Waves of Pleasure and Sorrow

In Buddhist thought life moves in rising and falling waves of Sukkha (pleasure) and Dukkha (our suffering or sorrow). This rising and falling is our natural cycle which we can tweak from time to time if needed.

The two extremes of the full cycle are firstly manias of positivity followed by huge crashes to depression. Secondly the perfect harmony of boredom where there is no tension between opposites at all – a sort of mindful desert of nothing happening. Society prefers us all to be in the latter camp – better to be comatose with no fuss than dealing with scary manias disrupting the order of things. While many of us haven’t been at these extremes, it’s fair to say that all of us have experienced times of great highs and lows.

Personally I fit more in the greater ups and downs camp. It is my nature. Creative people tend to hang out here because their lives are less measured and more prone to emotional shunts. If it wasn’t it would get a bit boring so there is a tendency to create a mess of some kind to spice life up a bit. People with a flatter natural cycle of ups and downs seem to be more balanced and in some ways I guess they are. But we all have our problems and challenges – flatter can be mundane.

I had a friend who was border line bi-polar and we had some great times, but alas it got too much for him and he ended up in therapy. He said the therapy didn’t work but after some time he smoothed out the ups and downs by eating properly and avoiding drink and drugs. At the other end of the spectrum I have spent time with people who live lives of what I consider to be extreme boredom – nothing soulful ever happens. They are tethered to shopping centres and the latest fad restaurant. Terrified of the ups and downs, everything is orderly and controlled. Nothing is left to chance lest they be bitten on the bottom by joyful abandonment or a bought of melancholy.


Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity ~ Carl Jung.

In Buddhism the root cause of human suffering is our compulsions which usually are a result of clinging to our unrealistic ideas and ambitions. A lingering yearning for things to be different from what they truly are right here and now. So we push forward, we lean in on life when there is absolutely no need.

Unrealistic ideas are great for creativity, humour and the like. They become problematic when they hang around for too long – like an emotionally charged boy/girlfriend that just won’t let up. They can fester and drive you a little nuts.

So we all live somewhere in the aforementioned spectrum. How do we find peace with our natural rhythms of highs and lows which may be different from our partners or those around us? The key here is to understand our rhythms, accept them and not be always trying to control them. And very importantly we also need to have compassion for the ups and downs of others.

Almost invariably these things require some sort of reflection/meditation and plan to put any changes into practice. Remember that wherever the mind goes, energy flows, so work with that and direct your energy into things that are at your core – your power base. I believe reflection is vital as we step away from the problem and are more easily able to find a solution. It all seems so simple really but often the simple things bypass us.

Once we have that understanding then we can begin to tweak those crests and troughs. Some of us will need to level them out a bit by consolidating our energy – maybe leave out that extra drink at the party or just show up on time on a regular basis – be more considerate. Others will need to give the cycle a bit of a boost – let go of the white knuckle grip on everyday life changes. So if the raucous party next door keeps you awake, go for a 2am walk.

These things are not necessarily about making transformational changes. They are certainly not about perfection or seeking acceptance from others (beware of that one). We all get out of whack from time to time. We just need to understand that we can tweak the cycle so we can bring a bit of equanimity into our lives.

Best to you
James Wild

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Categories: Mind, Spirituality