“Pain is not a punishment, and pleasure is not a reward.”

The quote in the title comes from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, and I think it’s a great reminder for most of us – especially in the intense times that we are in at the moment. When negative emotions, thoughts or events are happening in our lives, it’s common for us to think there is something wrong. That somewhere along the way, something has gone wrong, or we have done something wrong – either to cause or to deserve what’s happening. From a mindfulness point of view, this is (in part) not true, but most importantly, it’s irrelevant in this very moment. Of course it’s good to reflect on what might be the cause of things, to know how to make clearer and more beneficial choices in the future. Looking at it from a Buddhist perspective everything does have a cause – it’s the law of karma, of cause and effect. At the same time, there is nothing we can really do about something that is already occurring – if a sensation is arising it’s already here. All we can do is decide how to meet it, here and now. What we do here and now is also what will shape our future moments. I heard someone once say: at this moment, we are completing the seeds of the past, and planting the seeds of the future. So it’s the way we meet this moment that matters the most.

Another point is that it can be very hard for us to know what truly is negative in our lives and what is positive. Sometimes a negative event brings us a beautiful gift. I think that most of us have experienced this in some way? And sometimes we think something really great has happened in our life, only for it to bring a lot of pain later on, or just turn out to be not that great at all. When it comes to our own sensations and states of mind: what we judge as negative, is perhaps (and most probably) rising to the surface to show us something – something we may need to become aware of. This is why curiosity is an important part of mindfulness – as well as non-judgment.

Sometimes non-judgment can look like saying to oneself: “I don’t think I can feel ok with what is happening right now, I’m worried, I feel afraid…” Or whatever feeling it may be. And to not judge whatever that emotion might be, but to observe it, and let it arise, let it be. And let it pass, as it will. Curiosity might sound like: “This is interesting. Let me maybe look at this more closely. I wonder what it would be like, to let myself feel this feeling fully? Where in the body do I feel or sense it the most?” And so on.

Of course, when a moment arises which we feel a strong aversion towards, it’s not always going to be easy to meet it with curiosity or in a non-judging way. This is why we practice. Just like we train in a sport or practice playing an instrument, we practice meeting life and our sensations, thoughts and emotions, in a kind, non-judging, and curious way. With practice and in time, it does become easier to rest in a state of presence and non-judgement. Our awareness of the moment when we are judging (ourselves, our feelings or thoughts or sensations) grows and expands, so it becomes easier to notice and easier to then guide ourselves back to our presence, instead of creating stories around an emotion or a thought.

In mindfulness practice we don’t try to remove unwanted or uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. But when we really pay attention, we begin to notice that our thoughts and emotions are constantly changing, just like life is constantly in flow and change. And we might learn to relate to them in a way that gives us more space, as well as courage to really feel and look at everything that is happening in our life, both the pain and pleasure.
We notice that we can let things be as they are, through all of life’s clouds and different weather.


If you are interested in more wise words by Pema Chödrön, here are two of her talks/courses on Sounds True.

Coming closer to ourselves – How to use curiosity and compassion to befriend your most challenging emotions.

Living with vulnerability – A Training in Making Friends with Your Mind.