Wednesday, 25 February 2009

We've all got one

I'm not referring to opinions or even belly buttons. I'm talking about the pain-body.

The pain-body could be thought of as all the 'emotional baggage' you carry around with you from the past. Every emotion, particularly negative ones, that you didn't fully accept and deal with when it occurred is still in there, resurfacing at every opportunity. There is a complicated interplay between thought and emotion, as explained in my previous post, so it's no surprise that the pain-body becomes the source of lots of negative thinking, which can be triggered by a wide variety of things--some you've learned to be able to predict and some that are completely unexpected.

Whatever the trigger, you'll know it's your pain-body when you find yourself falling into an old familiar groove of negative thinking accompanied by roiling emotion.

The voice in your head will be telling sad, anxious, or angry stories about yourself or your life, about other people, about past, future or imaginary events. The voice will be blaming, accusing, complaining, imagining. And you are totally identified with whatever the voice says, believe all it's distorted thoughts. at that point, the addiction to unhappiness sets in.

It is not so much that you cannot stop your train of negative thoughts, but that you don't want to. . . to the pain-body, pain is pleasure. It eagerly devours every negative thought...A vicious circle becomes established between the pain-body and your thinking. Every thought feeds the pain-body, and in turn the pain-body generates more thoughts.

When I first read about the pain-body, my mind rebelled at the concept of some entity inside me taking me over. It's not so much that it's a separate, living entity, but it does seem like that, when you think about it. The negative emotions are so strong, they really do seem to take on a life of their own. They do seem to take you over. I've had this sort of episode for years and years, the kind described above. I have called them 'a bad patch', 'an episode', and even 'the demons', 'the abyss', 'the darkness'. 'Pain-body' is just another word for it.

What Tolle says here about 'not wanting to stop' the train of thoughts is absolutely spot on. Once one of these episodes is triggered, it's like sliding into an abyss. I've even used such language to my husband. 'I feel myself sliding into the abyss,' or 'I'm losing myself here, I'm slipping into the black hole.' These dark episodes of overwhelming emotion feel like that. And, yes, it is like you surrender yourself to it. I usually call it 'wallowing in it.' At times it's almost like luxuriating in misery. Something inside wants it to keep going. Relentless crashing waves of dark thoughts and sobbing sends you straight to the bed or even the cold, pitiless bathroom floor. And you just stay there, bombarded by these thoughts, saying them out loud. And often it does feel like someone else is thinking or speaking, like you've slipped into a well-worn groove and start to babble streams of negativity, nearly always the same thoughts and words every time you go through this.

Not everyone goes through regular, hellish episodes, but everyone has a pain-body. So what are we supposed to do about it?

To become free of the pain-body, Tolle says, we have to stop identifying with the pain-body. We have to realise that it is not us.

Tolle tells a story of a woman who came to him asking him to help her find a way out of unhappiness. He asked her to look at her unhappiness, feel it directly and focus her attention on it. She didn't want to do this, saying she wanted to stop being unhappy, not focus on it, but she agreed to try.

'At this moment, this is what you feel,' I said. 'There is nothing you can do about the fact that at this moment this is what you feel. Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain to the pain already there, is it possible for you to completely accept that this is what you feel right now?'

She looked impatient, as if she was about to get up. 'No,' she said angrily, 'I won't accept this.' 'Who is speaking?' I asked her. 'You or the unhappiness in you? Can you see that your unhappiness about being unhappy is just another layer of unhappiness?' She became quiet. 'I am not asking you to do anything. All I'm asking is for you to find out whether it is possible for you to allow those feelings to be there. In other words, and this may sound strange, if you don't mind being unhappy, what happens to the unhappiness? Don't you want to find out?'

The woman sits quietly, then says that she feels like a 'space' has been made around her unhappiness, and that it seems to 'matter less'.

