The day before yesterday I was driving along listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. As usually happens, an idea for a blog post randomly came together in my mind, and I decided I would call it Black Holes and Rip Currents. But at the time, I only had a faint idea of what I would write about.
Yesterday morning I woke up to the FB headline that Stephen Hawking had just died. My blog post idea timing was very curious because Hawking is well known for his physics work on black holes.
Black holes can currently only be observed indirectly. While they do emit teeny amounts of radiation, known as Hawking radiation, it is still too small of an amount to be measured. Instead, scientists conclude black holes exist because they can see the chaotic behavior that occurs in certain places in space; the black holes influence the movement of stars and slow energies moving by them just a little too closely. If a star is pulled in by the black hole, it passes the event horizon, or point of no return, where it can no longer escape because of its inadequate escape velocity.
Black holes are essentially any body that has an escape velocity greater than the speed of light. Basically, for a particle to move away from the black hole, it has to be traveling faster than the speed at which light travels. Just as a fun side note, for something to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, it needs to be traveling roughly 25,000 mph. But, if the Earth could be squished down into a ball with a radius of 8 millimeters (about the size of a marble), it would become a black hole- meaning that to escape the Earth’s atmosphere, an object would need to be traveling faster than the speed of light (about 6,700,00,000 mph). For an interesting break down of the math, click here.
Have you ever met people that just completely suck you in with all of their drama? Everything in their lives is a problem, and when you enter their orbit, they somehow make their problems your problems, too?
Or, maybe you are that person – you can’t stand being in misery by yourself so you consciously or unconsciously do whatever necessary to entice others to step in and experience your pain with you?
Or, there are people who might not have any real drama or problems of their own, but they feel the need to suck in all the negativity around them and take on everyone else’s problems?
In his writings, Eckart Tolle talks extensively about the idea of the pain body. He defines it as “the accumulation of old emotional pain that almost all people carry in their energy field. I see it as a semi-autonomous psychic entity. It consists of negative emotions that were not faced, accepted, and then let go in the moment they arose. These negative emotions leave a residue of emotional pain, which is stored in the cells of the body.”
Tolle says that the pain body in each of us, or sometimes collectively as humans, has a dormant state and also one where it ‘awakens’ to feed. It thrives on negativity, suffering, and drama. The pain body is evident in people that seem to be addicted to unhappiness or are always finding problems in things. I’m pretty sure we’ve all met at least someone who seems able to create problems out of nothing, and who can’t seem to be content without drama in their life. Maybe we’ve even seen this tendency within ourselves.
When I first read about the pain body years ago, I thought Tolle was being a little over the top. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see that each of us has a pain body that is kind of a living being within each of us. Haven’t we all felt at times like we had no control over our anger? Or maybe horrible words flew out of our mouths and we wondered where they came from? Or times when you’re so upset, or sad, or mad that you feel like a puppet being propelled along by some other force?
Sometimes the pain body can be seen clearly in relationships you have with other people. Marriage or romantic partnerships can be prime examples of this. Have you ever noticed cyclical patterns in your relationships? Things may be trucking along just fine, but then something happens and either you or your partner starts getting grumpy, or petty, or negative in some way. The next thing you know the two of you are sucked into a huge drama-filled conflict for a few hours or days, and then, perhaps suddenly, it can vanish as quickly as it appeared. As Tolle describes, your pain bodies have gotten their fill for a while and are going to sleep off their fat stomachs until they need more negative nourishment and come back to pick another fight.
Black holes can increase in size by absorbing mass surrounding them. And pain bodies increase in size by absorbing negativity from around them. These pain bodies are what cause our suffering. It has been said that to experience pain is human, but to experience suffering is optional. The older I get, the more I think this is really true. We suffer when we allow our pain bodies to suck in and hold tightly to the negativity and bad things that happen to us, forcing us to carry the pain indefinitely within us. If we didn’t allow our pain bodies to accumulate negativity, the pain in life we experienced would just touch us for a brief time and then move on, and we would be able to recover much more quickly.
So, how do we deal with our pain bodies, these things that we can’t observe directly but know are there because of the chaos that can surround us when they are awake and feeding?
I’m going to toss out two ideas, or analogies, that feel helpful to me based on what I’ve read in Tolle’s work.
