Have you ever experienced a situation in which your emotions have reached a point where they literally trigger a physical response within your own body; oftentimes manifesting as pain in one form or another?
What we may not realize is that our mind is always the culprit that initiates this process, as it attempts to interpret the event at hand. It’s a concept referred to as “pain-body,” and is most closely associated with the teachings of Eckhart Tolle; the spiritualist and acclaimed author best known for his two celebrated works: “The Power of Now,” and “A New Earth.”
What prompted me to address this particular topic was a desire to explore, even further, those emotional wounds which continue to gain agency due to unresolved issues from my past. One such occasion happened recently while observing an event experienced by my father. It triggered an emotion that I hadn’t expressed for some time, when my mother faced a similar situation prior to her passing.
Tolle describes the phenomena as such: “The pain-body is a semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion. Like all life-forms, it periodically needs to feed—to take in new energy, and the food it requires to replenish itself consists of energy that is compatible with its own, which is to say, energy that vibrates at a similar frequency. Any emotionally painful experience can be used as food by the pain-body. That’s why it thrives on negative thinking as well as drama in relationships.”
What’s unique about the pain-body is that it only exists when we find ourselves identifying with it. Habitual or repetitious connection to this suffering may bring some to the point that they are unwilling to let it go, because it has assumed much of their identity. This premise is fortified by Tolle in The Power of Now, when he reveals: “What this means is that you have made an unhappy self out of your pain-body and believe that this mind-made fiction is who you are.”
The ability to shut down our negative thoughts can become a life-long process, and for many, continues to be an impediment towards fulfilling certain goals. Who hasn’t uttered the phrase? “If I could only turn my brain off!” when confronted with anxiety over a troubling predicament.
Tolle puts it this way: “The voice in the head has a life of its own. Most people are at the mercy of that voice; they are possessed by thought, by the mind. And since the mind is conditioned by the past, you are then forced to reenact the past again and again.”
When we solely identify with the mind, it gives us an inaccurate reflection of our true self. As I mentioned in previous pieces, it’s this egoic state (from an Eastern philosophical perspective), that seeks to satiate itself by taking control of our Being. Similar to a parasite, it continuously feeds upon our fears and anxieties, creating an endless loop of unhealthy thought.
What I hadn’t expected was that others recognized a distinct difference in my facial expressions, mannerisms and the tone of my voice for some time after my father’s event took place. They could tell that my mind was constantly preoccupied with disruptive, fearful thoughts. In essence, my emotional pain-body had been triggered by a similar prior event, and became re-energized.
If not for a conversation with a family member a few days afterwards, I would have missed the opportunity to reflect upon what had happened. What was most telling was that this pain-body reaction was completely disproportional to the situation that triggered it — not all that different than the event I witnessed with my mother. I hadn’t fully accepted the pain suffered from that previous incident, and therefore it was never released.
This begs the question: Is what I’m experiencing an actual event, or is it merely my interpretation filtered through thought? Tolle would most certainly agree that it is the latter, as expressed in this passage from A New Earth: “Although the body is very intelligent, it cannot tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. It reacts to every thought as if it were a reality. It doesn’t know that it’s just a thought.”
That statement sounds incredibly easy to process, yet how often is it implemented while in the moment or soon thereafter? Realizing the emotion when it arises and recognize that it is the beginning of the pain-body trying to take hold, is something that we can practice each time it tries to rear its ugly, egoic head. I know that I’ll be making more of a conscious effort to do so next time around.