Wiser responses to pleasure and pain
Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental.
Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow.
In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental.
With the practice of mindfulness, we are aware that we are having a painful experience (this may be either physical or mental — the sutta here is just following through the image of an arrow, which is by definition a physical pain). So we are aware that this experience is happening, and we are aware that it is an experience, and that it’s not inherently a part of us.
We recognize that the pain arises, exists, and passes away. And we don’t generate a cascade of reactive thoughts and emotions, which lead to yet more pain.
Nonresistance to pain leads to equanimity
As he is touched by that painful feeling, he is not resistant. No resistance-obsession with regard to that painful feeling obsesses him. Touched by that painful feeling, he does not delight in sensual pleasure.
Why is that? Because the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns an escape from painful feeling aside from sensual pleasure. As he is not delighting in sensual pleasure, no passion-obsession with regard to that feeling of pleasure obsesses him. He discerns, as it actually is present, the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, and escape from that feeling.
As he discerns the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, and escape from that feeling, no ignorance-obsession with regard to that feeling of neither-pleasure-nor-pain obsesses him.
So we don’t resist the pain we feel, we simply experience it mindfully. We don’t think there’s something wrong with us because we’re feeling pain, and so we don’t resist the pain. Instead we simply accept it. We allow it to be there, and we surround it with mindful awareness.
Because we don’t think there’s something wrong with experiencing pain, we don’t feel the need to “fix” things by seeking pleasure. We also, as the sutta says, “discern an escape from painful feeling aside from sensual pleasure.” This escape from painful feeling consists of simply observing the painful feeling arising, existing, and passing away. It consists of not identifying with the painful feeling, and of seeing it as an experience that’s simply passing through.
A wiser response to pleasure
Sensing a feeling of pleasure, he senses it disjoined from it. Sensing a feeling of pain, he senses it disjoined from it. Sensing a feeling of neither-pleasure-nor-pain, he senses it disjoined from it. This is called a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones disjoined from birth, aging, and death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs. He is disjoined, I tell you, from suffering and stress.
Whatever we experience, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, we relate to in this non-attached way. We stand back from the experience rather than identifying with it. And we don’t allow it to lead to a proliferation of painful thoughts and feelings.
We get shot by the arrow, but we don’t shoot ourselves with a second arrow in response.