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The Deep Pleasure Meditation

The Deep Pleasure Meditation


Pleasure, you would think, should be a very simple thing. Those pleasures that are most satisfying should take front-center stage of our minds, hearts and stomachs. They should chase the lesser pleasures into the shadows of the curtains and offstage.

But it doesn't work that way. Strangely enough, the stupidest pleasures make the most noise and deepest pleasures are the quietest. It's those inane, trite pleasures that enslave us, that leave no satisfaction, that even end up hurting us and destroying us. It's those that ring so loudly that the real pleasures can't even be heard.

Deep Pleasures, Dumb Pleasures

What are the deep and real pleasures?

Almost always, those pleasures you barely notice.

Being comfortable in a place you can call home.

Watching your kids succeed at something you were really lousy at.

Having someone by your side who loves you and believes in you no matter how badly you may mess things up.

Planting a seed in someone’s heart, and watching it grow.

Giving, and watching those you gave to become givers themselves.

Then there are the ultra-deep pleasures shared with us by an infinite Creator, through an infinite Torah:

Doing a mitzvah with the joy of knowing that, “Hey, I was just chosen to serve the Creator of the Universe!”

Absorbing some Torah wisdom and, after much struggle, really getting the endless depth of it.

Teaching that wisdom, and then discovering your students get it better than you.

Standing before the Master of the Universe and giving a personal “thank you” for all these pleasures and privileges and more—especially for the privilege of getting to say a personal thank you before the Creator of All Things—oh, what could be a greater pleasure! I mean, I don't even know how to create an electron, and here I am standing before this Awesome Creator and giving thanks that I get to breathe!

Okay, maybe you don't get it. We each have our deep pleasures.

The point is: How absurd could life be, that these pleasures are so easily washed away by the noisy, crashing waves of inanities that provide no more than a brittle plastic, disposable, cheap imitation of the real thing, only to leave pain, heartbreak, addiction, embarrassment —whatever, we've all been there, each in our own way—in their vacuous wake?

We can be sitting there in our home on a wonderful Shabbos day where all those deep and satisfying pleasures of life surround us—and that gnawing demand for some stupid potato chip that's not currently available, or the thought that someone else might be having more fun doing something else won't leave us alone.

And we’re talking about pleasure! Pleasure runs everything. As it says in the ancient Book of Formation, “Nothing is higher than pleasure.”1

And your therapist agrees. It’s called the pain-pleasure principle. It runs our lives.

In sum: Life can be real dumb.

Pleasure In Control

But there's gotta be a way out. Perhaps, if we try to understand what's going on with us, perhaps then we can find that door.

What’s going on with us is that there is more than one of us. There's layers upon layers of personalities. The layers that experience the deepest pleasure lie most deeply inside. The layers that are most easily fooled lie at the surface.2

And there's the crunch: It’s those outermost, peripheral layers that have the most direct access to the console for controlling hands, feet, palate, kishkes, hormones, and all the rest.

Totally unfair.

Who's at the surface?

The majority of cells in your body don't even belong to you. They are parasites that live principally in your gut. Most, we hope, are friendly. Many are not.

Whatever—they are the ones making demands. There's a neural network in your stomach, colon and small intestine with about as many neurons as a small cat. Those foreign investors down there have claimed rights to all consumer demands. They send signals to the brain, “We neeeeeed chocolate! Neeeeed! Understand? As in get it now! NOW!”

Sure, the brain could override that signal. You tell me: How often does it do that?

In the brain as well, it’s the simplest, stupidest parts that have the first say. In his book, “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman describes how the brain is wired for “amygdala hijack”—a situation where powerful stimuli trigger a raw emotional response milliseconds before any input from the higher-thinking neocortex can kick in. Only milliseconds—but still enough time to hijack the rest of the brain and fire the whole body into action. Most often, real stupid action.

Now that sheds a whole new light on the words of the Zohar, that describes our self-destructive impulse as “an old and foolish king.” Old, because “it always has the first word.”3

Then there's that area of the human body packed with parasympathetic nerves (those are the ones that transmit sensations) about which the Talmud says, “Feed it and it starves. Starve it and it is satisfied.”4

But, of course, being human, we feed it as much as we can. Even though, with a little starvation, it would be much more satisfied from the same pleasures.

That’s related to love. Love is weird. It only works when you give it. Deeply. When you connect at a place that is so personal, so private, that the bond can never be broken. That is love that satisfies.

And we give all that away for a quick fix, far too often with nothing in return. Zilch. Ripoff. Just baggage. Bad baggage.

In Control of Pleasure

Here's a prescription. Take it or leave it. It’s not easy. Nothing good in life comes easy. But it’s doable:

Find a quiet place and a quiet time. Sit still and meditate on the deep, quiet pleasures of life. The ones your soul came here to receive. The ones you will take back with you when you leave this body after 120 years or as many as you may be blessed with, may they be a lot and really good.

Visualize those treasures, those ultimate souvenirs of life. Home. Kids. Friends. Companions. Your mitzvahs. The Torah wisdom you’ve gained. The times you thanked G‑d from your heart.

Focus and return focus as long as your mind can keep returning to focus. Fan their flames, turn up the dial and amplify their signal.

You won't need to battle against all the other distractions. Self-control will come much easier. Just let those impulses knock on the door, and ignore them until they go away. Then let the deep waters of those everlasting pleasures inundate them into oblivion.

