We all know what anxiety is. That feeling that arises when we react to perceived threats.
Some people experience it daily and intensely. Others experience it occasionally.
It is actually a normal and healthy human emotion that can propel us into action. However, the problem is when it can get out of control and become destructive, taking away our quality of life.
The author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has a very useful way of understanding what anxiety is and how to deal with it when it arises.
He refers to the concept of the “painbody”, which is an old emotional pain living inside of you. It may have accumulated from past traumatic experiences and sticks around because these painful experiences were not fully faced and accepted the moment they arose.
By understanding the painbody and how to accept your experience in the present moment, you’ll be much better able to deal with anxiety and live a much better life.
The painbody gets amplified by the ego
According to Tolle, the painbody lives in human beings and comes from the ego:
“When the ego is amplified by the emotion of the painbody, the ego has enormous strength still – particularly at those times. It requires very great presence so that you can be there as the space also for your painbody, when it arises.”
This is everyone’s job in this life. We need to be there and recognize our painbody when it shifts from dormant to active. At that moment, when it takes over your mind, the internal dialogue we have – which is dysfunctional at the best of times – now becomes the voice of the painbody talking to us internally.
Everything it tells us is deeply influenced by the old, painful emotion of the painbody. Every interpretation, everything it says, every judgement about your life and what’s happening, will be totally distorted by the old emotional pain.
If you are alone, the painbody will feed on every negative thought that arises and get more energy. You end up thinking about things for hours, depleting your energy.
Eckhart Tolle explains how we experience emotions like anxiety, stress or anger:
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and
not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms
of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
How to catch your painbody
How can we be present and catch our painbody at an early stage, so we don’t get drawn into it depleting our energy?
The key is to understand that little situations trigger enormous reactions, and when that happens be present with yourself.
You need to create space inside yourself for the painbody, and then remove yourself from that space. Be present with yourself, and look at the situation from a detached place.
As Tolle says:
“If you are present, the painbody cannot feed anymore on your thoughts, or on other people’s reactions. You can simply observe it, and be the witness, be the space for it. Then gradually, its energy will decrease.”
Tolle says the first step to enlightenment is to be an “observer” of the mind:
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”