illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Freedom from pain doesn't lie in fleeing pain; that'd just be aversion; pain would still be dictating when (and possibly where) we move, pain would still be in command!
When we suffer or experience unsatisfactoriness, the goal is not to try and suppress the pangs of pain as soon as possible, at any cost.
On the contrary, the goal is to discern the cost… and then see —without bias— whether spending this cost is the most appropriate choice in the situation at hand, or not… Breaking news: it rarely is (and the narrower, more self-centred, the appropriation of pain is, the rarer its cessation is the wise priority of the hour)!
So then, the next question is to enquire into how we might function constructively, how we might wholesomely contribute, how we might participate in causing a better world for all, in spite of the pain…
What can we do, without letting pain decide for us? This leads to freedom from pain. And this has nothing to do with some "irresponsible" version of 'freedom' (the « I do whatever I want, regardless of others' opinion »).
To accept the actuality of pain, without letting it automatically dictate our use of resources, of attention, of mindfulness, without letting it dictate our words or our acts, is equanimity to pain.
The unsatisfactoriness still is present though; bodhisattvas live in saṃsāra, and even the Buddha experienced back pain…
Equanimity is not indifference: pain might causally affect what's possible or not, so, in some circumstances, addressing the causes of the pain might become the priority, might become necessary, simply to prepare other wholesome actions, simply to allow a wholesome potential to grow. Equanimity is not indifference or denial, precisely because the difference that pain makes is discerned, and responded to when/if appropriate: it just happens that, without self-obsession, 'our' pain is rarely the greatest priority (the pain of 'others' often is greater, and our next wise action should then be compassionate rather than self-serving)!
In a sense, equanimity to pain and to unsatisfactoriness prevents pain from rendering life meaningless and pointless, from making life a mere conditioned, automatic response to whatever we dislike.
Equanimity to pain is what enables fulfilment, what enables the flourishing of a meaningful life: it doesn't make dukkha magically vanish, but it avoids reducing life to "suffering, suffering… and more suffering". It is a Dharma gate, to nirvāṇa.
By actively looking beyond self-centred suffering, towards "what positive, constructive phenomenon can I contribute, in the present circumstances?", life is richer, more fertile: opportunities appear, improvements are manifested, life is no longer reduced to arid automatisms. Such a resolve is not a magic wand, but it makes a wholesome difference, for all.
image: Nicholas Roerich, "Buddha the Winner"