…develop an inquisitive attitude toward pain. Put yourself in a position where you don’t feel threatened by pain so that you can probe the pain and ask questions, watch and observe and learn about it. Get so that pain holds no mysteries for you, holds no fear, because you understand not only the sensation of pain but also how the mind can latch onto it and create problems around it.
Then you learn to abstain from those ways of latching on. It’s like knowing that when you stick your finger into a flame it’s going to burn, so you stop sticking your fingers into flames. As you learn to abstain from unskillful ways of thinking about pain, you learn more and more about the mind, more and more about ways of not getting yourself involved in suffering. You start out with little tiny pains, little tiny disturbances, but once you’ve figured them out you get more interested: “How about the bigger ones?”
This is one of the most important parts of the practice: this willingness to rise to a challenge, this courage that’s not overwhelmed by things. You’ve seen people who suffer in their lives and all they can think about is, “This isn’t going right, that isn’t going right, people don’t sympathize with me.” They do nothing but pile more suffering onto the original suffering. When they see a difficult challenge, they just faint. They whine and complain. But that’s not the Buddha’s way. His way is to give you the skills, the tools you need, and then to encourage you, to fire your imagination to rise to these challenges.
Your tools are the meditation instructions. Your encouragement comes from the examples set by the Buddha’s life, the stories of the noble disciples. They show how, when you find yourself in a difficult situation, you can rise above it using your wits, your grit, the resources you’ve got.