The concept of the “pain-body” was first defined by Eckhart Tolle, a German-born spiritual teacher and popular author of “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth.”
Tolle’s teachings have resonated with people across religions and geographic regions, as he translates and expounds upon spiritual ideas rooted in Eastern spiritual tradition.
As with all spiritual and emotional concepts, there is no “one size fits all.” Our intent within this article is to present the concept of the emotional pain-body, as defined by Eckhart Tolle in “A New Earth,” in order to provide information and ideas that may improve your well-being. Spirituality and emotional well-being can be intensely personal, and improving this area of well-being often requires introspection, time alone, and self-reflection. The spiritual teachings of others, as we will discuss in this article, can help facilitate this kind of growth and awareness.
According to Tolle, the “pain-body” is an energy field that is intertwined with our physical bodies. This energy field is comprised of negative emotional experiences from our individual and collective past, experiences that we have not fully accepted or resolved. This negative emotional energy sits within us, and can become activated by other negative experiences we undergo. If we are not aware of it, our pain-bodies can even cause us to seek out further negative experiences as a form of self-preservation. The pain-body wants to thrive and grow within us, almost like a parasite, and when we experience negative or painful emotions, the pain-body strengthens.
You may be able to recall the feeling you sometimes get when you hear bad news about someone else’s life. For example, a friend tells you about their recent breakup, or you learn that your coworker was recently fired. There is often a moment right when you hear about unfortunate circumstances occurring to others that you feel slightly relieved, or even gratified: at least it’s not me. This split-second flash of feeling is the pain-body, reacting to the drama around you. It wants more drama in its life, because drama leads to negative emotional experiences, which lead to a strengthened pain-body.
This is just one small, and usually harmless, example of how the pain-body shows up in our daily lives. In these examples, we can usually overcome that split-second feeling, and begin to feel genuine empathy for the individual who is going through a difficult experience. But there are other times when we can’t necessarily overcome the pain-body so easily.
An Activated Pain-Body
What does it mean to experience an activated pain-body? It can take the form of agitation, impatience, a negative mood, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, or a need to create drama in your relationships. Basically, an activated pain-body leads to negative emotions and feelings.
Often, we don’t realize when or why our pain-bodies become activated. Maybe we recognize the surface-level event that caused us to react negatively (for example, a rough patch in our relationships, or issues at work). But what we don’t always recognize is the deeper reason for our reactive emotional state. When we can come to see our reactions as a cumulation of past painful experiences coming back to the surface of our physical selves, and not just a reaction to the most immediate cause of our pain, the healing process can begin.
The Collective Pain-Body
To further complicate things, we are not only subject to our own individual pain-bodies, but the pain-bodies of collective groups. War-torn countries have particularly dense pain-bodies, as do specific groups of people, such as Black Americans, who have suffered collective trauma over the course of history. Women as a collective also have dense pain-bodies, due to thousands of years of violence, rape, and even childbirth.
You may know this phenomenon as “generational trauma.” The idea is the same — when people experience intense emotional pain, it can be passed down through generations, especially if it is not (or cannot be) dealt with.
So, what do we do about it?
Awareness is the most important step in the healing process. When negative emotions arise, or you feel your pain-body activate, it can be helpful to name the feeling you are having and describe where it is manifesting in your body. For example, anger can appear as a warm feeling in your chest. Anxiety often manifests as tension in your stomach.
When you are in the midst of an activated pain-body, it is often difficult to engage in the deeper healing work that is required to dissolve the pain-body. If you are dealing with intense feelings of anger, loneliness, agitation, or anxiety, it is important to give yourself grace and engage in activities that bring you inner peace. Deep healing work is not always peaceful. Confronting painful past experiences, or becoming aware of how collective pain has manifested in you, can be emotionally draining. Sometimes, it is best to engage in this work with a professional or trusted support system.
This article is only meant to be an introduction to the concept of the pain-body, a starting place for further research, introspection, growth, and healing. To learn more, visit the following links: