In the last several chapters, we have prepared to consider emotional baggage by talking about how thought-forms are illusions and how they limit us from living in Presence and Awareness.
In Chapter 5, Tolle digs deeper into how negative emotions feed from negative thoughts, ultimately causing a cycle of co-dependency and addiction to unhappiness. The ego is not just the thoughts and the voices in your head that pretends to be you, but it’s also the emotions that is your physical body’s reactions to what that voice is saying. And this voice has been constant throughout your life. When the ego continues to tell itself negative stories of people and events of your life, you drift further away from Awareness.
We carry emotional baggage throughout our lives because the mind is conditioned by the past. We tend to perpetuate old emotions of the past and carry them into the present, like bad songs on constant replay. The result is the creation of what Tolle calls the pain-body. It’s the old emotional baggage that is carried around throughout our lives, and it loves to use them to control our thinking, and ultimately misleading us to think that the pain-body is our very identity.
The pain-body and the thought-form are two sides of the same coin of the ego. They’re codependent on the other, and without one, the other will cease to exist.
Before we learn to break free from our pain-body, we need to learn how to recognize them.
The easiest way to identify the pain-body is to see it in other people, to watch the pain-body arising in someone else. You can tell that it’s their pain body when it takes energy away from you, draining you. When it takes away your power.
Tolle explains how this is particularly evident in intimate relationships:
Pain-bodies love intimate relationships and families because that is where they get most of their food. It is hard to resist another person’s pain-body that is determined to draw you into a reaction. Instinctively it knows your weakest, most vulnerable points. If it doesn’t succeed the first time, it will try again and again. It is raw emotion looking for more emotion. The other person’s pain-body wants to awaken yours so that both pain-bodies can mutually energize each other.
Recognize the pain-body in others. You don’t need to label it. You don’t need to prepare to defend yourself. Be the compassionate presence. Allow the other to be in the pain-body and try not to be provoked! While you refuse to feed it, it will get tired and give up. Don’t underestimate the pain-body’s ability to push your buttons!
The difference between an instinctive response and an emotion is this: an instinctive response is the body’s direct response to some external situation. An emotion is the body’s response to a thought.
Instinctive responses, such as “fight or flight,” is necessary for our physical survival. It protected us from being eaten by saber-toothed, from wildfires, etc.
Emotions, however, can make our bodies go into fight or flight mode in the absence of legitimate bodily threats. Whenever you worry about how to pay the rent or mortgage, worry about how your partner really feels about you, finding yourself googling about a health condition may or may not be cancer, all of these are made up constructs caused by the pain-body.
The body reacts just as if our bodies are in physical danger: muscles tensing, heart beating faster, breathing rapidly, etc. But since this is all internal, and with no physical outlet (like running away), the negative emotion is fed back into the mind, continuing the cycle. Ironically, this often leads to the actual physical break down of the body, affecting our immune system and other bodily functions.
We’ve all experienced this.
Let’s say that your partner had done the laundry, but you can’t find the one pair of shorts you like to wear for your cycling class on Tuesdays. Your partner says that they should be in the same drawer, but your shorts are nowhere to be seen. This escalates into an argument, how your partner is always losing things, and the partner shoots back, saying he or she is not being appreciated in carrying the majority of the load of household chores. Pain-bodies are now triggered. Somehow, you both find yourselves fighting about how one of you uprooted a life for the other’s seemingly unsuccessful career.
In most people, the pain-body has a dormant and an active stage. When it is dormant, you easily forget that you carry a heavy dark cloud or a dormant volcano inside you, depending on the energy field of your particular pain-body. How long it remains dormant varies from person to person: A few weeks is the most common, but it can be a few days or months. In rare cases the pain-body can lie in hibernation for years before it gets triggered by some event.
The pain-body that is ready to feed can use the most insignificant event as a trigger. When your response is out of proportion with the trigger, you can then feel the arising emotion deep inside you. Recognize it as the beginning of the pain-body wanting to be fed.
Do you take pleasure in watching other people’s downfall? Did you take pleasure in watching an idea of a co-worker you don’t like getting shot down at the department meeting? Love the humiliation of a reviled politician? Enjoy watching violence on others in movies? This is the pain-body making you enjoy negative events, even cultivating enjoyment of your own negative thinking.
Our current U.S. media culture thrives on negative news. From the latest actions of our political leaders to a missile launch from a hostile nation, the media makes a living off of our collective pain-body’s need for more negativity. We can even see how animated the news presenters become when the perceived threats are greater.
What is it in humans that loves to feel bad? The pain-body, of course, which can be individual and/or collective, national and racial.
Oftentimes, we replay the same stories in our heads. This could be events that happened a few hours ago, and it could be events that have happened decades ago. Sometimes we don’t even realize it until we realize that 30 minutes had passed. Sometimes these stories keep us up all night as we glance at the clock, frustrated that it’s already 2am.
You can never win an argument with the pain body. If you find yourself going in circles, then it’s the pain-body. Be compassionate, be still, practice forgiveness, and allow it to be whatever it is. Don’t feed it. Don’t be drawn in.
Understand that pain-body actually seeks unhappiness, that it seeks unpleasant experiences, more negativity, because the pain-body feeds on those things. We can learn to stop being caught up in mental movie-making. We can learn to not keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to consciously return our attention to the present moment of Now. Our very Presence then becomes our real identity, not our thoughts and emotions.
Whenever you feel or realize you’ve been caught up in your emotional baggage, remember this quote for Tolle:
Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?
In chapter 6, we will discover how to break free from the pain-body. Until then, train yourself to identify moments when you are caught up in your own pain-body and in the pain-body others. Just recognizing it already places you outside of the ego and towards Awareness.
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