Satisfaction vs. Relief

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

We all know the popular song “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. “I can’t get no satisfaction” is the constant refrain. Most people don’t know the rest of the words, so here they are: When I'm drivin' in my car, and the man come on the radio

He's tellin' me more and more about some useless information

Supposed to fire my imagination

When I'm watchin' my TV and a man comes on and tells me

How white my shirts can be

But, he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke

The same cigarettes as me

When I'm ridin' 'round the world

And I'm doin' this and I'm signin' that

And I'm tryin' to make some girl, who tells me

Baby, better come back maybe next week

Can't you see I'm on a losing streak?

I can’t get no satisfaction

It is easy to miss the fact that Mick Jagger is not praising his life of hedonism and consumerism. He is describing an endless cycle of painful let downs, brought on by the persistent, yet false, notion that you can find “satisfaction” in life if only you’ll pay attention this news report, buy that new laundry detergent or cigarette, or finally get your chance to fuck that girl. None of it works, of course. If it did, Mick Jagger would certainly know it. Consider how the song was written: It was a spring morning in 1965, several weeks before the start of the Rolling Stones’ third North American tour, when Keith Richards rolled out of bed and noticed something strange. The Philips cassette player that he kept in his London bedroom appeared to be broken. He’d put a new tape into the machine one day earlier, but now the cassette was at the end of its spool, having somehow wound its way through 45 minutes of useable tape. Curious, he rewound the cassette and pushed play.

A three-note guitar riff came blasting out of the speakers, followed by some basic chords and a simple refrain. “I can’t get no satisfaction,” went the melody, sung by Richards in a sleepy, half-conscious voice. After several repetitions, the music faded out and gave way to 40 minutes of snoring. Richards had apparently woken up with a melody in his head, recorded it with his acoustic guitar and then fallen back asleep.

The Stones were supposed to be playing a show in Clearwater, Florida, but their fans had rioted after the first four songs and the concert was cut short. To prevent further chaos, the musicians were told to go back to the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel and stay put. Frustrated, Jagger headed down to the outdoor pool and fleshed out the lyrics that Richards had already started.


No happy person wakes up in the middle of the night repeating the words “I can’t get no satisfaction,” as Keith Richards did. Mick Jagger’s contribution to the lyrics also came from a dark place. That much is clear. For most of my life, I have understood this song as an implicit admonition to seek more satisfaction by getting more goodies. I thought this song was telling me that I needed more stuff and more sex in order to feel satisfied — but that can’t be. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both very old now, and I doubt that either of them regret their hedonistic past —  but I also doubt that either of them persist in seeking happiness primarily in that way. I’m sure they are glad, one way or another, for the lives they have lived — but at some point, both of them also had to realize that hedonism was never the way to enduring satisfaction. In fact, the feeling of being “let down” or depressed after sex is so common (especially in men) that scientists have a name for it: post-coital dysphoria. I’m sure the usual “experts” will define this syndrome in purely material terms (serotonin levels, etc.), but I’m more interested in the metaphysical dimension of it: Why do so many of us feel let-down just after we have had the most satisfying experience (allegedly) that life offers? It is also common to feel let down immediately after Christmas morning. I remember this feeling quite well from my childhood. Once I had opened all of my gifts, no matter how extravagant they were, a nagging inner voice always asked, “Is that all? What now? WHAT DO I DO WITH MYSELF NOW?” People have the same let-down feeling after vacations, shopping trips, movies, or any other experience that involves seeking so-called satisfaction. In fact, despite what they may say, those who try to fuck, suck, and buy their way through life are not even seeking satisfaction. They are seeking relief — relief from a deep, abiding, unsavory anxiety that hounds all of us.

That is why such a thing as post-coital dysphoria even exists. Sex reminds us of how trapped we are inside of our flesh — how completely enslaved we are to its desires. Sex is the means by which our flesh perpetuates itself. It is how the cycle of suffering begins again for another life. Deep down, we all feel deeply ashamed of it — not because we necessarily come from stuffy, “sex-negative” cultures, but because of an innate moral intuition. There is a reason why spiritual leaders so often take vows of celibacy.

Chasing the pleasures of this life can never lead to satisfaction. It can only lead to temporary relief. If satisfaction is possible, it lies in the opposite direction. It lies in the direction of giving, not taking.

Insofar as you are human, you can never feel satisfied, because you are finite — and therefore incomplete — by your very nature. But insofar as you are part of what is ultimately real — whatever is whole and complete in itself — you may be able to repudiate your flesh (at least sometimes), and see over the wall into your true nature. If you can do that, you can come back to your flesh and your need for relief with a wider perspective. And you may be able to accept your perpetual dissatisfaction with greater equanimity than before. The “real” you may be able to observe your flesh and laugh at it with the full understanding that all of this is just a temporary prison experiment. This thing called Nicholas Gentry is nothing but a light show put on by Mother Nature (or God?), who is always satisfied and never needs relief from anything.Öl_%2B_Acryl_auf_Leinwand_von_Silvia_Klippert.jpg

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