Humans are just like bacteria. From one moment to the next we're sensing for which direction will move us up the sugar gradient. We’re always sensing. Sometimes, we find the sugar in the external world in food or by getting up to go to the bathroom, or by planting a carrot, or by playing cards, or fishing, or playing paintball, or listening to our parents, or whatever else it is in that moment that provides the greatest possible pleasure as best as we can sense it. Sometimes the greatest pleasure is internal, in fantasizing or daydreaming or introspecting. In both cases though, moment by moment we’re doing nothing more than looking for the most pleasure.
This is the same thing other animals and plants too. In each moment they sense for what next to do that maximizes their pleasure. Just like us, they’re just sensing along. Life is a bit more confusing for us because we can imagine things that don’t exist either physically in the environment and that may have been in the past or present. We can even imagine possibilities that are impossible (like the pink elephant that left my room 10 minutes ago). Some animals, too, can imagine and dream and predict. But plants probably can’t. And yet, even our predictions are just another way to sense forward. Just like every other action we and all living things take, our imagination is simultaneously a construction and a discovery of the next pleasurable moment.
So, what does recognizing this do for us? Well, first, it can help us make sense of our own sometimes crazy behavior. There is an order underneath it, even if it doesn’t conform to what is “supposed” to be orderly.
Second, it reinforces that the best strategies for communication and motivation reside require pleasure. If you want to get yourself or others to do something, make it more pleasurable than anything else you or they could do in the moment, including by helping them imagine the positive future they will be contributing to by taking that action.
Third, for some, thinking this way may reenchant the world, by highlighting the sensual, feeling-forward, discovery-like process inherent in all of our actions. It also highlights the sense of being a living river flowing through life, rather than a solid object somehow entirely walled off from other things. Living may begin to feel a bit more like play.
Fourth, it brings us back into family with other animals and plants, rather than seeing ourselves apart from them. It helps us identify as having something in common with all living things - we make decisions the same way.
Fifth, it gives us a basis to think more deeply about what a living spirituality would be like. It brings us back to basic characteristics of living creatures and gives us useful questions to think more about a spirituality that is both designed with inspiration from, and in service to, greater life. Some of those questions might include:
- How does knowing the basis of our decision making process change the way we make decisions in specific contexts?
- How does this change the way we view plants and animals?
- What is the relationship between pleasure and truth? Landing on truth, being certain about a truth, or being honest about a truth often feels good. Is pleasure a good guide to discover what’s true?
- And what would it mean to come “more alive?” What does this have to do with pleasure? And what practices would help us come more alive?