Every emotional pain that you experience leaves behind a residue of pain that lives on in you. It merges with the pain from the past, which was already there, and becomes lodged in your mind and body. This, of course, includes the pain you suffered as a child, caused by the unconsciousness of the world into which you were born. This accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. If you look on it as an invisible entity in its own right, you are getting quite close to the truth. It’s the emotional pain-body. – Eckhart Tolle
Within and around us flowing through the muscle fibers of our body and radiating from our body is another body that Eckhart Tolle calls the energy-body. This field is energy not recognized by Western science but is fundamental to Eastern, aboriginal and mystical cultures. This inner body is made of the energy of Life; it is called chi, ki, aura, or simply Spirit. It can be felt and seen, but only through an extraordinary development and integration of the senses and intuition. This energy field is indistinct in its boundary, sometimes contracted in tightly deep beneath our skin, sometimes reaching out gently and with curiosity. Sometimes it lashes out into the world and towards others. It can be the invisible reaching hand of love, appreciation, and empathy. It can also be the mental fist of our ego projecting anger, fear, and even hate. It can collapse deep within us in a frightened cower of despair. It can be the curious reaching eyes of wonder. It is what connects us with the world around us and gives us great capacities for balance, insight and flow. And because it is the energy of consciousness itself, it has deep and true intelligence and capacity for emotional resonance.
This energy-body is a dimensional interface of elemental Universal consciousness energy and the physical form-energy of a person. It expresses itself as compassion, for it feels the pain of the world. It is also fear and anger, for it is afraid of the pain of the world and anger is its protection. It is the realm of emotion, where concepts and experiences resonate with the body and create feelings, for we feel emotion. We do not feel thoughts, even though thoughts can be the trigger of emotions. It is a way we can understand emotion and feelings as karma to thoughts, certain thoughts consistently bringing forth corresponding emotions, and we are constantly creating states of feeling through thoughts that resonate in the body as feelings.
The origin of these thoughts is conditioning, each of us developing a story of who we are through and coming out of childhood, and then shaping and reshaping our story through adult life. This story not only has a narrative, it has a felt-sense to it. We live inside a feeling of what it is to be who we are. We are energy-beings manifesting within and from an energy-Universe. We are permeated with the energy of the Universe because this energy is our source – we are not separate. Yes, our physical bodies create a separate form but at the foundational level of the Universe, there is no way to be separate – except in our minds.
Though we are undeniable, irreducible energy, our bodies are perceived and experienced as objects, not energy, for there is most certainly solidity and separateness to the physical body. We are both energy and form, yet it is form and solidity that dominate our experience. So too with mind, though on a much subtler level, for the energy of mind, of consciousness, is always of unity. Yet, within mind a world is constructed out of thoughts, of separate bits and pieces of information. These thoughts have the experience of solidity and reality, of thought-objects that capture and hold our attention, and while the basic energy of mind is a unity, the realm of thought-objects is often filled with contradiction and conflict, for they can be any crazy imagined thing.
These contradictions and conflicts create great disharmony in the energy of mind that creates mental discomfort and pain, sadness and despair, fear and anxiety, anger and hatred. There is rage, rage at the world and rage at ourselves. As we are angry outwardly, we are anger itself inside and this is a great tension. This tension is resonated through the nervous system into the tissues of the body and depending on its intensity, this tension can be painful. This tension is contracted musculature and contracted consciousness energy that takes on, through appropriation by ego, a story of self, and this contracted consciousness energy is what Tolle describes as the pain-body, an energy-field contracted and shaped along the contours of our imaged emotionally painful mindscape.
Pain-body is built out of a story. It is a story of a person in conflict with the world and with themselves and in this story there is a lot of tension and pain. And this pain-story is looking for evidence of its validity, and of course finds in the world more stories of pain, of anger, of anxiety, of despair, of suffering, and it incorporates these stories into its own. You know an angry person when you see them. The anger is a state of mind, but the body is its megaphone, and the energy of their body is unmistakable. So too, you can recognize a really anxious person when you see them. Anxiety, too, is a state of mind, but it is broadcasting through physical posture and resonance into the physical world. So too with depression. You know it when you see it.
What is important to realize is that at varying levels of intensity these mental/emotional states are nearly always operating in us creating a mental/emotional personality contour. This is what makes for what psychology calls neurosis. We are carrying and projecting a subtle – to at times, not so subtle – story of an angry or anxious or depressed person, or more likely, some combination of all three, most of the time. Not only are we projecting these mind/body energy stories, we are feeling them, and it is this feeling state that we can work with as we embark on the journey of healing.
To our salvation, we also carry within us stories of a loving, gentle, forgiving, confident, calm and joyous person. These stories have a very different feel from the story of pain. Whereas the story of pain is contracted, tense, jumbled, dark, sometimes implosive, sometimes explosive, the story of our joyful and loving self is expansive, relaxed, clear, light, balanced and radiant. We can feel the difference, and importantly, as they are actually states of mind generated by thought and resonated into the body, we can change the feeling by changing the thought, for thought is available to management by intention. First, however, we must commit to the intention to profoundly change our story, and this can be quite challenging for the pain-body, as the story of me is very resistant to changing. It is resistant because to do so means the pain-body must relinquish its hold, and as strange as it might seem, very few people are really ready to let go of their story of pain for, as uncomfortable and troublesome as it is, it is all they know. To step into the unknown of freedom can be quite scary.
There is an old Zen saying that tells us “when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” and perhaps we become ready when living with the pain just isn’t worth the familiarity of our story and the identity that comes with it. And so, our practice must begin with faith that not only are we pain, we are also joy and light and understanding. We know this to be true because we have experienced it, and, though it may be difficult to believe because we have known ourselves caught in pain for so long, this light is really who we are. Life is EVERYTHING and we are Life. How can we not be?
We are the dark AND the light. We are selfish and grasping, but also loving, gentle, forgiving, compassionate, confident, calm and joyous. We are a person with the capacity for conscious intention, and it is this intention we must muster. We are a person who IS awareness, the witnessing energy of consciousness that can see, feel and think. We are a person who can recognize when we get caught in the pain-body because we can feel the constricted, contracted, erratic, implosive and explosive energy taking us over. We also have the capacity to bring intention to break free of the unconscious programming of our dark conditioning – to pause, to look, to breathe and relax the contraction, to shift into seeing and expressing that we are also light. We were born as light and have always been light. We are just covered over with the dark conditioning, and this knowing then can be the faith and buttress that can guide and strengthen our intention. We can intend to think lovingly, compassionately, forgivingly, acceptingly of others, ourselves and the conditions of Life, and in this choiceful, conscious, intentional shifting of thought, we shift our feeling from constricted pain-body into joyous, soft and loving Being. We can begin to let go of resisting Life-as-it-is for it is this resistance that, as Tolle realized, causes the energy to block and become painful, to become suffering. Over time and with practice, we will no longer feel or think as isolated and alone in our pain and confusion; rather, we can begin to know that we are merged with the energy of Life, for we ARE the energy of Life. We can gently and lovingly release the pain-body and its story to be healed, reconnecting with the flowing energy of Life itself and the panoply of beings all around us. We can choose, we can intend, to bring consciousness in its fullness to our experience, and this is what Buddhism refers to as being awake. It is being awake to self as the flow of the Universe, and with this path we begin to free ourselves from the suffering of the pain-body.