The following is an in depth analysis and exploration of the material found in Chapter Five of Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose from his class with Oprah. It covers the topic of the pain-body, what it is, how it works and why. The focus was also on the power of our thoughts, and how to free ourselves from negative, repetitive thought patterns for our spiritual evolution.

The chapter on the Pain-Body allows us to gain a deeper understanding of how most people function. Eckhart explains in this chapter that we all get so caught up with “me and my story” that we revolve our lives and thoughts around that, thinking that is who we are, when it is far from the truth. You can really feel the power and potential of this chapter after reading only the first paragraph of this chapter.

One can get a quick understanding of this potential by reading the following words from Eckhart:

The greater part of most people’s thinking is involuntary, automatic, and repetitive. It is no more than a kind of mental static and fulfills no real purpose.

If we could grasp that aspect alone, and hence move our thoughts from being useless and unconscious to inspired thoughts that come from a space of consciousness, one can imagine the magnitude of change that can be brought about almost instantly on this planet.

Thinking, like breathing, just happens

Anyone who has ever studied the body systems in perhaps their high school biology class knows that processes like breathing, digestion and circulation just happen. You do not have to think about them to do them – they just happen. But let us focus for a minute on breathing as it as a little more special than the other two in that you can consciously control it. Think about people who practice meditative or deep breathing. What they claim to get out of it are amazing results for their mind and body. They are able to bring about a state of calmness and peace and serenity. Some take away hours of stress in just a few simple yet mindful breaths.

Now take that example and apply it to your own thinking. No matter what, thinking like breathing happens to you. You do not have to “think” about it (no pun intended there) for it to happen – it just does. But now thinking of the above example and the power a few mindful breaths have on our well being, relay the same message to your thinking. When you make your thinking conscious, like conscious breathing, you get amazing benefits also for your well being. Just like with the breathing, you can bring about a state of peace and calm through conscious thoughts and instantly zap away the worries and stresses and anxieties as you bring yourself to the moment of now.

Eckhart explained that indeed the key to productive thinking is to become aware of it and the voice that it resides as in your mind. Unconscious thinking only makes up your superficial reality and it is from this that people derive their superficial sense of self. Ultimately, this is not who they or we are.

At one point Eckhart said we are a species that has lost its way. Wow, what a profound statement and yet so, so true. We have such potential within us and most days, most of it is completely wasted by not being recognized. Eckhart finished this section with Oprah saying that “the most important step to awakening is to recognize that there is a voice in the head speaking” and my addition to this is…you know it – it is not you.

What is the Pain-Body?

Eckhart then continued to explain what the pain-body really is. He began by saying that many people are so attached to the past that they carry a heavy burden with them like a big sack. And what is amazing that as heavy and as big as you think that “past burden” is, as soon as you become present, you are free of your past. See it is in presence that you see the reality around you in a new light, and it is at those moments that you realize that the past no longer exists. Also any hold you “think” it has over you is just that a thought not in the presence of your being. It is an unconscious way of thinking that lingers inside of you and builds your pain-body.

At this point in the webcast Oprah recalled her childhood and explained how hard especially the first years of her life were. She shared that not only was she physical hit as a young girl, she was also told not to show any emotion about it. Eckhart added to this that any negative emotion that is not dealt with, especially in children does not completely dissolve; instead it lingers and hence starts building the pain body. Therefore children carry especially heavy pain-bodies.

Eckhart also reminded us here that any emotion or thought is energy, as any quantum physicist will agree. Therefore the pain-body is an energy form that lives in you. It is not some kind of a ghost or eerie creature; it simply is a negative field of energy that accumulates due to suppressed negative emotion throughout your life.

How does the Pain-Body Feed?

Since the pain-body is negative energy and according to universal laws like energies attract like energies, the pain body craves negative situations. The pain-body seeks negativity as this is its favorite way to feed and hence sustain itself, as Eckhart described. It therefore most often manifests itself in personal relationships. And here a light bulb definitely goes off in my head each time – look around at how most married couples treat each other – they seek drama and have bouts of anger and yelling and all sorts of other things that we don’t need to mention here. And it does not stop there, have you ever experienced an angry teenager? Their pain-body is starting to fully come out and most often it ends up feeding right back from who it originated – the parents.

