. Their cholesterol levels should have gone up but they didn’t. In some cases, they lowered. Another study, conducted by Thai and Swedish researchers, concluded that without pleasure, fewer nutrients were retained from food.
Finally, in a rather cruel but enlightening experiment, researchers destroyed the sense of taste in a group of rats and spared another group. They were fed the same food, and treated exactly the same. The ones who couldn’t taste died.
Cause of death?
Touch is Nutritional
Lack of food or nutrients is not the only cause of malnutrition. As much as we need food to survive, we also need touch, affection, intimacy–pleasure. Rene Spitz, a psychoanalyst, observed hospitalized infants, deprived of physical intimacy for a long period of time, fall into decline and disease. They died from malnutrition of another kind.
But there comes a time, for all of us, when we have to separate from our mothers. And for the rest of his life, “the individual… is confronted with a dilemma upon whose horns his destiny and survival are continually being tossed,” said psychoanalyst Eric Berne.
We enter the arena of social intercourse, negotiating a need with a society that does not value intimacy. So, we grow up. We make compromises. We learn how to say “Hello, how are you? Fine, thanks, you?” A different kind of hunger arises–recognition-hunger. We all crave to be seen.
The Games People Play
In 1964, Eric Berne published a book about dysfunctional and functional social interactions, The Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. Berne shifted the focus from the psychoanalysis of Freud to a methodology that he called “transactional analysis.” In other words, the internal dynamics of an individual were not so internal, they were visible in their social transactions. For Berne, we would not be interacting unless we were getting something out of it. There would be no reason to be there if we weren’t. Thus, we’re all exchanging something of value when we interact. “A stroke.” An exchange of strokes constitutes a “transaction,” the unit of social intercourse. No matter how small or brief, we’re all getting something out of it. Pain or pleasure. Do we know the difference?
Berne cleverly named the ways that we transact: procedures, rituals, pastimes, and games. Most of us spend our time passing time and playing games. The majority of our time is not spent in intimacy. Intimacy, Berne said, was the game-free life. And we construct “pastimes” and “games” in order to avoid it. There is also rarely an opportunity in our daily life.
“Our society frowns upon candidness except in privacy; good sense knows that it can always be abused, and the Child [within all of us] fears it because of the unmasking which it involves.” writes Berne.
Let’s take a party to illustrate our various social transactions.
Usually, the event begins with procedures and rituals. “Hi, my name is,” for example–or, “Oh let me help you with dinner…” Then, our discourse can move into pastimes such as these named by Berne: “Do You Know” (so and so) Or, “Morning After (What a hangover). Or, “‘Martini’ (I Know a Better Way), typical of a certain kind of ambitious young person.”
But pastimes get boring. Some people hate going to cocktail parties or events because of them. Games fill the more interesting hours of our social intercourse. “Games are sandwiched, as it were, between pastimes and intimacy.” According to Berne, child-rearing is largely teaching kids what the games are and how to play them. We don’t get taught the same games necessarily, as they say, different strokes for different folks. We intuitively, however, gravitate towards those who play similar games.
There are all sorts of games: Life Games, Martial Games, Party Games, Sexual Games, Underworld Games, Consulting Room Games, and Good Games. The good games, we rarely play, in that the point is to feel good at the end. Berne also described “psychological sweatshirts” such as “Love me” printed on the front and “Not you stupid” on the back. That is a game. Others include:
- “See What You Made Me Do.”
- “Why Don’t You — ‘Yes But.’”
- “Ain’t It Awful?”
- “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch.”
Games are Easy to Spot–Follow the Drama.
Games are inherently dramatic, dishonest, and unconscious. The objective of the game is the pay-off–the feeling of reward at the end of it. In order to identify what that is, especially in a social context, find your “You see!” statement: “You see! This always happens…” Bingo. That’s the feeling that we’re chasing after. Berne said that it might seem strange upon first thought that people would play hurtful games with themselves but most people do. The satisfaction–the pay-off–is that our worldview is validated. “You see!” is another form of “I’m right.”
Is Pleasure Externally or Internally Driven?
We’re either searching for pleasure or pain–it’s not about one being good and the other being bad. According to Game Theory, our pleasures and our pains are internally driven. We might have learned dysfunctional ways of getting the stroke, but it doesn’t necessitate that the drive for pleasure needs to be external. In a certain light, we could say that satisfaction is the only feeling there is.
Social Interactions As Recreation
There might be an argument that pleasure is about appreciating whatever it is that we are engaging in. If we appreciate where we are, at the moment that we are, then that changes the idea that pleasure is superficial. What to do with our time is an existential question around which we construct all sorts of activities–even fantasies–to fill our waking hours. With Berne’s theory in mind, most of our social interactions, which could be seen as a form of recreation, are built around the avoidance of intimacy. Even if we might crave intimacy the most. From a certain standpoint, that might be the escapism at the center of addictive behavior.
Recreational Drug Use
We are in no way concluding that the recreational use of drugs is justifiable. One shouldn’t enter into any relationship casually. We must be conscious and aware of what it is that we are seeking. It is interesting that our recreation–if we were to take the metaphor of games as case in point–turns into obsession, drama, and pain. That we can become addicted–not so much to the pleasure at the moment–but the feeling afterward.
The Feeling We’re All After
In the game of “Alcoholic,” the drinking may induce its own kinds of pleasure but that’s not the game. The hangover is. In the case of binge-eating, it’s not about the satisfaction that occurs at the moment. Rather, the psychological torment that happens afterward. Or, we may compulsively jump into bed with people, which fulfills a need, but it’s the feeling the next morning that reveals what the game is about. These aren’t one-size-fits-all situations–this is about identifying the game. There are positive games such as “They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me” and “Gee You’re Wonderful, Mr. Murgatoyd” but again, most of the games we play hurt us in the end.
Now in the case of a friend, Sally always liked to say that “All Men Are Assholes.” Of course, Sally was an expert at finding assholes. The satisfaction came from the validation that she was right. What she was really after was the feeling of righteous anger at the discovery of yet another asshole. “You see! This always happens.” It reinforced what Berne would call her life “script,” constructed of repeated games and their payoffs. This friend got to feel, over and over again, that people (or men) will betray her. The negative feelings could then be used to advance her script.
Is There an Argument for Recreational Use If We Investigate Our Ideas Around that Word?
Certain substances are more addictive than others. Generally, we can agree on that. But more so than any drug, we can become addicted to our ideas–ones from which we derive both pleasure and pain. In terms of evaluating whether or not there is an argument, some kind of nourishment, to be had in responsible recreational use, we have to begin with the ideas that are driving our pleasures. What is our idea of pleasure and is it serving us? Furthermore, is our idea of “recreation” convoluting a time that could be considered sacred?
Do we need drugs for any of this–no.
What is inherently wrong with pleasure? Maybe our relationship with pleasure could use a little healing.
We are Sensual Beings.
Pleasure has nutritional value. We are coming to understand that more and more. In the context of food, the amount of nutrients our bodies absorb depends on that factor. We would venture to guess that the en-joying, infusing joy into the moment, also nourishes the body. Thus, in taking psychedelics, whether that be in a medicinal, therapeutic, or spiritual context, we can also admit that we enjoy it. The work is real–and many can attest to that–but so is our pleasure. What a dysfunctional relationship we have with it.
Everybody’s free to feel good.
But, as they say, “different strokes for different folks.”