1. Other people’s pain bodies have an escape velocity. Dr. David Hawkins came up with a Map of Consciousness to help people track their movement towards spiritual enlightenment. Now, you may look at this and think it is entirely hokey, but hang with me. His levels are considered energy or vibrations, which he says in his book, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, are directly measurable by muscle conductance. Each of these levels is associated with motivation for how we live out our lives. The lowest energy levels, at 20 and 30, are shame and guilt. Moving up a bit you hit apathy, then grief, and then fear. As one continues to grow in consciousness, their motivations cross from being negative energy fields and instead become positive energy fields. Acceptance at 350, love at 500, unconditional love at 540.
Negative particles fall into black holes, but positive particles are freed as Hawking radiation. ‘I’m not claiming that consciousness energy levels/pain bodies and black holes are identical, but analogies are fun so I’m going with it.) Similarly, pain bodies have a greater ability to suck in people who are motivated by negative energy levels like fear and shame, while people operating out of positive energy levels like acceptance, fear, and love are more immune to a pain body’s toxic effects.
Our country is polarized right now on so many topics, whether it be reproductive rights, gun rights, Republicans versus Democrats, etc. Primary motivators that both sides of these arguments use to pull people in their direction are fear and anger. These two emotions have escape velocities that are really difficult to reach, which is why I think so many of us fall prey to them on social media and other realms of our lives. We try to move outward and escape all the hurtful rhetoric, but then get sucked back in when our anger or fear receptors are triggered.
I think it’s helpful, when we become aware that we are getting sucked into an individual or collective pain body, or when we feel our own pain bodies being awakened by circumstances, that we consciously stop and determine what is motivating us at that particular time. Are we responding out of fear? Out of anger? Out of pride, or grief, or some other negative energy?
Also, we need to learn to watch others’ pain bodies, and stay away from the people who have bigger pain bodies than we can handle. I’ve had countless times in my life where I get sucked into other people’s pain with the intention that I was going to try and “help” them or “fix” them. Inevitably, these situations just turned out to be codependence; our pain bodies became intertwined, our drama became each other’s drama, and nobody was fixed. I’m pretty convinced now that to really know how to help someone with a big, hungry pain body, you have to be at a high enough level of consciousness (or escape velocity) yourself, so that you don’t get pulled into past the event horizon of their pain where there is little chance of return. Or, to put it in familiar terms: you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you try and put an oxygen mask on someone else. Sometimes, you just have to stay away from people whose pain is too big, or those who are unwilling to address their pain. Boundaries to protect yourself from the black holes of other people’s pain bodies are a good thing.
2. To deal with your own pain body, treat it like a rip current. I realize that rip currents have nothing to do with black holes, but they both are powerful forces that pull things in with amazing speed, so humor me here. Rip currents are a particular kind of current that occurs on beaches near breaking waves that can be really dangerous for swimmers. When people get caught in these currents, they tend to panic that they will be carried out to sea, and fight to swim straight back to shore against the current. Doing so is an exhausting endeavor and can lead to swimmers drowning because of sheer fatigue of fighting against the fast-moving water. The way to get out of a rip current is not to swim back against the current, but to turn and swim parallel to the shoreline.
The first step to dealing with your pain body is to become aware of it and learn to watch it rise and fall within you. Fighting against pain is futile; it exhausts us, causes increased suffering, and the pain body won’t go away just by us struggling against it because our struggle only serves to feed the pain body and help it grow. By coming alongside our pain bodies once we see them, we can watch them and accept the fact that we have them. This, according to what I perceive from Tolle, is the first step in decreasing their hunger and control over our lives.
Just like you would initially relax into a rip current and float, as you gather your wits about you to begin swimming perpendicular to the rip current, so you need to relax into the knowledge that you’ve got a pain monster inside of you before you start dealing with it.
We can’t become completely conscious overnight, and we can’t just make our pain bodies disappear. But if we take the time to stop and observe ourselves and those around us, we will begin to discern the effects of both sets of pain bodies. Learn to watch for the chaotic ripples that flow out from certain people. Pay attention to the ways that you tend to get sucked into their drama and conflicts. And most importantly, begin to look deeply inside and become familiar with your own pain body. As you do this, you’ll soon notice there is a separation between the pain body and the real you. You’ll discover that you no longer have to just “react” to what happens to you; instead, you can accept what happens, and thoughtfully, calmly, choose how you will respond out of your true self.