The moment she stopped identifying with the feeling, the old painful emotion that lived in her, the moment she put her attention on it directly without trying to resist it, it could no longer control her thinking and become mixed up with a mentally constructed story called 'The Unhappy Me.' Another dimension had come into her life that transcended her personal past--the dimension of Presence.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches the same method, because this is essentially the Buddhist perspective on mind. I was never entirely sure how I was supposed to take this advice from Hanh:

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

How was I supposed to embrace negative emotion like a howling baby? But--what does a mother do if her baby is wailing? Does she say, 'No, I don't accept that this baby is howling. I am going to ignore him, I am going to run away. I don't believe the baby is crying. I refuse to accept it. If I wish long enough, this baby will stop crying. If I could lose weight, this baby would stop crying. If only someone would treat me better, this baby would stop crying. If only I had a better job, the baby would stop crying,' and so on? No, of course not. She focuses her entire attention on the baby, she embraces the baby, accepts that he is crying and stays with him until the crying passes. 'Right now this baby is crying. There is nothing I can do to change the fact that right now at this moment the baby is crying.' It's the same thing that Tolle is teaching.

Seeing the pain-body for what it is would seem to be the key. Accepting the feelings for what they are in the moment (a simple physical reaction to a thought, which is happening right now in this moment and that is the plain reality)--and also understanding what it is not (the true you-- the Sat Nam, the Buddha Nature, the Christ Within, the Consciousness, the Presence, even God--it all means the same thing).

So, it's not the pain-body, which everyone has, that causes us suffering, but our identification with it. We think it is us and so we are forced to relive the past again and again through the negative thoughts and wishing we weren't feeling those feelings.

This brings me back round to the tapping therapy (Emotional Freedom Technique). Think about Tolle's and Thich Nhat Hanh's message, and look again at the technique:

'Even though I have this ____, I deeply and completely accept myself.'

This phrase is said over and over as you tap various points on your crown, eyebrow, cheekbone, under the nose, chin, collarbone, rib, along the inside of the fingers and finishing at the side of the hand. The tapping is said to cover 'meridian points,' which may correspond to chakras, accupressure/accupuncture points, etc. I am very open to the concept of chakras and meridian points, but even if there's nothing at all to that, I think that the tapping helps bring awareness to our physical bodies, and the repetition of the 'mantra' helps to accept the feeling, to make that 'space' around it that Tolle describes. Check out this video for more:

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Introduction

Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, and even the Emotional Freedom Technique all teach us the same lesson: you are not your emotions. You are something beyond your emotions. You have emotions and that is perfectly normal, but you don't have to be controlled by them any longer.

You are more than your emotions. You are the Presence that accepts the emotion, that is higher than the emotion.

That is powerful stuff.

Monday, 16 February 2009

A New Earth Revisited

Back in May, I made this pronouncement about Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth:
There is nothing new in this book, and other people have said what Tolle tries to get across, only much more beautifully. However, I would agree with Oprah that out of the many books like this that I've read, Tolle's is the most simply explained.

Well, I picked up a cheap paperback copy of the book in Tesco a few weeks ago, and since then I have read and re-read it about 4 times. I have gone through it underlining and highlighting. I have read entire chapters aloud to my husband. One evening we spent well over 2 hours talking about some of the concepts in it. So, I have to say, I change my mind about the importance of the book. I am no longer feeling at all dismissive of it.

I also made this comment on my first reading:

The only thing so far that I've not really agreed with (or possibly haven't grasped) is this whole 'pain-body' theory of his. Maybe it's because I find the very term 'pain-body' quite distasteful. And his description of the pain-body is eerie and disturbing. This alien, almost demon-like force indwelling you and feeding off negativity, like that blobby monster in 'Ghostbusters II'! Tolle says, 'The pain-body is a semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up entirely of emotion. It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and its intelligence is directed primarily at survival.' Its food is negative emotion, according to Tolle. It wants to gorge on bad feelings. I don't accept this concept at all.

I am really feeling the irony of this statement, because on my recent re-reading of 'A New Earth', the pain-body chapters were the ones that had the greatest impact on me. I read them over and over, and they are the chapters (Chapters 5 and 6) that I read out loud to my husband and that we then spent hours talking through. In fact, I thought for a couple of weeks about the pain-body chapters before even asking my husband if I could read to him from the book. The concepts were that significant to me.

