The Buddha was honest about what can be realistically achieved through a spiritual practice. When we practice insight meditation, we are not trying to avoid life’s painful experiences. Instead we let go of trying to change them into something they are not and finally accept them for what they are. This puts us above them because when we accept them, they no longer have power over us.

A person who has accepted the painful realities of life and his own inadequacies is ready to experience a much more fulfilling spiritual awakening. The reward is the experience of happiness more often and with less effort. Here is how the Buddha described the improved state of mind in relation to physical 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.

The well-instructed disciple in the Buddha’s example has risen above pain through mindfulness. The pain is still there but the disciple is not bothered by it any more. She is content with the way things are. Wouldn’t it be nice to┬ábe┬ácontent even in the midst of a painful experience? That is the promise of insight meditation — happiness that does not depend on conditions.

*Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” (SN 36.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013

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