What you resist persists, what you look at disappears.— Neale Donald Walsh
Have you ever wondered why you are continually dealing with painful emotions you want no part of? Out of the blue, worrisome thoughts arise from who knows where. The term “pain-body” comes from the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, and describes this frequent and unwanted condition.
The pain-body is living energy. You know it as anger, depression, fear, anxiety, or some other negative emotional state. It’s experienced from mild discomfort to all-consuming. It’s annoying white noise without an off switch.
Some newborns arrive into the world red-faced, tiny hands clenched, and difficult to soothe. Other babies enter the world relaxed and contented. An explanation could rest in the degree of pain-body they bring with them.
The pain-body is personal to us. Like freckles, it’s passed on from our family. Like plastic bottles find their way into the oceans, we inherit the collective human pain of our ancestors. The ingredients of the pain-body are past emotional pain we have not been able to release. The pain-body feeds on negative emotions. Think of someone who you could describe as a moving and breathing dark cloud. You hope this person is not in your forecast. The litany of complaints they share drags you under their cloud.
Talking about your past pain can serve as a release valve. But if you are in therapy for years rehashing the same memories, it seems the potential cure, talking “out” your problems, is now the cause of your continued misery. A friend who is a therapist told me she expects her patients to take an active role in their healing process. It’s not enough to sit with her. They leave with an agreed-upon plan to respond differently to the thoughts that are causing the suffering.
You can’t outrun your pain-body. Nor can you think your way out of it. On the contrary, resisting negative emotions gives them velcro strength. You don’t end a relationship constantly thinking about it. There is the coffee shop we used to meet and so forth. When you decide to remove added sugar from your diet, working at Dunkin Donuts is a bad choice.
What kinds of thoughts kick up dust? Our pain body is triggered by many things – situations, events, activities, books, unconscious thoughts, or people. The dust storms arise independently and unwanted. Often, at least for me, it’s some acts from my younger days.
The pain-body’s survival depends on us to identify with it. We believe we are the creator of negative emotions; e.g., “I am stressed.” Think of all the “I” statements you make. “I” am this, and “I” am that. If there is any “I” connected to the feeling, the pain-body is in control. You have no more control of the negative energy that shows up as thoughts than you can affect the dark clouds in the heavens above. In both cases, they activate and subside all by themselves.
Awareness is required to break identification with the pain-body. When you become aware of unease (fear, worries, etc.) creeping in, a gap is created between you and the emotion. Instead of surrendering to the emotion that encourages more of the same, you see it for what it is, as a temporary feeling stored in this gap. It’s not you. It’s energy flowing through you. It’s like an unwanted guest. Resist making it comfortable.
Your pain body will insist there is something you need to do. You don’t. It’s a trick to keep you hooked. The resistance and desire to act, to fix something, is the pain-body itself. It’s how it strengthens itself. When you recognize all its disguises, become the peaceful observer, you regain your consciousness.
Why all this suffering? There are many answers or no answers. The one that makes most sense is what I said to my kids, “Eat all your food, and you can have dessert. Yes, even the Brussel sprouts.” To reach peace within, you have to go through discomfort. If you refuse to wake up, accept what is, this moment, you will continue to suffer. No dessert. Instead of resisting, you see it as your teacher, thus diminishing its power over you. Remember the song, “I Will Survive.” What’s true of an unreliable partner is true for the pain-body, “I was petrified. I kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong. I grew strong. I learned how to get along.” The pain-body is a false friend.
The more we resist what is, the worse it feels and harder it is to let go of. It’s a universal truth we find so hard to accept. Tight muscles impede the golf swing. Inauthenticity transmits bad vibes. Fear, fleeing, and complaining make the suffering greater. Emotional suffering cannot survive in the presence of acceptance and nonresistance. Pay attention to your negative thoughts and file them under, “Redundant and Unwanted.”
In time, our taste buds and appetite for negativity decreases. We forgive ourselves for a host of missteps and accept that the 20-year-old-us is not the 60-year-old-us. Moving forward, we become a better version of our younger selves.
Learning about the habits of our minds is tough stuff. Letting go of thoughts that disrupt us is opening a window to let in fresh air. It’s putting salve on the wound to expedite the scab forming. Eliminating the memories is impossible. Facing them, leaning into the negative emotions, puts us in the driver’s seat.