So, what is this pain-body, and how can knowing about it help you?

Thoughts and emotions

Most of us would agree with the notion that we are not in control of our thoughts, that there is a constant voice in the head that seems to have a life of its own and that a lot of people are at the mercy of it. Tolle says that thinking is not something that we do, but something that happens, like the blood circulating or food digesting. It happens without our volition.

Tolle goes on to explain how emotion arises as a result of this stream of thinking. First he explains the difference between an instinctive response and an emotion. Both take place in the physical body. An instinctive response is the body's direct response to an external situation. An emotion is the body's direct response to a thought. For example, you notice a car coming at you very fast when you thought the way was clear: a surge of primordial fear. Rapid heartbeat, a wave of something washing over you, eyes widening, maybe an outcry. That's an instinctive response. On the other hand, someone says something to you about a new job opportunity coming up at work. You feel similar rapid heartbeat, a feeling of something washing over you, whilst you think, 'Wow! What a great chance for me to move up! I knew if I was patient something good would come along for me here,' or 'Yes, I could apply for it, but I know I won't get short-listed. So-and-so will probably get it. I should just apply for work elsewhere, I'm getting nowhere here.'

Now, all of us would feel and respond pretty much the same to the oncoming car. And all of us would have some sort of physical response to the news of a new job opportunity. But see how different the thoughts are? The voice in the head tells a story that the body responds to . So, emotionally speaking, it's not what was said or done that you react to but the story you tell yourself about it that determines your emotional response, which manifests as a physical response to the thought.

This is all familiar ground, all Dr. Phil type stuff. We've heard this stuff before. You're thinking that next we'll be chanting, 'I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.' But Eckhart Tolle isn't laying the groundwork here for positive self-talk. He goes far beyond that. Tolle's point is that both responses, positive and negative, are in fact the same: ego-generated emotions derived from the mind. One is not better than the other, they're both equally irrelevant because they are 'ego'--they do not 'emanate from your natural state of connectedness with Being.' They are part of the 'little me'--the illusion of who you are that obscures your true identity as formless and timeless Presence. One response is not the right one, the other the wrong one. They are both equally irrelevant emotional responses based on thought.

So is Tolle saying we're not supposed to think or feel? Not at all. Quite the reverse! You can't help thinking, it happens without your volition, just like breathing, circulation and digestion.

Have you ever said, 'I can see myself spiralling out of control,' or something similar? Stop for a minute--who is this 'you' who is watching you? Tolle says it is the Consciousness, the Awareness, the timeless Presence that is the true you. The part of you that is aware of and observing the emotion and the thoughts, that's the true you. You are not your emotion or thoughts. And once you become aware that there is a part of you that is separate from emotion and thought, that is awakening. Whether they are positive or negative, you are above your thoughts and your emotions--but that doesn't mean you should try not to have them.

The Pain-Body

Okay, so we have emotions and we can't help that. Here's where the pain-body comes in:

Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissove. It leaves behind a remnant of pain.

This energy field of old but still very much alive emotion that lives in almost every human being is the pain-body.

Out of time now! More on this later...

Saturday, 7 February 2009


Last night we watched Faintheart, a British comedy starring Eddie Marsan (an actor whose name you might not know but you whose face you'll recognize from 'stuff') and Jennifer Hynes (that bird from 'Spaced', and that one good episode of Dr. Who where he forgets who is). The film is distinguished by the fact that it was developed and cast through My Space, but to me that's not important. Most reviews you will read online aren't very good. That's not important to me, either. I just thought it was brilliant.

The main character, Richard, is a member of a Viking battle re-enactment group called 'The Broadswords'. Being in this group is the most important thing in his life, it's the source of his identity. When Richard nearly misses the funeral of his wife's father because it conflicts with a battle re-enactment, turning up in the middle of the service wearing chain-mail, his wife Cath decides she's had enough and throws him out. Richard moves in with his best friend, Julian, a Star Trek fan who works in a comic shop and lives with his mum. The rest of the film concerns itself with how Richard plots to win Cath back from the high school PE teacher she's taken up with, as well as the respect of his barely teenage son, whose life is made a misery at school because of Richard's eccentric hobby and friends. The plot is predictable and formulaic. So what? I thought it was a wonderful little film!

