Transforming Pain Into Opportunity

By Heath and Nicole Reed
[Savvy Self-Care]

One of our guiding principles of self-care is inspired by the Taoist proverb to “prevent trouble before it arises.” We live this ideal by purposely organizing our days around feel-good practices that reinforce stability in areas of weakness and flexibility in areas of tension.
We have learned to mine our personal pain projects to reveal hidden gems that channel transformative healing. We’d like to share some of these precious gems with you by exploring our own relationship with pain, identifying common pitfalls of being mired in our “pain body,” and then sharing a practice that transforms painful experiences into a fuel source to ignite reliable and masterful self-care practices.

What is Your Current Relationship with Pain?

Pain is subjective. One person’s stubbed toe may feel as intense as another person’s crippling migraine. We all experience and express pain differently. Pain is a cacophony of physical, mental, and emotional impulses and often holds echoes from the past. How we relate to pain depends on what’s causing it, how we feel about it, and all the other stories we add to it.

Pain Stories

Have you heard people lead conversations with a pain story? Do you know someone who is sure to notify everyone around them about their previous injuries and limitations from pain? We wonder if people use their pain stories as a way to connect, relate, or even receive attention. But what if recycling the same pain stories only reinforces and amplifies the pain?
It’s not unusual for someone to build an identity and sense of self around pain stories. Even before we open our eyes in the morning, still lying in bed, we might go searching for it: “Is it still there? Damn! There it is!” Instead of getting locked into a hamster wheel of pain, we wonder, how can the pain of the past, and the inevitable pain of the future, spark our continued growth, expansion, and evolution?

“Pain is inevitable—suffering is optional.”—Buddhist proverb

It’s been said that there are two darts of pain: a physical dart of pain and a mental dart of pain. Physically, we experience pain as a signal being transmitted through our nervous system that something has gone awry. Our body screams, “Ouch! Stop! Get away!” Mentally, we experience pain through the interpretations, exaggerations, good-bad judgments, and other stories we make up about the physical signal. Optional suffering is the result of mental darts of pain outliving the actual physical tissue damage. They are often perpetuated beyond the physical darts by reinforcing stories we tell ourselves, like: “Why me?” “This isn’t fair.” “I’m never going to feel better.”
The first dart is inevitable—unfortunate stuff is going to happen, people are going to die, our body will hurt sometimes. The second dart is optional, even avoidable. We can stop amplifying pain and hurling darts at ourselves by transmuting the blame, criticism, and complaint we heave onto our hurt and transform these darts into opportunities to learn, discover, and find value from our pain.

New Choice

By changing how we think about something, we change how we experience it, including how much we suffer. The more we resist, the more it persists. Allowing and turning toward the pain creates space for healing and new possibilities to surface. To prevent trouble before it arises, we practice using pain as a way to empower and inform new ways of being. Pain can be a conduit for change. Are you willing to use your pain to ignite change?

The Shift Move

Try this “shift move” we learned from Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, co-founders of the Foundation for Conscious Living. This practice has fundamentally changed our relationship to painful body-mind-heart situations. The four steps can be abbreviated as FACT—Facing-Accepting-Choosing-Taking action.


This FACT experience is not merely a cognitive journey, but a radical practice of acceptance, magnified by giving attention to our emotional waves and physical sensations. The first step, facing, asks us to open up and turn toward the painful feeling or the painful area in our body. Practice facing by imagining your pain experience as an energy form outside of you: put your pain in a chair, on the floor, or on a wall. Once you have placed the pain somewhere outside of you, begin to play with facing it. Like a game of full-body peekaboo, turn your body toward it and then away from it. Get inventive and play with how you look at, or avoid, your pain. Now you are starting to create a new relationship with your pain.
When you’re ready, turn toward your pain with your whole body and give yourself a generous breath as you wonder, “What haven’t I fully faced about this yet?” Ask this question multiple times to allow for an answer to arise. Get curious and willing to suspend your judgment. When you feel like you’ve had an experience of facing your pain in a new way, move on to the next step.


The second step, accepting, invites our body intelligence to enrich our experiment. Hold one palm up in front of you and say aloud, “I want to accept this.” Then, turn your other palm up and say, “And I don’t want to accept this.” As if you’re holding a sentence in each hand, repeat several times alternating between your palms. Add another layer by playing with different intonations on syllables and emphasizing different words until you notice a shift in your body. These shifts might appear as more heat, a rush of energy, smiling, a change in your breath, or muscle tension.


When that feels complete, move on to the third step, choosing. We’re using the superpower of choosing to transform our relationship with pain. Begin to consciously move your body in different ways, wiggle your fingers, stretch, stand up, take a walk, bounce, shake, or invent a new movement. While you are moving in new ways, float this new question up in your awareness: “What do I really want?” Keep moving your body as you repeat the question several times, until you come up with a response. You may be surprised by what naturally emerges.

Taking Action

Now you’re ready for the final step of taking action. Ask yourself: “What is the simplest and easiest action step I can take to get me to what I want?” Again, repeat the question several times while moving, shaking, or stretching your body. Let the words simple and easy guide you as you get curious, patient, and open to wonder, and allow for a solution to unfold.
And then, commit to doing it! Once you’ve decided the simplest and easiest step you can take toward what you want, add a time commitment by choosing a by-when time. For example, I am going to drink a full glass of water by the end of the day.

Befriending Our Experience

We serve ourselves best by not throwing mental darts at ourselves and instead allowing and including every feeling, thought, idea, and sensation into our experience. Choose to repurpose the energy that goes into repeating “I should feel better by now” or “Why is this always happening to me” into a radical and friendly acceptance practice. With patience and deliberate practice, you will be encircled by the glow of your own trove of shining magical gemstones. You may notice how much more energy you have, how many more positive feelings you enjoy, and how you become a living example of loving kindness. Shine on!

Heath and Nicole Reed are co-founders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. The Reeds lead workshops and retreats across the country and overseas, including Thailand and Mexico, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 16 years. In addition to live classes, the Reeds offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online trainings, which may be found at