In romantic relationships, the partners basically know how to push each other’s buttons. And what starts out as a lovely romantic love affair turns into regular episodes of acting out pain-bodies. Not very pretty as you can imagine. But there is a solution and an easy one at that – if you become present when your pain-body acts out, it dissipates. Yes, it is that simple. Presence can put a stop instantly to the ongoing drama and negativity. And as for the Ego in all this, well it is still there. In fact the pain-body as Eckhart explains is a very unhappy entity of the ego.

Favorite Environment for the Pain-Body: Relationships

The first question of the night from the public was from a lady who asked for help on how to reconnect with a family member who has alienated themselves from the family due to a heavy pain-body which brought about frequent outbursts and fights.

To this Eckhart recommended the following:

  • You can only control you, hence it is very important not to get drawn into someone else’s drama
  • When in presence of such a person, understand that it is not really them, but that they suffer from the disease of the pain-body
  • Accept that the person is suffering and allow them to be in the pain-body by being still and present
  • Stillness and presence from the other person does not sustain the pain-body and hence the drama dissipates on its own
  • Never underestimate the power of the pain-body and stay very present (even very mindful people can still get sucked in by a pain-body)

Pain-Bodies in Relationships

The conversations continued to revolve around relationships as that is where the pain-body gets most of its power. Eckhart implemented this into practice again when he explained what happens to couples throughout their relationship. At first he said, when people meet many times they are simply “playing a role” of being in love. Once people marry or live together, they stop playing that role and as some people call it, then the “real them” comes out – perhaps even a little monster you did not know was inside makes an appearance. Well we know that again this is not the real us and it is not necessarily that you made a commitment to the wrong person. It is simply that if this love was borne out of possessiveness and unconsciousness than once we get into a new role the pain-body comes out.

And then you know the rest, once a pain-body makes its grand entrance it will visit regularly in what you may see as roller coaster rides in that couples relationship of happy and good to angry and miserable.

The Holidays Bring Out the Best in Pain-Bodies

You may know this from your own life, whether it is Christmas or a birthday or even a family picnic, often a planned pleasant event turns into a time you can’t wait to get out of fast enough. See the thing about these “family gathering times” is that as Eckhart stated everyone brings their past with them. And so starts the gossiping, the nagging and most often the complaining in a vicious cycle from one end of the table to the other.

Eckhart however sheds light on this and clarifies that even if you cannot change the others, all it takes is for one person to be present. If it is you caught in these events, it also requires of you great alertness not to be drawn in and picking up the negative burdens of others. It is so sad because this makes me think so much of how most of us are in the world; we are kind and gentle to strangers and then take out all of our angers and frustrations on those closest to us. Eckhart explains that this type of action is because we “role play” out in the real world and hence try to be on our best behavior. And to this I add, then we come home or to family gatherings and feel that it is somehow our family’s job or pleasure to have our pain-bodies unloaded on them. Again – consciousness can fix all of this!

Can’t Worry Your Problems Away

Oprah restated that indeed the mind does not recognize the difference between thought and reality and hence it reacts to both the same way. We give off and experience the same negative energies from thinking about a “bad” situation as in actually being in that situation. To this Eckhart explained what worry really is “a repetitive, negative energy pattern.” And we all remember that like energy attracts like energy and hence worrying attracts things like illnesses and diseases among other things. I also love what Eckhart said at one point “you cannot worry enough to worry a problem away.” So why do we do it…and don’t say you can’t help it. Remember you are in control of you, if you can’t help it, than who can?

To help stop episodes of worrying Eckhart recommended the following techniques one can try:

  • Consciously step out of negative thinking
  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Become conscious of your body parts
  • Look at something beautiful, preferably in nature (ex. a flower) and bring your full perception to it
  • Listen to something pleasant (ex. a bird) and bring your full perception to it
  • Ultimately become present!

Holding onto Thoughts, Grudges and Negativities

Oprah at this point brought up the story of the Duck with a Human mind that Eckhart explains on page 137. Eckhart explains upon observing two ducks in nature that after a squabble the ducks will flap their wings and move on as if nothing ever happened. The flapping of the wings signifies letting go or clearing of the negative energy.

