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How to Heal the Pain Body
Mandy: Do you think it is possible to be a heart-centered person with feelings, but not be emotional? To still know who one really is? Do you think it is more difficult for head-centered people to feel and be there for others? I don’t know. I just think that some are ruled more by the heart and others more by the head. I still want to be a heart-centered, feeling type, but do not want to lose my balance by getting emotional because of ignorance about who I REALLY am. Do you think that is possible?
James: Yes, it is entirely possible. The first issue that I think you might profitably look at is the notion “I am an emotional person.” It is true that you experience negative emotions often, but does this mean that you are an emotional person? What about all the times you are not emotional? I think you probably spend as much time unemotional or in a positive emotional state as you do in a negative emotional state, i.e. fear, anger and worry. So why define yourself in this way? I think it is better to see Mandy as sometimes emotional and sometimes not. It is like seeing Obama as a black man. In fact he is half black and half white. So is he a black man? He is just as much a white man. It completely depends on your point of view. Why choose to see him as black – or white? The way out of this is to see him as a human being who has dark skin. Problem solved. The human identity transcends the body identity.
Vedanta says that your true identity is not human, but a human identity is a better place to start to discover your non-human identity. Human being is not a perfect identity, because certain problems come along with it, but it is better than a bodily or emotional identity. So the point here is to discriminate your self from the emotions you experience. If you identify with the emotional body you will be up and down, depending on the emotions at play at the moment. It would be fine if you had control of your unconscious mind, but you don’t. You cannot try to be emotional. It does not work. It is something that happens without your will. It is conditioned, automatic, the stars. This is not to say that you cannot gain control of your emotions. I will try to explain the way to accomplish it.
The first issue that you need to work though if you are going to get a handle on your emotions is: “Why am I emotional? What causes these negative feelings?” I think you tend to chalk it up to the stars – my something is square or in opposition to something else, etc. But there is another simpler and more useful explanation: “I am not getting what I want. Things are not going the way I expect them to go. People are not treating me the way I want to be treated. The world should be different from what it is. I am not good enough, etc.”
If you look at it from the idea that emotions are related to the satisfaction of desires, there is hope. The cause is with you all the time, not locked in some events in the past – the stars, your childhood, etc. For example, when you cut your finger on the can and your brother and sister-in-law were not sympathetic – “What’s the big deal? Only a bloody finger! – you experienced negative emotional feelings for quite a long time whenever you thought of them.
What was at the root of those feelings? It was an expectation, a desire, to be treated a certain way. When a person does not get what he or she wants, one of two things happens emotionally. He or she gets angry or depressed or angry and then depressed. Since your mind is rajasic it gets angry first and then the depression sets in and you start to doubt yourself. Self-doubt is tamasic. It is why you dither. So the whole issue is: “Does my happiness depend on whether or not I get what I want?” This is a big one, Mandy, because everyone basically defines happiness as getting what one wants. But is it true that getting what you want makes you happy? And even it if does, the happiness is only temporary, forcing you to want something else to get some happiness. So if you want to deal with this problem, you are going to have to confront that part of your mind that wants what it wants the way it wants it when it wants it. It is not necessarily a fun task, but it needs to be sorted out or the negative emotions will keep coming.
The problem with the view that you should get what you want is that life does not really care if you get what you want. It has a certain program and that program trumps your program. If what you want is in harmony with the total – “God’s will,” if you like religious terminology – then there is a reasonable chance that you will get what you want. If not, not. When you understand this fact, then you are confronted with another problem: “Is God/the universe/the dharma field a benign God? Is life for me or against me?” The primary driving force for most negative emotions is a deep existential doubt/fear: “Does God/universe have my best interests in mind or is it out to get me?” Don’t ask the media for its view if you want to be happy. As long as you cannot see that God is benign, tasked with the job of looking after everything, including you, then you will have negative emotions. You will continually be trying to protect yourself from hurt and you will do everything you can to keep your emotional butt covered. You will be very sensitive to the opinions of others, for example. Even the idea that someone does not like you will disturb you.
If you look at life dispassionately – discounting all the fear-mongering that the world seems to revel in – you will see that it is a benign field of energy. If you look at your own situation you cannot in all fairness conclude that you do not have an excellent life. You have beauty. You have health. You have financial security. You have good friends. You have a lovely place to stay. You have the good sense to eat right and behave ethically. You have an abiding spiritual vasana. You have been to the Third World, so you definitely know how fortunate you are. Where exactly is the downside? On every account you have been taken care of in one way or another. When you really appreciate this fact, there is only one possible emotion: devotion to God. Why? Because God, the dharma field – okay, life – provided it all.
