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.

3 comments:

Anna Down Under said...

It is indeed and expressed so beautifully - spot on. I loved the crying baby analogy.

I remember feeling liberated when I first read the book. I can't say I'm always successful living in the now, but I do more often find myself 'going with the flow' and just being open and accepting.

Carla said...

I'm not always successful, either. In fact, after I wrote this, I had a driving lesson that actually went fairly well, but my mind was busy telling me that it did not and that I am rubbish and that I will never pass my test.

When I got home, I tapped on my intense feelings and it did help. I felt fine the rest of the day, until Derek got home and I started talking about the lesson when he asked about it. This triggered the pain-body in a major way and I spent about 15 minutes crying dejectedly and saying all my usual worried thoughts--about my job, my 'boring' life, my tinnitus, my fear of going deaf, all the usual stuff. I even said while crying that I recognize this as pain-body but can't 'fight' it, that it's too strong for me. But the episode ended pretty quickly, in comparison to some of them, and a few minutes later I felt perfectly normal again. So that's some improvement...then today, I started my period. So, as Tolle says in his book, the onset of my period could also have triggered my pain-body.

Carla said...

It's been brought home to me again today how incredibly strongly I am identified with my pain-body. This is going to take a lot of work.