“Pain-body” is a term made popular by Eckhart Tolle (the author of The Power of Now) as part of his process for helping people get beyond the tendency to live in the past and future. It’s also used as part of the training in some meditation methods (in Robert Newman’s Childbirth Meditation, for example). It refers to the accumulated memories and ideas of being hurt that sometimes seem to take us over and prevent us from living fully.
The purpose of the term is to help us see that the feelings of emotional or physical pain are not us, they’re not who we are and we’re not stuck with them. It’s intended to help us realize that we are the observer of the distress, not the distress itself, and we can move beyond it.
Unfortunately, the use of a label like that also makes the experience into something. It encourages us to think there’s something “other” than us that’s trying to “do something to us.” That’s not how I work.
My preference is to recognize that a distressing feeling is part of a story that I’m experiencing and I can choose to experience something else. It’s kind of like those movies where the actors are sitting around as adults and suddenly children are sitting in their places–they’ve been “hooked” or “triggered” by the experience into the same feelings and behaviors they had as children so they might as well be their child selves.
By realizing that the feelings I’m having are associated with a story I’m telling myself, I can recognize the fact and choose otherwise.
I can feel distressed about something–or not. I can tell myself I “have a right” to feel what I’m feeling–or I can choose to tell myself a more pleasant story about what I’m experiencing–and maybe even enjoy the moment! And the best part is, the more often I do so, the less power the old story has and, in fact, it begins to disappear from my awareness.
Ah, I hear the next question: “How?”
Tolle is absolutely correct in stating that the simple act of recognizing that I’m acting out, rather than being my true self, is most of the process. Just being aware. Observing my feelings and actions, rather than being carried away by them. And in fact, most meditation practices are designed to help us do just that.
Going the next step takes even more practice… and every human being on the planet is still working on this (we wouldn’t be in our bodies if we weren’t!
Once I recognize that I’m living from a story I don’t like, I can use any number of tricks to make the shift. The easiest is to stop and breathe. The next easiest is to count to 5 or 10. The next is to have a prayer or mantra like Brother Lawrence and other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu mystics… something like, “Lord Jesus have mercy” or “Grant us peace” or “In’Sh’Allah” or “Om Shanti Om.” Any of them will remind us of the Truth we’d rather be living than this story that has us so upset or in pain.
And yes, it works for physical pain as well as emotional distress. In fact, really, it’s the only thing that does work! We take “pain killers” to numb ourselves so we can do the mental work that allows us to be free of the pain–otherwise it keeps coming back, or never goes away!