The next idea that bears looking into is self-love, self-esteem. If you can only love yourself when you are getting what you want, then you will definitely have emotional problems for the reason just stated. If things are not going the way you want them to go – your mother is getting old and senile, your students are flocking to another counselor, Ramji is being difficult, etc. – you might be tempted to think there was something “wrong” with you. There is never anything “wrong” with you when things are not going the way you want them to go. Even if you consider the difficult patch we have been through, see how it came out: our friendship has deepened and you are actually starting to “get it” spiritually. All the work you have put in spiritually over the years is starting to pay off. The truth is starting to “sink in,” to use your words. So even the so-called “bad” stuff is actually good stuff. Everything is teaching you something valuable, the good and the bad, the dharma and the adharma in the field of existence. When you understand this, dispassion develops. You are no longer afraid of “bad” outcomes. I think this dithering problem – which really drains you emotionally – is based on the fear of a bad outcome. But there are no bad outcomes. There are just outcomes and each one is an opportunity to learn and grow spiritually. Dithering is fear-response. You reason that if you can avoid making a decision you can avoid a potentially bad outcome. But you cannot avoid acting. You have no choice about it. And the emotional karma that flows from the idea that you can avoid unpleasantness – the dithering – is always much worse than the unpleasantness itself.
Here is another idea to contemplate: Can you only love yourself when you are getting what you want? Does not getting what you want mean that there is something wrong with you? Generally, when life is going your way, you feel quite pleased with yourself. You feel that you have made the right decisions and that you are quite wonderful. You love yourself. And conversely, you do not love yourself when you are not getting what you want. But is it right to associate your love of yourself with whether your desires are satisfied or not?
If you are on the spiritual path, you are going for peace of mind because it is only in a peaceful mind that happiness arises and the self is appreciated for what it is. You can argue that the way to make your mind peaceful is to give it what it wants, but we know that this is not a solution, because the results of your actions are not up to you. Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes not. You are not the determining factor. But there is one thing you can control: how you react to what you get or don’t get. You can get emotional or you can get devotional. You can see what happens in a positive light based on the idea that life is looking after you – which it is. Or you can take it in a negative light based on the idea that the world does not appreciate poor little you, and boo hoo, how awful.
So the key to emotional happiness lies in a clear understanding concerning the purpose of your life here. Are you just here to get what you want or are you here for a higher purpose? If you understand that you are here for a higher purpose and that object-oriented happiness is a slippery slope, you will apply the karma yoga attitude to your mind at every opportunity. Karma yoga means you will be grateful for everything that happens and doesn’t happen because you will have understood that, all things considered, this is the only attitude appropriate to your true nature. To make it simple, you will continually count your blessings. This is how you destroy that self-centered emotional body, the “pain body,” to quote Eckhart Tolle. The pain body exists for no other reason than the simple fact that you believe that life should be different from what it is and/or that you should be different from what you are. It has nothing to do with the past, the stars. So this belief needs to be exposed for what it is and patiently eradicated with continual vigilance. Life cannot be different from what it is. It is set up a certain way. It has always been this way. Nobody can change it. You were created a certain way – your stars – and you cannot change it. You can only change the way you see it. This is where the free will comes in.
So the only thing keeping the negative emotions going is the lack of clarity about your true purpose here and the failure to take the bull by the horns and take up karma yoga. I get the most inspiring emails all the time from people who have see amazing results from karma yoga. Karma yoga is a positive emotional response to life based on the facts of life. It is only difficult – and it can be very difficult indeed – if you think that getting what you want the way you want it when you want it is actually a workable proposition. This is how you heal your pain body.
Vedanta is a method of self-inquiry. Above I have tried to demonstrate one of the most powerful inquires in Vedanta’s arsenal. If you contemplate deeply on it I think you cannot help but agree with the outcome of this analysis. Inquiry converts emotion into devotion. To develop devotion, which is the highest form of emotion, you need to investigate and question your beliefs, opinions, desires and fears. You have to stop believing in what you believe, in what you think. This can be profoundly unsettling because most of us are little more than what we think and believe. But it is the only way. The unexamined life is not worth living.
~ Much love, Ram