Just a couple of days after I moved to England in August 2002, Derek took me to Bosworth Field, where I saw my first battle re-enactment, re-enactor's camps, booths and falconers. Since then, I've been to many cathedrals and castles, battlefields, medieval walls and Roman ruins. Hey, I've been to a few Comic Cons. Derek's sister and her husband are keen history buffs, Derek and his friends are all fanboys, so--well, I can relate. Heck, my husband wears a Darth Vader belt buckle every day of his life! This, in many ways, is my England. These are my people! And they're wonderful--sincere, enthusiastic, child-like and charming.

The thing that's so great about this film, that's so English, is how genuinely affectionate it is toward these people, while acknowledging a sort of wistful poignancy in the type of nostalgia and what might be considered almost 'arrested development' that leads to these sorts of hobbies becoming your entire life. There is a darkness here, too, a bleakness, that's quintessentially English. Things don't go right for Richard or his friend Julian. The future doesn't look bright. You get the feeling there may be no hope. All Richard's plots backfire. Julian's attempt to meet up with a fellow Trekkie called Kim (an online contact) lands him in jail! And yet, everything turns out all right. They might not be understood in the 'real world', but they understand each other and that's all that matters. Ends up it's okay to be a little ... different.

I will not sell my toy collection
If I did I would weep
Who's to say what you need and what you don't
On a desert island they're the things I'd keep

Some children had their parents read them stories
Well I heard mine directly from the source
Captain Kirk shared his tales and glories
while fighting a deadly force

Who's to say when you get older
you don't need a toy collection?
Who's to say when you get older
that you have to follow convention?

Black beard told me of his troubled mother
And with his songs he'd sing me off to sleep
He said Superman was my real father
And they gave me dreams that I still keep

Who's to say when you get older
you don't need a toy collection?
Who's to say when you get older
that you have to follow convention?

Who's to say when you get older
you don't need a toy collection?
Who's to say when you get older
that you have to follow convention?
That you have to follow convention?

'Toy Collection' by Katie Melua, written for 'Faintheart'

Friday, 6 February 2009

Wow, this thing works great!

Hubby's mum and dad kindly sent me some money for my birthday, so I decided to use it to order something I've been looking at for a while: the SoyQuick 930P Soy Milk Maker! I first read about this machine on the Fat Free Vegan blog. Susan V. made it seem so simple and attractive that I checked out the website. Everyone there and all over the web seemed to be raving about this machine. So when a little spare cash came my way--I ordered one!

It arrived Wednesday--and Thursday morning I made our first batch of soy milk. It is a dream to use. You really do just have to put your soaked soybeans and some water in the jug, put the lid on, plug it in and press the button marked 'soy'. It does everything else all by itself, and beeps to alert you when it's done. Then you pour the milk through the strainer and into the jug and there you go! The resulting steaming hot soy milk tasted so good. Next time I make it, I'm going to make some hot chocolate with the fresh soy milk.

I saved the okara (the leftover soy bean pulp) and for dinner that night I used it to make 'meatloaf'. It was yummy! And I already have the tofu kit Susan V describes at Fat Free Vegan. (I bought it thinking I could make tofu the old fashioned way--wrong! The day I tried to do that was a no good, very bad day, resulting in every pot,pan, strainer and my blender dirtied up, so much water used that I actually felt guilty, and the resulting mass of icky crumbly stuff flung tearfully into the bin! And we won't even talk about my one attempt to make homemade oat milk in a pan! I realised after those two attempts that if I wanted to do these things, I needed a machine. I just never thought I'd break down and buy one.)

I've only used the thing once, but I can see now it's going to be a big part of my daily life from now on. And it has a seven year warranty! Wow!

So THANK YOU to hubby's parents and thanks, SoyQuick!