Humans on the other hand do not do this very well. If something goes wrong for us, especially due to someone else, we think about it, talk about it and for long periods of time obsess about it. Hence we keep refueling and reliving the negative energy. And remember what was stated earlier, the body does not know the difference between a thought and reality and hence body still thinks you are in that situation, over and over again.

Oprah here also asked Eckhart to retell the story of the two monks found on page 139, which illustrates that the human mind has a reluctance to let go of the past.

The closing thought on this section was also very touching and will bring a lot of us peace into our life if we let it. Eckhart stated that we have to remember, no matter what you went through in your childhood or with your parents, everybody does their best given their level of consciousness. What an amazingly freeing thought. We simply cannot expect people to go beyond their level of consciousness. Therefore do not hold grudges to the past or the people for what they did or did not do to or for you – they did not know any better. As I put it, appreciate that we are all at different levels of consciousness and age does not necessarily have much to do with it. A child can easily be at a higher level of consciousness than their parents.

Honoring Memories of Loved Ones

Another question of the night was directed at how should one deal with honoring the memory of a lost loved one without it adding to feeding the pain body.

Eckhart addressed this in the following way:

  • Mourning is good and natural after the loss of a loved one and should not be suppressed
  • Unconscious mourning is the inability to accept the loss and can turn into years of depression and even anger and hence end up feeding the pain-body
  • When mourning or reminiscing about a loved one, we must be present in our mind as to what thoughts it is generating
  • It is ok for sadness to come, but underneath there has to be underlying peace
  • Underlying peace comes when the emotion and loss is accepted
  • The peace comes also from knowing and feeling that where the forms once was, now the formless can shine through – this is the grace behind death

Oprah commented here about her own personal loss and stated that the reason so many people have such a hard time with loss is due to the fact that they try to hold onto the way “it was”. Through resistance, grace cannot come forth.

Why is watching violence done to humans entertaining for us?

Oprah then directed the dialogue to page 152 of chapter 5, where Eckhart talks about the fact that in our entertainment industry we have a high degree of violence portrayed against other human beings. And what is worse is that those forms of entertainment are very successful indicating that we enjoy watching these types of scenes. The question Eckhart poses is “why do we constantly want to feel bad?” I mean any of us can recall the last thriller, horror or even action movie we saw where someone gets hurt by someone else and unless you completely have no conscience, you cringe.

Sitting back and thinking about it after the first time I read this section, I myself was baffled. Nobody is making us go and see these grotesquely violent programs and yet we go, complain and keep going back for more. Eckhart explains here that since there is negative emotion derived from this, it is the pain-body that loves to watch these movies as from them, it gets exactly what it needs – negativity.

The only way Eckhart explained it is beneficial to watch violence is to see and become aware of the human madness.

A screenwriter called in from Denmark, explaining that she was thinking of making a documentary to portray the violence from youths in Denmark. She expressed however that now she was having second thoughts as she did not know if it was her own pain-body creating the movie.

To this Eckhart replied the following:

  • It may not be the pain-body but an inspired thought to bring about awareness using this documentary
  • Sometimes we need to show the violence to stop the violence (best anti-war films are war films)

The Collective Pain-Body

Oprah then continued that there is a significantly important part of the chapter where Eckhart focuses on the collective pain-body, for example ones carried by the Jewish, Native or African-American populations. Eckhart explained that many of these cultures carry therefore collective pain-bodies that last throughout many generations. Denying what happened to these groups at one time or another by them or anyone else is not a good way to go about it, as this resistance will only fuel the pain-body. The recognition of it is what will start the change of lifting the collective pain-body.

Another example Oprah brought forth was the oppression of women by suppressing femininity for hundreds of years. She mentioned that Eckhart writes about this in the sense that if the balance between the masculine and the feminine had not been destroyed, the ego would have never grown to the proportion that it did. Eckhart continued on this topic saying that unfortunately the arising of the ego in the male saw the feminine as a threat and hence suppressed it. Today however, there is a shift happening where more women are going through an awakening as they seem to be more open to change than men. This in turn is starting to turn the pendulum back towards a balance that I feel we are so deeply in need of.

The Dangers of Obsessive Thoughts

Another question of the evening came from a lady who was called names related to her weight all her life and now feels that these words are such a part of her that they prevent her from losing weight.

