I did a masked dance/monologue performance of Mr. Doom at an artsy midnight cabaret where artists could try out their new work. There were three of us performing that night: a sad-faced love-balladeer with his worn guitar, wispy beard and total confidence that tonight's new songs would get him laid, a 16-year old, straight-spined, icy-eyed, not one hair out of place leotard-dancer, and me: naked except for Mr. Doom’s masked face with a few rags hanging down, and a pear-shaped drawstring pouch enfolding Mr. Doom’s…uh…drumstick and rattles. I don't remember the dance I did or the text, but it was mostly frantic swishing accompanied by guttural shouting about the inevitability of doom and the lie of love.
I didn’t realize until years later that I was doing what superstar spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls “distancing yourself from the pain-body,” and what the shamans call “allowing yourself to be danced by spirits.” In fact, it was a type of movement-based exorcism of my family and ancestral patterns, under the guise of "trying out new work." The idea is to move the chattering voices from the inside where they work in secret, to the outside where you can see them, understand what they want from you and what they are trying to teach you, and then send them on their way.
Tolle describes the pain-body as an energy field that everyone carries within them, made up of old emotional pain. To be human is to have emotional pain (old and new.) It's a fact of life in the body. The pain-body generates a story for you that defines your actions and decisions. And often the pain body generates what the psychologists call your core belief.
The core-belief stories have titles like “No one can be trusted,” “I’m in this all alone,” “I have to fight to survive,” “There is never enough money,” "I am unworthy," “Life will always let you down,” and “I am shitty at everything I think, say and do.” (These are all stories from my personal library that I've worked to release over time.)
The important thing is that these core beliefs are often unconscious and secret, and we are unaware of them as they run our relationships and decision making. They are like the hacker's virus in our operating system.
There is some strange evidence that emerged from trauma research: Survivors of childhood sexual trauma are six times more likely to be sexually assaulted as adults. (The Body Keeps The Score, Besel A. van der Kolk, M.D.) This is an example of the pain body at work. The pain body is constructed through those early traumas, and it establishes a core operating system that works unconsciously to design increased chances of being victimized again.
We build a nicer story for ourselves on top of the secret core belief: "I am a love-filled spiritual being, in communion with all creatures." But, as Jesus pointed out, if that that nice house is built on a sandy foundation of the pain-body-inspired core-belief that the world is out to get me, it's a recipe for wackadoodle daily life full of self-sabotage, wrecked relationships and weird, constant, ongoing "bad luck."
That's the pain-body talking, for sure. Any time you're in an argument with a loved one, or complaining to a friend, and you use the word "always" or "never," that's the pain-body talking.
Tolle says that the majority of our interactions with one another are interactions between our pain-bodies. That is a powerful statement. Think about your interactions. He goes onto say, hauntingly, “You don’t just marry your spouse; you marry their pain-body.” It is our pain-bodies that first fall in love with one another - with one another's pain, with one another's core beliefs. Eeeegh. That explains a lot of my history, right there.
The first and most important thing we can do on our spiritual path is to free ourselves from the delusions of the pain-body’s manufactured, false, tiny, doom-laden reality. The first step in that is to acknowledge the pain-body's existence, and try our best to see it in action. It very much does not want you to do this because simply watching for it, paying attention when you fall into repetitive reactions and repetitive complaint - this is the first powerful step in de-activating the pain body's power.
When you are stressed, what repetitive pattern do you find yourself doing? Try to see that pattern. In that pattern is buried the core belief. At that moment, stop and address your pain body. Ask it to help you see the core belief that fuels the repetitive pattern when you are under stress. You may be surprised.
This takes effort and dedication and it's super not-fun. But when we do get a glimpse, and then a grasp on it, we find ourselves opening “A New Earth,” an earth wherein we feel connected to everything, can take great pleasure in the smallest things, can shed ourselves of compulsions to acquire things, and can live in the “now”- an earth in which we are viscerally aware of a blessing Presence.
None of what Tolle is saying is new. This idea is as old as human spirituality: that we have a smaller "I" – one that is afraid all the time, and in pain because of that fear, and makes decisions and takes action out of that small, false identity, and creates situations for us in which we can wallow in fears - or as the shamans say, situations where we feed those spirits of fear to make them stronger.
And we have a true "I" – the one that is immense and in full connection with the powers of creation, knows that physical death is part of the ongoing game of our infinite, many-shaped lives, and this "I" can really never be afraid.
DH Lawrence said it like this:
“I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
and it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.
And there's this:
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.
(Juan Ramón Jiménez, “‘I Am Not I’” from Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems. Translation copyright © 1973 by Robert Bly.)
Much of the rhetoric in politics, and most marketing, plays on stimulating and strengthening your pain-body - feeding the fear spirits. So, one core way to work is to simply decline to let those forces manipulate you. That sounds simple, but it actually works.
Our entire species is in the process of working with the pain-body, and trying to create a New Earth. But that’s too big for each of us to think about. So, we need to come home to or own body, our own pain-body, and work with it. We can work with in therapy, which uses the tools of the intellect, and we can work with it though ceremony like shamanic work, which uses non-rational tools of the Spirit.
All of this is work with the Spirit of the West on the Medicine wheel – the direction of "releasing." We are in the West right now, and autumn is a great time to do this kind of personal work to release old patterns, which is another way of saying "free ourselves of the pain-body's authoritarian rule over our reactions and decisions."
So, besides "paying attention" to our repetitive patterns, especially when stressed, how else can we work with the pain body to help discover the core belief and discharge its power over us?
- Bodywork is excellent at opening these channels. But not the massage for relaxation (referred to in the business as "fluff 'n buff" massage). Seek a bodyworker who can use techniques to open the channels - often not pleasant experience. (There's nothing wrong with pleasant relaxing massage - it's just not the pathway to working with the pain body.)
- Somatic Therapy is an excellent modality that is all about opening the channels I'm talking about. Google the phrase and your city you'll hopefully find practitioners.
- Lying face down on the earth is a decent and free practice. Ask mother earth to open your pain body and take its energy. While you do this, once again, pay attention to what images, emotions or thoughts come up.
- Work with the Spirit of the West. Here is a prayer you can make to the West all through Autumn - this time of year where the Old Woman of the Bones is coming to clean the earth and clear the old earth of its old energies, opening it to the next shape of life. I recommend making a prayer like this every morning from now through early December:
- Power of West, power of releasing the old songs stuck in my sinews, the old stories stuck in my bones, power that opens the New Earth, help me stand outside of my smaller self, that one who lies to me in order to make me act smaller than I truly am. Open in me the vision and presence of my larger self: infinite, joyful, powerful. Give me the confidence to trust in my larger self, and live that vision. Thank you, Spirit, for partnering with me to create a New Earth, here inside my body.
- A daily spiritual practice in which you remind yourself of the larger "I" is also very helpful. Asking Spirit to step forward and work with you to build your power and connection with that bigger "I" is helpful.
I recommend you go deeper with this work by taking this class which I've offered many times. I also recommend doing this special kind of shamanic healing session that I'm offering this fall.