On this episode of Living with Tolle we talk about the pain-body, a powerful spiritual insight Eckhart Tolle first introduced in The Power of Now. We explore how the pain-body manifests in life and strategies for dealing with the short term and long term effects.
What is the Pain-Body?
The pain-body has been described by Eckhart Tolle as past emotional pain alive in your life today.
The pain-body is a living entity or energy field that is attached to the authentic expression of your life. As such, it can be described as a parasitic energy field engorging itself on your life energy. Think of a tapeworm: it releases a chemical in the body that makes you crave food that feeds and engorges the parasite, but is actually bad for you.
“The pain-body is a semi-autonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion. It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and its intelligence is directed primarily at survival.
~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
But the pain-body is not just a personal problem. The pain-body is a collective phenomenon. The pain-body is transferred to the individual through social and cultural conditioning. You experience the collective pain-body on a personal level and through the many ways it can manifest in your life. In fact, the collective pain-body survives through individuals remaining unconscious and contributing “pain” from personal experiences.
Eckhart has stated that your greatest responsibility is to personally cleanse yourself of the pain-body, so you no longer add to the collective pain-body.
Why is acceptance such a powerful spiritual practice in dealing with the pain-body?
The pain-body has two states: active and dormant. When it is active, it is a sign that you are not conscious enough to keep from reacting to life from the pain. And even though it may be uncomfortable and counterintuitive, when the pain-body is active the only constructive response is to be in acceptance of what is happening in this moment.
“The beginning of freedom from the pain-body lies first of all in the realization that you have a pain-body. Then, more important, in your ability to stay present enough, alert enough, to notice the pain-body in yourself as a heavy influx of negative emotion when it becomes active. When it is recognized, it can no longer pretend to be you and live and renew itself through you.”
~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Key Highlights From Our Conversation
Leo opens the conversation by talking about his recent feelings of depression. In short, daily life kicks in and overwhelms him. He describes a sense of “falling off the wagon,” specifically around his inability to feel present, to practice acceptance, and to connect with others in daily life, especially around his work life.
Lack of time, work obligations, lack of joy all led him to a feeling of disillusionment with the spiritual teachings he’s been exploring. Even though intellectually the teachings make sense and have led him to a sense of awakening and greater presence, this “down” episode fundamentally challenges all he’s been working towards. He describes it as a feeling of having to go back and starting from the beginning.
Greg points to the pain-body as a way to explain Leo’s situation.
Thus begins a great conversation about the role of the pain-body on both a personal and a collective level and on the importance of acceptance as a powerful spiritual practice for dealing with the pain-body.
Many times people complain about the pain-body and don’t want it to come up. This is the ego complaining about the pain-body, but the energy of the complaint is what feeds the pain-body itself! So you have to go back to step one, which is acceptance. The best response is to be in acceptance when the pain-body is active, and when it is dormant you can return to cultivating presence through your spiritual practices. Awareness of the pain-body is important. through cultivating awareness and presence, when the pain-body lashes out, you can recognize it more easily. You can see it. Now you can be aware that this is not who you are, but it is the pain-body becoming active. The greatest agent for change is awareness, as Eckhart says.
Cultivating Presence and Awareness (20:00)
“This too shall pass.” When you are cultivating presence and a sense of awareness, you will be able to have a quicker recovery from an active pain-body. You will be able to know this active state of the pain-body shall pass.
When it passes, you go back to generating presence, to practices that help you cultivate presence so the next time the pain-body becomes active you can have a greater degree of awareness around the experience, without letting it consume you. Presence power that you cultivate actually breaks up the strength of the pain-body itself.
Have a routine set of practices that refresh your spirit and your sense of presence. Make time in your life to be in retreats, in spiritual communities, in practices that help cultivate presence.
Beginner’s Mind & Being Humble
Leo discusses how this experience with the pain-body left him feeling humble, recalling the Zen concept of beginner’s mind. This is a process of growth. The awareness increases, so when the pain-body becomes active, you can see it more clearly. Yet going back to the beginning and cultivating the basics is key in the process of spiritual growth.
How can I humble myself to acknowledge that the pain-body is a strong presence on this planet, and so that I can be aware of it when it becomes active again, through acceptance rather than resistance.
We end our 10th episode with the concept of beginner’s mind. Acknowledging that this is a process of growth and awakening we are experiencing.
Questions for further thought and comments:
- If you feel “drained” of life, how is the pain-body showing up in your life experience and draining your life energy?
- How is the past still alive in your experience today, even though you have committed to forgiving or forgetting it?
- How are you “battling” with your pain-body? What practices are people involved in to help cultivate the sense of presence
And in the spirit of beginner’s mind, we also ask for your feedback on the podcast and on the web site.
Please send us your comments and your suggestions for future topics. Thanks everyone for listening!
About the Author (Author Profile)Leo Aristimuno helps people develop mindfulness, inner peace, and joy in their daily lives. He teaches mindfulness meditation courses in Montclair, NJ, and offers inspirational workshops, retreats, and personal consultations. Leo has worked with Eckhart Tolle's teachings many years. He's the organizer of Living With Eckhart Tolle Meetup groups in NJ and NYC with over 1,400 members. Leo is also co-producer of the popular podcast LivingWithTolle.com
Sites That Link to this Post
- Pain Bodies in the Classroom. [Who's "Fault" is it?] | elephant journal | August 6, 2009
- | Happy Winter Solstice 12.21.2010 | 21 days to breaking thought patterns | Eckhart Tolle’s concept of the Pain Body | « Carolkeiter's Blog | December 20, 2010
- Does Pop Culture, Reality TV, Feed the Pain-Body? | December 1, 2012