Eckhart shed some light on this by saying that:

  • Thoughts that stem from name calling start in childhood and then get lodged in the person’s mind, becoming embedded thoughts
  • It is ultimately a negative energy that refuses to leave
  • An example of the dangers of thoughts can be seen in the movie with Jim Carrey called “ The Number 23“, where it portrays the life of a man whose life was completely taken over by one thought
  • We therefore have to be aware and careful of obsessive thoughts to prevent them from taking over our entire mind
  • Old thoughts are no more than old recordings playing in the back of our heads
  • When you hear these recordings, let your presence shine through by stating to yourself that this is nothing more than an old tape, record, etc.

We Are Not Our Thoughts

Following the question, Oprah stated that based on what Eckhart wrote, “Thinking is only a tiny aspect of the totality of who we are.” Eckhart expanded on this saying that awareness is vast and it has the ultimate power. Therefore we need to make awareness the foundation of our life and not just get small glimpses of it.

To find out who we really are we have to find stillness in presence. And most importantly before any of us get the wrong idea about thinking and get totally turned off by the topic of how to live without thought, Eckhart explained that in stillness we find inspired thought. Without the space or stillness, thinking cannot be inspired. This is easily applicably to any of our lives, think about how much we rush about and it seems that life is just one big “to do” list. What does all that mean – many, many useless thoughts. And until we stop and seriously take a breath, our life will revolve around these incessant, useless thoughts.

Escaping from the Pain-Body through Substance Abuse

Another participant of the webcast asked the following question: “Is alcohol or drugs an escape from the pain-body?”

To this Eckhart’s explanation consisted of the following:

  • Substance abuse is mostly done as an escape from the pain-body
  • In those in whom the pain-body is very active, they need to, for example, drink all the time as they carry with them too much pain to bear, and life becomes unbearable
  • Having such great amounts of pain however could be beneficial as it gives the person a greater chance of awakening

Eckhart here also retold his personal pain-body story and how he first wanted to commit suicide when he was about 9 years old. Children hence that come from homes of continuous conflict have a lot of pain that they carry with them and this makes life unbearable. Today, Eckhart is happy to have had the experience as it allowed him to have a great awakening.

Eckhart concluded this theme saying that in a way “one should be grateful for one’s suffering, because suffering eventually wakes us up.” And to which Oprah concluded that we do have to embrace any and all negative emotions we feel throughout any day to avoid adding to our pain bodies. And I am sure we all know this by now, repressing emotions does not make them go away. So as Eckhart says “Embrace the present moment no matter what form it takes and be the space for it”. Through this type of awareness the pain-body dissolves.

Futility of Obsessive Thoughts

Oprah then took a question from a group that does the webcast at Borders in Chicago. One of the group members asked about how to apply Eckhart’s wisdom of stopping thoughts in the moment of everyday life, in which she constantly finds herself obsessing and worrying over many things.

Eckhart’s response centered around the following:

  • Certain thoughts become repeats in our minds and we have to find a way to break that cycle
  • Our thoughts have a certain momentum so it is not easy to become free
  • Most important thing is to realize the futility of our thoughts
  • Second most important thing is not to resist them (as they will persist)
  • Obsessive thoughts are like a parasitic entity that lives in us (the egoic mind)
  • Do techniques of bringing yourself to the present moment – Present Moment Training (as explained in the section “can’t worry your problems away” above)


The evening ended off with two more small questions that revolved around the ideas we already discussed of how the pain-body draws to itself anything and everything that is negative (i.e. drama, gossip, scandals, etc…)

  • Eckhart also reminded everyone that the pain-body is not some ghost that lives within us but a negative energy field that can be dissolved by the present moment.
  • Every personal pain-body is an expression of a universal pain-body. So most important is just to be aware of the pain-body when it surfaces, whether it be in yourself or others.
  • Do not confront a person that they are acting out of their pain-body in a heated moment as one will never win an argument with a pain-body.
  • So if faced with a pain-body, be still, allow it to be and don’t feed it. This is the ultimate way to dissolve it.
  • Finally as for relationships, best results will take place if both partners allow their consciousness to guide them as much as possible.

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is available at your local book store or library, as well as below: