4 Shades of Grey: Pain vs. Sensation, Desire vs. Craving

Despite the popularity of E.L. James’ novel (which I have not read—the Ellen DeGeneres version was enough for me)  I’ve been thinking recently about a few shades of grey I notice are frequently lost: distinctions, nuances.

While the number of potential shades of grey are endless(There seem to be 50 for sure….) today I am concerning myself with the following four:pain vs. sensation, and desire vs. craving (Again, if you’re hoping this will veer into Mr. James’ territory, you will be disappointed.)

Let’s begin:

Pain vs. Sensation:

As many of you know, I’ve been practicing yoga for the past fifteen years, during which time I’ve also taught quite a bit.

One of the distinctions I find myself having to make—and the request I find myself making of my students—is the distinction between pain and sensation.

What do I mean by this? Well, due to the fact that most of us are not as limber as Gabby Douglas, when we bend our bodies into various yoga postures we feel something. Very often, this is when we find ourselves saying, “Ow, that hurts!”

My question for you (and for myself when this happens to me) is, does it hurt when you stop doing the pose? Or does it just hurt when you attempt the posture? Because if it only hurts when you attempt it, that’s just sensation—it’s also known as “stretching.”

Now let’s take this off the mat. Imagine for a moment that you’re attempting any new activity—physical or otherwise—and you find yourself disconcerted, brought up short, experiencing ‘something’.

Rather than stopping because it’s different/difficult would it be possible to say to yourself, “Is it possible this experience doesn’t need to be labeled as ‘painful’? Is it possible, I am simply experiencing ‘sensation’?

Your choice.

My guess, however, is that if you can re-name what you are feeling—change it from ‘pain’ to ‘sensation’—you are likely to stay in the experience long enough to stretch whatever needs stretching, whether it be your body or your mind.

Now for desire vs. craving: 

This was a topic that came up in a recent meditation group (Yes, I find meditation preposterously challenging) as there are a number of religions that speak about the importance of ‘the cessation of desire.”

The question that was posed was, “Well, what if your desire is for world peace? Are you meant to stop desiring that?”

This got me to thinking about the roots/derivations of these words (Yes, I’m a nerd. Deal with it.) To me, the word ‘sire’ within the word  ‘desire’ is important.

To sire something is to give birth to it. So—for me—when I find myself desiring something, it is important to look at what I will consequently be giving birth to. If my desire is for world peace, well, that’s not such a terrible thing to want to give birth to. I can live with that.

When I extrapolated from the world “craving”, however, I ended up with ‘craven’, as in, fearful. As in craving something because of a fear there isn’t enough/there won’t be enough/I, myself, am not enough.

In my experience, this gives birth to a very different mindset; in my experience, this is when errors in judgment get made.

So if we take this one out of the meditation room, how does it work? Well, the next time you find yourself wanting something, consider the nature of that wanting: do you want to generate something positive, or are you feeling like you have a hole that needs filling? One is desire, the other is craving.

Manifesting the first generally ends with what Procol Harum so poetically referred to as “a whiter shade of pale”. The other? One of the darker shades of grey….

I look forward to your thoughts.

Frances Cole Jones