Practices From the Inside Out: Transforming Pain Into Healing

Practices From the Inside Out: Transforming Pain Into Healing October 6, 2018

Transforming Pain Into Healing

We live in a world filled with pain and suffering.

Some of us try to turn away so we will not see the trauma all around us. If we can keep our attention focused on work or politics or social media or ourselves we might avoid it.

Wave after wave of pain and suffering crash like a tsunami and wreak havoc in our carefully ordered lives. Our pain may be sparked by disasters, natural and policy, around the world. It may be personal to our own families or to ourselves. We may feel the pain of frustration or of regret, of inadequacy or of failure.

The fact is no one is immune from the pain of the world.

Some of us believe spiritual life is about escaping from the pain of the world. We may look for ways to wrap ourselves in spiritual life like a warm blanket and leave the world and its pain. That is not how spiritual life works.

I know people whose experiences have been so painful they try to run and hide in spiritual life. They believe spiritual life should protect them and help the feel better.

There are even people who apparently think spiritual life is about inflicting as much pain as possible. They act as though spiritual life is about attacking and arguing and launching intellectual preemptive strikes.

Many of us seem to want to use spiritual life like a wall to protect ourselves from the pain in the world. Pain upsets us and we are afraid to feel it. Some people believe pain tells us we are doing something wrong.

Spiritual life is not about avoiding or escaping pain and suffering. Rather than avoiding or escaping pain, spiritual life is about transforming pain into healing.

Spiritual Life Transforms Pain Into Healing

It is easy for us to become overwhelmed by pain and suffering.

When I was in the first grade my teacher asked me to be the doctor for the class. The one thing I knew was this was an honor, so I said I would do it. I had a theoretical understanding I would help if someone in my class got hurt at school.

Everything was great until the day when someone actually got hurt on the playground. It was a shocking realization to be the doctor when my upset, bleeding classmate stood in front of me. I helped as best I could, but doubt I transformed his pain into healing.

Many of us do not know how to transform pain into healing. When we feel pain ourselves our top priority is most often to relieve our pain, to get rid of it. We just want to feel good again.

Some people tell me pain has lessons to teach us. While I recognize some wisdom in what they say, I would be happy to give them the pain I feel.

When we are in pain we just want the pain to go away.

I am more open to any lessons pain has for me in retrospect. When my pain is a memory I am willing to take steps to help ensure it does not come back.

It takes me time and effort to appreciate any lessons pain has for me. When I sit with my pain, reflecting on it, I slowly come to see how it is teaching me.

Our pain is not about feeling bad. Pain is a warning. There is something we need to change.

As we reflect we begin to transform pain into healing.

We spend time listening contemplatively to our own pain and the pain of others.

How Do We Transform Pain Into Healing?

I am not certain we can transform pain into healing by ourselves.

Our fear and suffering overwhelm us and get in the way of healing. In my experience physical injuries and pain heal more quickly than our deeper emotional and spiritual pain.

It is spiritual life at work within us which transforms our pain into healing.

We practice listening and paying attention to the spiritual life of our pain. Remembering and examining each painful moment, drop by drop, pain begins to become healing.

As we look back we see more was happening than we recognized at the time. Caught up in our suffering and pain, we were blind to other aspects of what we experienced. Gradually, step by step, we open our eyes to the possibilities of healing.

We begin to transform our pain into healing in ourselves. As we heal we relate to the people and world around us in more healthy ways. Our transformation may spark a new commitment to practicing compassion toward others.

Transforming pain into healing can be dramatic, happening in a moment. Transformation may also be a process of taking a new step each day.

Transforming Our Pain Into Healing

We experience our own pain and some of the pain of the world. Each of us relates to pain in our own ways.

Some of us convert our pain into anger and it can make us bitter and disillusioned. We may try to anesthetize ourselves so we do not feel our pain.

The people who inspire me face pain and look it straight in the eye. Being honest and direct with pain is our first step in transforming pain into healing.

Pain is a signal things are not right, we are not healthy. It urges us to heal, to become healthy. Healing may be a more challenging task than we can imagine.

We want to become the people we have the potential to be. The pain we feel pushes us toward healing.

My friend Brenda Hanley and I host a conversation each Sunday on Twitter focusing on a word we live by. Please join us on Sunday, October 7 at 6:00 PM Pacific Time as we explore healing. We use the hashtag #WordsToLiveBy.

How will we practice transforming our pain into healing today?

When have we practiced transforming pain into healing this week?

[Image by brunobord]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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