Eckhart Tolle’s Theory of “Pain-Bodies” is Dangerous and Dismissive

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Who?s to blame for society?s troubles? The society as a whole? The individuals and groups within society?

According to Eckhart Tolle, it?s a matter of ?negative energy fields.?

Tolle is a so-called spiritual teacher best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life?s Purpose, both of which were very popular. But as we all know, popularity doesn?t make someone right.

I?ll admit some of Tolle?s work has helped me find more peace and calm, however, accepting everything a person says just because you like specific parts of it is like eating a broccoli and tree bark sandwich: you?re better off separating the good from the bad rather than trying to stomach the whole thing. Some things shouldn?t be digested.

I?m also not criticizing Tolle for who he is as a person or for his career as a whole. What I am doing is challenging his ludicrous pain-body theory.

By placing the blame for human evil and injustice on the shoulders of an abstract ?negative energy field? instead of those truly responsible, Tolle disregards the horrific evil humans are capable of inflicting and the accountability to hold them responsible in one pseudoscientific sweep.

Tolle defines a pain-body as ?the human tendency to perpetuate old emotion? which is accumulated in their ?energy field.?

He says any negative emotion not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment becomes a remnant of pain we carry with us throughout our lives.

According to Tolle, the pain-body is addicted to unhappiness and seeks out negativity like nourishment to grow bigger and stronger.

There?s no evidence for this anywhere in his book. None. No facts, figures, statistics, or measurements to back this up. Tolle simply invents the term ?pain-body? without the slightest crumb of proof, applies the term to everyone, and then acts as if it?s common knowledge.

?Some people carry dense pain-bodies that are never completely dormant. They may be smiling and making polite conversation, but you do not need to be psychic to sense that seething ball of unhappy emotion in them just under the surface, waiting for the next event to react to, the next person to blame or confront, the next thing to be unhappy about it.? ? Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life?s Purpose.

Fair enough, we all know people who seem addicted to unhappiness and mope around whining and complaining about their lot in life yet continue to make the same decisions that got them into trouble in the first place.

And we all know some people who make most of their decisions reactively rather than proactively. But does this mean something called the ?pain-body? is responsible?

Like much of pseudoscience, Tolle sees the true symptoms but diagnoses the wrong problem. And worse, the wrong treatment.

?Tribes, nations, races, all have their own collective pain-body, some heavier than others, and most members of that tribe, nation, or race have a share in it to a greater or lesser degree.?

?Certain countries in which many acts of collective violence were suffered or perpetrated have a heavier collective pain-body than others. This is why older nations tend to have stronger pain-bodies.?

Tolle says if you?re sensitive enough, you can feel a ?heaviness in the energy field of certain countries as soon as you step off the plane,? and then cites the Middle East!

Is this person feeling a heavy pain-body energy field? Or are they experiencing the weight of their own fears and apprehension because virtually no one in our modern world is ignorant of the widespread violence and civil unrest in certain parts of the Middle East?

Could it be that when they get off the plane, they see people wearing bulletproof vests? Could it be the assault rifles and pockmarked buildings? Military vehicles? People glancing over their shoulders like they?re expecting an attack?

Humans are keen on picking up social cues, but this is intuition, not energy fields.

Granted, not all Middle Eastern countries are like this. Some are quite safe and peaceful, like Qatar, but these are not the places Tolle is talking about.

As for older nations having ?stronger pain-bodies?, perhaps that pain comes from an awareness of their well-preserved history, a history which is bound to have experienced at least some violence in the past.

The longer a nation has existed, the more violence is likely to have occurred, and this fills the pages of their history with bloody examples of people hurting each other for any number of reasons.

And why does their history consist of so much violence? Why not forgive the atrocities and move on? Why document these horrible things?

Perhaps because it distressed the people who lived through it enough to document it, in hopes of not having history repeat itself at some point in the future.

Perhaps because war and suffering often create more archeological evidence for the next generations to dig up and record in their own history books.

It?s only natural to wonder what happened to the people who came before you, especially if there are very few of them remaining.

Or perhaps because, despite our violent tendencies, societies often do their best to preserve the memory of past atrocities so they can learn from them and not repeat those mistakes.

There are a lot of reasons why older nations might harbor negativity ? and it would help if Tolle clarified what sorts of negative emotions he?s talking about, or even what evidence there is for them harboring any negativity at all. But he doesn?t.

