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Emotional Pain

emotional intelligenceIn a previous article I talked about the painbody and how it undermines emotional intelligence (EQ). Now let’s talk about how to deal with the painbody in our lives. But first . . .

There are many ways we typical react to the painbody that erupts in our lives and relationships. Here are a few:

  • —Most importantly and most often, we identify with the painbody. As I mentioned in Part 1, the painbody often takes over our mind and we think as it dictates us to think. We cannot tell the preverbal “forest from the trees.”
  • Act it out. (This is similar to identifying with it.) For example we might start a fight with our spouse just to prove s/he is a hurtful person.
  • We numb it. There are many ways to numb pain. Here are just a few:

o   Drink alcohol or get stoned (most addictions are part of the painbody)

o   Work, work and work some more

o   Complain until you run out of friends

o   Eat a high caloric snack (when no is looking) and then go back for seconds.

  • We try to fight the painbody. This is the most interesting because it seems like the “right” thing to do. We desperately try to dispute it and fight emotion with facts. Sometimes this works for a short time but like Dorothy’s witch, she keeps coming back. Very often when we fight the painbody, it only gets bigger. It’s like some sci-fi monster that eats up your energy and turns it on you. So good luck fighting your painbody!
  • Or we can do it the healthy way . . .

Eckhart Tolle has a very simple yet powerful approach to the painbody. It is consistent with many psychological and spiritual approaches that we all know (and practice?). Here are a few of them:

  • AAA:  Acknowledge . . . Accept . . .  Allow . . . the painbody. Don’t fight it, it will win and take parts of you with it. Instead acknowledge its eruption. Accept that it is there and mindfully allow it to be there without resistance.
  • Watch it with compassionate . . . Presence. Tolle frequently uses the term presence. He endorses being present with the painbody without reacting to it, without identifying with it, without fighting it. In this way we take away its food source, our mental engagement with it. This practice is very similar to what I write about regarding Witches in my book, Follow the Yellow Brick Road. Taking Dorothy’s lead, we should face the Witch and douse it with the water of Awareness and Compassion (what I fancy to be truth and grace, respectively).  When we do this, the witch melts.
  • Befriend it?  It might seem strange—if not masochistic—to see the painbody as a friend or ally. But when we greet it for what it is––un-integrated, impacted emotional pain that we carry around in our psyche—and we know that when it is metabolized (melts) it will release positive energy; we don’t have to be afraid of it. In fact we might welcome it as an opportunity to grow and heal. (See Getting Your Wings in the Land of Oz.)
  • Surrender. There is another discipline that uses the idea of surrender. Do you know who it is? Yes, Alcohol Anonymous prescribes the concept of “surrender” in its First Step on road to recovery. Tolle identifies two types of surrender:
    • Level #1: Surrender to the reality . . . as it is. The other day I spilled a cup of chunky soup inside our refrigerator. Becoming upset, I cursed at the horrendous crime that had just fallen upon me. And then the Awareness in me spoke. “It is soup spilled, nothing more nothing less. Be present with the reality of spilt milk soup  . . .  and oh yeah, and clean it up.”
    • Level #2: Surrender to the pain . . .  feel it. We are generally afraid of our painful feelings. But if we can separate them from the old negative “emotional notions” in our head (Tolle calls this our “Unhappy Me”), we are left with simply emotions,   which will pass with time (and the sooner we surrender, the sooner they leave).  Sadness, loneliness and anger without their “mental containers’ (e.g. “I am defective” or “No one loves me”) are just feelings and feelings come and go.

I challenge us to try this practice. Next time our painbody erupts, wait for the Awareness-within. Acknowledge and accept the painbody’s appearance. Bring compassion and grace as you watch it. Don’t give in to the temptation to identify with it, numb it, act it out or even fight it. Simply be present. Then enjoy the inevitable melting of the painbody Witch and the release of positive energy that will follow. This is emotional intelligence.

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transcendence

Episcopal priest Rev. Ed Bacon* recently posted a short poem by Kim Rosen titled “In Impossible Darkness.” It caught both my attention and imagination.  Here it is:

In Impossible Darkness

Do you know how

the caterpillar

turns?

Do you remember

what happens

inside a cocoon?

You liquefy.

There in the thick black

of your self-spun womb,

void as the moon before waxing,

you melt

(as Christ did

for three days 
in the tomb)

conceiving

in impossible darkness

the sheer 
inevitability

of wings.

—Kim Rosen

I am sure that this has great meaning for many Christian Believers. But I see meaning and importance far beyond its seasonal Christian treatment. I see profound “spiritual” and psychological implication as well. So in the echoes of Passover, Easter and blossoms of springtime, allow me to muse out-loud. You see, to me this is a poem about change, about transcendence.

Change is seldom easy. You almost always have to “liquefy.”  What does liquefy mean (to me)? It means you have to come apart, dis-integrate, change your current form and then re-organize into something different (and if to have any true importance), something better.  The butterfly has its entire original DNA; it is just reorganized. The butterfly-you and the butterfly-me are the same essential person but our function and capacity are altered. We have wings now—wings that give us freedom and mobility. Unlike a creeping caterpillar bound by the weight of its encumbered life, we can now fly.

