The Ego and Pain-Body
The Cambridge Dictionary defines ego as: “Your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability.”
Psychology and popular spirituality have different definitions of ego, which can be somewhat confusing. Western Psychology describes ego as the part of our personality responsible for organizing and conscious decision-making. When I refer to the ego in this blog, I’m not discussing this healthy type of ego, but the more troublesome type described below.
Popular spiritual books such as Eckhart Tolle’s use a concept of ego closer to that of Eastern philosophy, describing unhealthy identification and attachment to a small sense of self, which results in compulsive thinking, comparing, negative judgments and mental patterns. Rather than being fully aware and present in the Now, we become unconsciously caught up in negative states of mind and resist what’s appearing in the present moment. Eckhart Tolle refers to being overly identified with the ego in this way as being “unconscious.”
When our mind becomes identified with the ego, it can seem like there’s a voice in our head repeating judgments and stories, many of them negative. This chatter of the egoic mind takes us out of the present moment (where things are often okay) into resistance of what is. This resistance creates pain and unhappiness.
When we center ourselves in the present moment and observe the resistance and negativity of the ego rather than being caught up in it, we are no longer unconscious, but have returned to a state of presence. This state of presence and full awareness is where inner peace begins.
The Pain Body
We’ve all experienced those times when we aren’t able to handle things and we lose it—getting angry or upset, often saying or doing things we later regret. Something in our present life situation is triggering us and bringing up pain from the past, or the pain has built up to an unmanageable level. This stored-up emotion is known as the pain body.
The pain body “….consists not just of childhood pain, but also painful emotions that were added to it later in adolescence and during your adult life, much of it created by the voice of the ego.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Sometimes I’ve felt like a tightrope walker who’s trying to stay connected to my heart’s wisdom, but can too easily let a small hurt knock me off into the pain body’s pit of despair and self-judgment. Small hurts may seem tiny enough to let go, but they also can build up and create a large amount of pain. Adding more hurts to an already large body of pain can put us in danger of falling into despair, exploding at those around us, or taking it out on ourselves.
So, what can we do to help ourselves through recurring pain? The situations and people in our lives aren’t all going to magically change so that we’re never hurt again. Although it’s a process and it’s not always easy, parts of our lives need to be accepted as they are, at least in the present moment. Others we can work on improving.
Either way, we can come back to our heart and hold our feelings in compassion. We can open up to our heart’s wisdom for a higher view of what’s really going on. Sometimes we need to sit with our pain and write about it, talk it out, or pound pillows. We may need to consult a professional counselor. However we confront our pain, we want to be accepting of the fact that we’re human and this pain exists, then recognize what it is we’re dealing with so we can learn something from it. How can we use what it’s telling us to help make positive changes in our lives? How can we move forward in the highest and best way for ourselves and those around us?
Then most importantly, we connect with our higher power and send ourselves love and acceptance. We are absolutely worthy of love despite our pain and our struggles dealing with it. No matter what others do or say, no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter our life difficulties, we are strong and we are loved. Our higher power is always there for us, no matter the earthly situation. We can rise above and learn to feel better.