The blog-o-sphere teaches me so much! Just several days ago I came across this quote from Eckhart Tolle which just grabbed me and shook me, even though I’ve read it before and understood the notion of the “pain body” already:
Whenever you are in a negative state, there is something in you that wants the negativity, that perceives it as pleasurable, or that believes it will get you what you want. Otherwise, who would want to hang on to negativity, make themselves, and others miserable, and create disease in the body? So, whenever there is negativity in you, if you can be aware at that moment that there is something in you that takes pleasure in it or believes it has a useful purpose, you are becoming aware of the ego directly. The moment this happens, your identity has shifted from ego to awareness. This means the ego is shrinking and awareness is growing.
Relevant to this subject, I am now part of a serious reading group of the work of Karl Jung who approached a relevant issue nearly a century earlier with his focus on the unconscious. In our present reading, (“The Roots of the Psyche”) Jung shared that he had discussed the unconscious with one philosopher of his day who candidly admitted that he could not acknowledge the presence of the unconscious; for should he do so would be opening up Pandora’s box—it would mean acknowledgement of subterranean forces in his heart which were beyond his control. Likewise, when we are in the grip of this “pain body”, we resist acknowledging its power over us for to do so would mean that we are powerless in some sense in the depths of our heart and make really bad choices that we cannot help. It is like we deliberately bury our head in the sand, choosing to live in our anguish rather than break free and tippy-toe into what one poet described as our “ever lasting risk.” As is so often the case, Shakespeare nailed it centuries ago when Hamlet noted that we prefer to “cling to these ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.”
Well, how do we break free of this pain body? How do we escape the grip of the unconscious? Well, technically we don’t but with simple awareness we can lessen its tenacious grip on our heart. If we can dare to “name the demon”…so to speak…the monster that is wreaking havoc on our life will have a battle on its hand. Tolle teaches that simple awareness of this “pain body”, and acknowledgement of its influence, is the beginning of gaining freedom.
And since I began this process of honesty, I have found freedom from some of these monsters but admittedly there are more to face. And I think that is probably part of what the Apostle Paul had in mind with his admonishment for us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (i.e. emotional duress) for he saw “salvation” as a process just as people like Eckhart Tolle today present spirituality.
Now, I can’t fail to kick my own faith in the shins on this issue, my faith being Christianity. So often people use religion as a denial system, approaching it only with their head and using doctrinal creeds and dogma to insulate themselves from life, from spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical life. Instead of exploring Holy Writ and spiritual tradition to find its meaning in the warp-and-woof of their life, they have been taught to use it as a repetition compulsion which serves as a mechanism to keep their “pain body” at bay. And, of course, their “pain body” is then seen outside of themselves in other people who need their intervention, at times in the past even at the point of the sword. Now, how do I know this is true? Well, I don’t. But I do know that it has been true for me nearly all of my life AND I suspect that it does have relevance to many other Christians. There are many other writers and thinkers, Christian and otherwise, who are honing in on this issue right now, one of note being Richard Rohr.
Life is painful. But it is more painful when we don’t accept the pain when it comes, discovering that it can wash over us and not lodge in our cognitive machinery…and behavior patterns… and keep us prisoners. Scott Peck said decades ago in his very astute book, “The Road Less Traveled,” that “Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Neurosis…and worse…can be viewed as maladaptive patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that we have adopted in response to painful moments in our life, overt pain and even perceived pain. But the only way to get beyond the pain is to go into it, to own it, to “embrace it” as Stephen Levine teaches and discover that its grip will begin to lesson. We have to “feel” our way out of the morass. “Thinking” alone will never suffice.