The change is seldom instantaneous, there is almost always a “tomb” experience—an experience that is set-apart, and to some degree tumultuous. An experience that is identifiable, if by no other distinction than by its ridiculous disturbance to what we are use to. It could be as simple as a bad-hair day (like one that I had last week) or a more catastrophic event like a divorce or the death of a loved one (like the recent passing of my dear brother-in-law).  In my book, I refer to this as the Land of Oz. The Land of Oz is a passageway, an uncharted pit stop where we go to liquefy and change into something more true to our best selves. It is where we fire our fraudulent Wizards; it is where we face our inner Witches (see my blog on Pain Body) and they melt; and, the place where we develop Lion-power, Tin Man-love and Scarecrow-mindfulness.

I once heard of an African-American preacher who gave a sermon for Good Friday (the day that many Christians honor the death of Jesus). The sermon was profound yet elegantly simple. Here is the sermon in its entirety:

It’s Friday . . . but Sunday** is coming.

He just kept repeating that phrase over and over again with increasing crescendo and varying punctuation.

So for those of us going through a tomb experience, who are “liquefied in the darkness;” for those of us who are in the throes of an “Oz” experience, confused and disoriented—take hope. When we go through these experiences with grace (profound love for ourselves) and truth (with full consciousness), there are wings waiting inevitably for us. Please note: this not cute sentimentality; this is good psychology. This is neurology at its best. The change is real. This is how we become more emotionally intelligent. This is how we become our best butterfly selves.

 

P.S. For those of you who are waiting for Part 2 of my blog on Eckhart Tolle’s Pain Body, it is coming soon.

 

______________________

[*] The Reverend Ed Bacon is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena and a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Super Soul Sunday. He is the author of 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind (2012, 2013).

[**] Sunday refers to Easter Sunday, which is when traditional Christians believe that Jesus rose alive from the tomb.

painbody and emotional intelligence

The #1 Deterrent to Emotional Intelligence 

My favorite psychological author is not a psychologist (although he has studied psychology, along with philosophy and literature). As a spiritual director and thought leader, Eckhart Tolle is beyond definition—he is not affiliated with any particular religion. In his books (The Power of Now and A New Earth) he introduces what he calls the “painbody.”  In a 2010 Huffington Post article he states that, “there is such a thing as old emotional pain living inside you. It is an accumulation of painful life experience that was not fully faced and accepted in the moment it arose. It leaves behind an energy form of emotional pain. It comes together with other energy forms from other instances, and so after some years you have a ‘painbody,’ an energy entity consisting of old emotion.”

This is not a new idea. The Apostle Paul referred to the flesh, Carl Jung described an archetype he called The Shadow, psychoanalysts coined the term introjects, and I talk about Witches in my book (Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst). All of these have a notation of some kind of negative psychological entity that takes up residence in the human psyche (or soul/mind) that wreaks havoc within a person and then between persons. (Think of your last argument with your spouse or child. There was probably a good deal of painbody activated.)

Here are a few characteristic of painbody worth briefly noting:

  • It is an un-integrated negative psychological entity that comes in large part from negative experiences that were never fully processed and healed at the time.  One of the most important roles of a parent is to pay attention to their child and when he or she becomes distressed, to intervene to help the child with their negative emotions. As parents help them integrate these emotions, children develop self-regulation, but when this fails to happen regularly, these negative experiences collate and coagulate in the brain/mind to create painbody.
  • Everyone has some painbody. It is part of the human condition. (In fact, Tolle suggests that painbody of a nation is passed down to people within that nation or culture.)
  • The painbody takes many forms and manifestations: hurt, hate, depression, self-hate, anxiety, fear, alienation, despair, emotional drama (making mountains out of molehills), blame, even physical illness.
  • Our PainBodies can be active or dormant. In this way and many more, the painbody is like a virus. It lies dormant until something internal (like a negative thought) or external (you’re late for a flight) triggers the painbody and then it erupts. Some fortunate people have only occasional outbreaks of painbody. Others live in an almost-constant state of pain and misery—always unhappy, depressed or angry.
  • The painbody takes over the mind. Most often we identify with the painbody, thinking as it thinks. For example, the painbody makes it easy to believe that “I am a loser” or perhaps “my spouse is an alcoholic” even when there is no outside reality. (Just like viruses take over the DNA in our cells, the painbody literally hijacks the thinking part of the mind.)
  • Like any thing that is alive, it needs to eat and the painbody feeds on energy like itself; it feeds on pain. Against all reason, it looks for things to make it mad or sad or scared and then keeps the feeding going. It will instigate a fight with a spouse. It will passive-aggressively provoke a reaction from a boss or client. All of us parents have experienced our children deliberately provoking us to anger . . . to feed their newly developing painbody. When we have ample opportunity to avoid conflict or negativity about ourselves, we fail to do so. We have a hungry painbody to feed.

So what does this have to do with emotional intelligence (EQ)? EQ has everything to do with a positive yet accurate view of our self, self-control and the ability to “manage” our relationships with kindness and agency. EQ has to do with what is called flow: easy authentic emotional movement. EQ is congruent with reality and works realistically with “what is.” EQ easily and readily digests positive emotions (like joy, gratitude and love) and processes negative experiences in stride. Painbody undermines everything that I just described about EQ.

I have a psychotherapy client who is a gifted young woman who has everything going for her. And yet when she has a painbody eruption, she is fully convinced that she is an awful, worthless person, who has nothing to look forward to in her life. When evidence to the contrary is pointed out to her, she fights back with fury. Her painbody cannot digest hope and truth. She is on a feeding frenzy and will only accept raw pain for food. Her EQ is severely disabled.

In the next blog article, I will talk about what Tolle has (and I likewise have) discovered to be simple, effective ways to “manage” the painbody while also releasing all the positive energy that has been stuck in our psyche, freeing us to live emotionally intelligent (and thus happy) lives.