Shake It Off: How to Escape From Your Pain-Body

“You are going to tell me that you didn’t say anything, but I can tell what you’re thinking,” I say through gritted teeth.

“I’m sorry,” is my husband’s reply, but his face shows puzzlement and the resentment of the wrongly accused, not contrition or concern.

He does his curious head-turning move, which is a full turn from right to left with a little dip of the chin. It’s like shrugging with your neck. Then he turns away, like the conversation is over.

In a voice trembling with fury, I accuse him, “You just don’t care, do you?”

His voice takes on a blaming tone, “Now you’re just trying to hurt me. What do you want from me?”

“You should know.”

What are we arguing about? It really doesn’t matter. Here are some real-life subjects we have fought over: golf, tennis, too much courtesy, restaurant choices, laundry settings, what time to leave the house, you name it.

In my rational moments, I admit that there’s probably nothing Bill could do that would satisfy me when I’m in that “spoiling for a fight” mood. But I would never give him that satisfaction. HA!


Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and author of A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, finally explains what’s happening when I – and you too, maybe? – get into such a deep funk that nothing can mollify me. I was taken over by my pain-body. The pain-body consists of old emotional pain, traumas from the past that never had a chance to heal. “The energy field of old but still very-much-alive emotion that lives in almost every human being is the pain-body. “

The pain-body can lie dormant for weeks, months, sometimes years, but when the proper triggers are pulled, when one’s buttons are pushed, the pain-body awakens and goes looking for trouble. It feeds on negative thinking. It creates drama. “The pain-body is an addiction to unhappiness.” Not only that, but the pain-body wants to make everyone around it unhappy.

There are two ways of escaping from the pain-body and its effects. One is to wait it out. After days or weeks, the pain-body, like a tick that glommed on you, is full and quits. By that time, you are exhausted and your relationships are in tatters.


The second way is to just shake off the pain body. Tolle compares this process to the way ducks behave when they squabble. After two ducks fight, they swim apart, each flapping its wings vigorously to release excess energy, and then float off. It’s over.

According to Tolle, “[t]he beginning of freedom from the pain-body lies first in the realization that you have a pain-body.” Then, it is necessary to notice, at the time it is happening, the process of being taken over by the pain body. Be aware of your negative emotions, anger and hostility in real time. “Yes, I am mad. Yes, I feel unjustly treated. Yes, I don’t feel understood.” Such awareness, or Presence, as Tolle puts it, promotes “dis-identification” with the pain-body. Mindfulness is the key to achieving awareness.

Each person’s pain-body, as expected, has different components and triggers, as many as there are thoughts. Mine include being Chinese, not speaking English when I first came to America, being a woman, being in a hyper-competitive family, having various hang-ups with men, needing a hysterectomy at age 33, and more. The exciting and revolutionary aspect of what Tolle is teaching in A New Earth is that one doesn’t have to slog through all of that. No years of lying on the couch dredging up old stories and old hurts. It is enough to become aware, and then disengage, with those thoughts and grudges, with the old earth, with the Ego.

I want to give you an example of an incident from this morning. Bill and I were walking in the neighborhood. We came to a spot where ornamental grasses narrowed the walk so that only one of us could pass at a time. He, as he often does, stopped in his tracks, maybe even took a step or two backwards. Besides breaking my walking rhythm, it annoyed me that he was telling me in this way that I should walk ahead. “Control through courtesy,” I’ve often charged.

This whole cascade of thoughts and feelings zipped through my mind right there on the sidewalk. This gave me a chance to consider my reaction. I realized that I have a choice. I could be mad that he’s directing where I should go or I could flap my wings and float off. I chose the latter.

Tell me: What pushes the triggers on your pain-body?

By Cathy Luh

I am a doctor, a writer and Grammy to Edin and Caleb. I live in St. Louis with husband Bill.

2 replies on “Shake It Off: How to Escape From Your Pain-Body”

I was much more confrontational in the past. My son once told me I was standoffish. I asked him what he meant. He said, “You don’t mind having a stand-off.”


‘Pain-body’ is an interesting metaphor, perhaps a relabeling of the old Freudian repression model. The ‘awareness and swim away’ treatment seems a lot more efficient than the eternal dredging up of past conflicts. Personally, I can’t think of any ‘triggers,’ especially now that I live in relative isolation. In past relationships I was rarely angry; perhaps if I had been more confrontational things would have worked out differently.


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