His next examples of pain-bodies are absurd.

?Almost every woman has her share in the collective feminine pain-body, which tends to become activated particularly just prior to the time of menstruation. At that time, many women become overwhelmed by intense negative emotion.?

Of course women feel negative emotions ? menstrual cramps are painful! And hormones flood the system making them feel, in the words of all of my female friends and girlfriends past and present, ?extremely emotional, gross, and sometimes really horny.?

I have yet to meet a single woman who acts like the women in tampon commercials when her period comes, but maybe that?s just me.

Tolle then says this ?collective feminine pain-body? has its roots in ancient civilizations pronouncing the male ego more important than the female ego and acting accordingly. He?s not entirely wrong, but he quickly moves on and misses the chance to explain why.

Tolle then talks about ?racial pain-bodies.?

?The collective racial pain-body is pronounced in Jewish people, who have suffered persecution over many centuries. Not surprisingly, it is strong as well in Native Americans, whose numbers were decimated and whose culture was all but destroyed by the European settlers.?

?In fact, the suffering inflicted on Native and Black Americans has not remained confined to those two races, but has become part of the collective American pain-body.?

What happened to Native- and African-Americans was brutal. One look at the coffin ships, thumbscrews, and runaway slave punishments ? not to mention the day-to-day existence of slaves ? will quickly turn your stomach and make your faith in humanity plummet.

The same goes for Native Americans. Settlers eradicated them with the same consideration they?d give to vermin, and nearly succeeded in wiping them out except for a few small pockets still remaining. It was nothing less than genocide.

So why is Tolle wrong? Let?s look at each group.

History shows Jews seem to suffer no matter where they try to make their homes yet hardly anything compares to the calculating brutality inflicted on them during the Holocaust, which is still within the memory of living people.

And there are people who actively perpetuate the myth that the Holocaust never happened! So not only did Jews endure horrible suffering, but many also feel their suffering has been ignored or downplayed.

To top that off, Jews continue to fight for the only true home they may have left: Israel. These social, political, and historical facts are responsible for their current suffering, not a ?negative energy field?.

What about Black Americans and Native Americans?

Native American grievances haven?t been redressed with much more than a pat on the shoulder and a cease-and-desist order to stop protesting whatever new oil pipeline is being built through the little land they have left.

And Black Americans? Are they suffering now because of a ?negative energy field? around their collective consciousness, or because the U.S. government said they were free then segregated them as second-class citizens and rounded them up in mass incarcerations?

Because the government said blacks could vote and then instituted Jim Crow laws and redrew district lines so black votes lost their power?

Because the government said blacks have equal rights, but every day Black Americans watch police officers kill their children with less accountability than when white children die?

If this pain has influenced America, it is only because those who were negatively affected are living in America. That?s not energy fields, that?s geographic proximity, that?s living in the same political system with unfair treatment. That?s human injustice.

?It doesn?t really matter what proportion of your pain-body belongs to your nation or race and what proportion is personal. In either case, you can only go beyond it by taking responsibility for your inner state now.?

To some extent, I understand what he?s saying, and why.

When people attribute blame for something that happened in the past to someone in the present who had nothing to do with it and then expect that innocent person to apologize and fix it, they?re creating guilt and resentment in strangers that could have otherwise become friends and allies.

So fair enough, focus on now. But isn?t it possible the reason these groups of people are currently upset is due to current grievances, the foundation of which was laid in the past with little done to fix it, let alone acknowledge it?

It?s one thing to say people carry old negative emotions around with them, using them as justifications for further negative thinking and behavior ? ?I?m a victim and I?m always going to be a victim, so to hell with the world and everyone in it!? ? it?s quite another to say this negativity is stored in a ?negative energy field? that entire cultures perpetuate across time and space.

I won?t deny some current cultural grievances are built on foundations of victimization from far before anyone alive today could have experienced them. No white person alive today is guilty of slavery in any regard and sadly, many of those who were guilty of slavery escaped justice. But many grievances, like gerrymandering across racial lines, are current and unaddressed.

If you want to heal a person, a culture, or a nation, wouldn?t it be more productive to try acknowledging their grievances instead of dismissing them as ?negative energies? from the past?

Placing the blame on energy fields merely removes accountability from those who wrong others; it tells them they should be happy with their lot in life whether they?ve been mistreated or not. It prevents justice, and society cannot survive without justice. Surely we can do better than that.

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