Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on October 18, 2014

This is just a quickie because I am up to my eyeballs in work just now producing all these podcasts. I am not a big fan of Western psychology. In fact I dropped it like a hot potato when I finally discovered how they handle the mind and emotions in the East. However, there are some features that, although perhaps not redeeming, at least are interesting enough to riff off of. One of these is the whole concept of masochism and sadism, which goes back many hundreds of years.

The clinical definition of a sadist is someone who derives pleasure out of hurting others, and a masochist as one who enjoys being hurt. I am going to dispense with all of that, including the combination of the two which is called sadomasochism. Instead what interests me is how we can use this concept in dharma practice, not only with others, but especially with ourselves.

I like to plot sadism and masochism "on the curve," so to speak, with sadism being when we are ahead of the curve and tend to force things and masochism when we are running behind the curve and kind of being dragged along through life. In other words, sadists force thing and masochists end up having things forced on them. And I relate all of this to the present moment. In fact we can examine our own behavior in terms of where we are on this curve on any day. And it changes all the time! Are we pushing it or is it dragging us?

The present moment is just that, right now. If we tend to think ahead of that or too far into the future, and end up ignoring the present, we are pushing the curve. And if we dwell too much in the past, and not being responsible to our present needs, we are behind the curve. It is all about balance, what I call the "happy medium," hopefully me. Of course most of us want good things to happen and we will work hard to that end, putting forth great effort. We try to make things happen and work to that end. We lean way out of the present toward the future and push that envelope, sometimes too much. That is sadism.

On the other hand, if we drag our heels and ignore our responsibilities, sooner or later, like the IRS, they come after us. If we spend all our time protecting ourselves to the point of shutting down our regular life and forward motion, that too is self-defeating. We fall behind and become a victim to our own inaction. As they say, the best defense is a good offense.

Offense and defense. We don't want to be offensive and invasive to others (sadistic) or defensive to the point of being a problem to others (masochistic). It's either push you or pull me. Anyway, you get the point.

We can run ahead of what's happening or come from behind. We can push or be pulled. Of course there is a balance point, the middle way, which we could call resting in the "now." As the Buddhists say, "Don't prolong the past," and "Don't invite the future." And they go on to say "Don't alter the present," suggesting that we just allow the mind to rest in the present, as it is.

Pushing the envelope is sadistic and dragging the envelope masochistic. I don't really like those words, but they are useful to give you the idea of staying in the present. Trying too hard is pushing, and not trying hard enough is pulling.

So, we are more or less confined to the present. Wishing thinking and striving to make things happy is pushing the envelope toward the future, and if we try too hard it can be hurtful to both ourselves and others. Equally, dwelling on the past and not being present or responsible can result in the present rate of change pulling on and dragging us behind. It is easy to see the relationship here between sadism and masochism. When we force things and try too hard we can be sadistic, and when we ignore or neglect our duties we are asking for it, and probably being masochistic.

I am not saying that this is a great insight, but I have found it helpful in looking at my own behavior and that of the behavior of others. Are we running ahead or behind the curve? Are we running ahead of ourselves, pushing the envelope, and need to slow down? Or are we dragging our heels, ignoring our responsibilities, and need to pick up the pace.

Either way we are in harness to the present moment where everything happens. Or, as that old rock song says, "Fan it or cool it!"

[Graphic the result of playing with a photo with various Photoshop-like software.]