You will feel less pain. Pleasure carries you beyond pain.

You will have a pleasurable life. How else do you want to spend life?

Sacrifice the stupid pleasures on the fiery altar of deep, inner passion.

Fight pleasure with pleasure. Live the good life.

Sefer Yetzira 2:1.
On the following, see Tanya, chapter 13.
Zohar 179a-b.
Sanhedrin 107a.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous PA, USA March 31, 2017

Hi Tsipporah....what a beautiful name.
Everyone deserves happiness no matter one's age .From birth until death a healthy person seeks happiness and fulfillment. One of the most difficult challenges, as it has been for me, is never having had a child. At my age, over 60, it appears that I will never have that special joy. It has been very painful at times. One of my best coping mechanisms is volunteering at a local school. I just love being with kids. Reply

Tzipporah Jael V. Milford March 29, 2017

While I try to take in every word that is said on these pages of wisdom, I keep on coming back to one thing. You never speak of the loneliness of the person who has never found her/his bershert and longs for love. To you, love is for the young. Marriage,
children, and the happiness that comes from family are only spoken of for those who have been blessed, not for those of us who have not been blessed and don't/can't understand why. What about those of us who have not been blessed with marriage or children? Is it that we who are older and alone are no longer important? Where are your words of wisdom for us? Your words in this article ring hollow for me and others like me. Reply

louise leon PA, USA March 29, 2017

Your article truly resonates ! Living a good life of love and service is the "ticket". Reply

M. Diane Flushing, NY March 23, 2017

Hi Donald in Salinas There is no question that for me, too, this place helps the loneliness. Definitely. Reply

Ashley Rojas Louisiana March 23, 2017

Rabbi, Really enjoyed your article! I'm with Einka, could you teach us how to meditate? Reply

Donald Salinas, CA March 22, 2017

I am feeling wonder once again. I do not have as much loneliness as before. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this family. Reply

Harry Ipenburg Cheviot, New Zealand March 22, 2017

Thank you. Great article! Helpful and uplifting Reply

Anonymous March 22, 2017

People vs Things Such a wonderful article, I just want to write something I noticed which is a major distinction between the good pleasures and the bad pleasures. That is, bad pleasures are very much focused on the enjoyment of a thing, and good pleasures are focused on the enjoyment of a person or a real being such as G-d. I notice that there is really a world war III raging on now and the battle is people v things. So often we need to choose, do we do what is needed to keep a loved one in our life or obtain something that gets in the way of allowing that person to be in our life. And people are not easy today, everyone has so many different needs and it is really a war to make sure that the needs don't obliterate the space that is needed for to people to unite and become one. To me, home, kids, companions, friends, mitzvas, Torah, and thanking G-d are all places in which I can unite and be there for another and for my creator and where they can be there for me and only together can we win the battle Reply

Anonymous March 22, 2017

enlightening and very helpful
thank you! Reply

Jan Thompson Green Valley AZ. March 22, 2017

I so enjoyed this article! I am finding that I really enjoy silence! As I take my daily walk around the neighborhood, I thank G-d for the mountains, beautiful sky. and lovely weather! Some days I sit in my screen foyer and just breathe! Thanks for letting me know that there are many things I can be thankful for! Jan Thompson Reply

sue Kanata March 22, 2017

that That was a pleasure to read! Reply

S U.K. March 22, 2017

Pleasure principle Freud, claimed our primary drive is the 'pleasure principle' this has to be both nurtured and trained in order to achieve a balance in life. Just as foreign bodies we host, we need these to help us to survive but too many cause sickness and sometimes death.

Torah study, Mitzvos and Shabbat are all pleasurable in their daily measure according to each individuals need. Accept, that without this application in our lives, we become contaminated with too many unwanted desires and this imbalance does make us 'sick'

Samuel told King Saul, it is more desirable to be obedient.

When we are not obedient, then we become in a state of impurity and need to cleanse with repentance and sacrifice.

HaShem, seeks your welfare only, therefore, rejoice that Shabbat is His time to share exclusively with you. Reply

Einka Mocha Israel March 22, 2017

Dear Rabbi Freeman:
Your wisdom never stops enrich ending our souls. Thank you for sharing it with us. Regarding meditation, I have heard you have been practicing it for 45 years. Is it possible for you to make on online course, where you can teach us how to meditate?
Thank you again for your infinite chesed, by sharing your deep spiritual insights with us. Reply

Debra Gresham OR March 22, 2017

This article gives you a few things to think about. There is great pleasure in reading Torah and giving thanks to G-d for for everything he has given you. Reply

Patricia Arcadia via March 21, 2017

may you find pleasure too. Reply

Chaya Canada March 21, 2017

Very good article Reply

Miguel Lahunken Etna September 25, 2017
in response to Chaya:

The Hebrew word "ain", pronounced eyennn, means a ring, an eye, a well, and nothingness. It is the highest concept, above the highest sephiroth in the Hebrew Kaballah. The vowel i, ai, pronounced "eye", is the resonant sound of the cylinder which differentiates round circuitry, of the one substance, energy, in the one substance, energy, counterclockwise on one side, and clockwise on the other side, the real polarities, which are a provision of opposite polarities, that provide moments of "conscious nothingness", total satisfaction, when this sound "eyennn" is thought. Reply

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