You Are Not Your Pain

In his international bestseller titled The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle introduces the concept of the ‘pain-body’: the residual accumulation of pain and negativity that he believes ‘lives’ within all of us. According to Tolle, when we encounter negative circumstances in life, particularly those that resonate with the pain pattern of past experiences, the ‘pain-body’ is activated and we are overtaken by it. He tells us that any exposure to new pain or negative emotion triggers an unconscious addiction to further pain, anger, hatred etc., which perpetuates itself through our own actions and life situations. This ‘pain body’, he says, will live in you for as long as you unconsciously identify with it, that is, until the moment when you become truly conscious of it and if this happens, the pain body dissolves and the energy field it inhabited will be broken.

Yet Tolle’s use of the term ‘pain-body’ for this concept can be disempowering due to the simple fact that while our conscious minds are able to discern between what is real and what is metaphorical, our subconscious minds takes everything literally. Using the word ‘body’ can be understood to mean ‘non-permanent entity’ by the conscious mind, but when our subconscious mind hears this word in reference to where we are storing our pain and traumas, it sends the message that pain is something that belongs to us and is there to stay. As human beings, our own physical bodies are central to our identity and most of us think of ourselves in terms of our bodies – the person we see in the mirror every day. In other words, our bodies are an intrinsic and indispensible part of who we are, at least for the duration of our lives. The subconscious mind is thus inclined to protect and nurture any part of us that is identified as a ‘body’, meaning that the term ‘pain-body’ subconsciously encourages us to hold on and preserve wounds from the past, rather than heal them.

It’s important to remember that pain is a natural reaction that arises in response to unconscious actions, and as such it is simply something to notice and learn from. Either physically or emotionally, when we do something that knocks us off balance, we fall and it results in pain. On the physical level we all learn quickly as children that touching something hot can cause a burn, so we endeavour to avoid the negative experience next time, thanks to our common sense and logic. The same principle applies to our emotional experiences, albeit in a slightly more complex way. In this way, there is no ‘pain-body’ as long as we are paying attention – only signals and lessons that come and go. For this reason, Tolle’s imagery of a ‘pain-body’ can be unhelpful, as it keeps a person stuck rather than encouraging them to let their pain go and reach their highest and best Self.