A subject that hits close to home with me and my lineage is mental illness, specifically psychosis, mood disorders, and depression. I think about the generation I have grown up in and things are certainly a lot different in psychiatric circles than they were back in the 1950s. Drug Therapy was new then and it led to a lot of breakthroughs in the clinical field of psychiatry. My father-in-law had worked at a Veteran’s Hospital in a psychiatric unit when he was 18. That was a long time ago. He talked first hand about things I have seen in movies and in books, like electro-shock therapy and even frontal lobe lobotomies. For the sake of those who I see suffer, I am thankful for the advances in therapies and the move away from state institutions for the primary care of those afflicted with mental illnesses.
Psychiatrists of the present are filling a role that priests of the past did in terms of dealing with dangerous, volatile, evil pathology. Possession by a demonic spirit, or a wayward spirit for that matter, to many is a medieval concept now. Much more is known about mental health, behavior and emotional problems, and psychosis. Gerald May wrote a book that compared diagnoses from the DSM-IV, listing psychopathology and states of spiritual turmoil. The book I am referring to is Care of Mind, Care of Spirit. May is also the well-known author of the book The Dark Night of the Soul. Having worked in the mental health field as a crisis counselor, I have seen first hand what emotional disturbance looks like in a stress filled or fight or flight moment.
When I was dating my wife she took a class in Psychopathology. During that time she shared with me an article she had read about Catholic priests who refused pastoral care and exorcism to mentally ill patients. So, as I mentioned, the role of psychiatrists has evolved in according to May, psychiatrists are the modern day priesthood. So much has been learned about psychosis, the brain, psychology, behavior, abnormal psychology, and “the mind”, that have led to many advancements in the treatment of chronic and organic mental disorders. When I worked as a crisis counselor, what some would call emotional disturbance or escalation of afflictive emotions, appeared like evil entities who had entered the bodies of the patients I served.
A concept that has revolutionized my thinking about psychological suffering versus the issue of possession by a spirit, is a phrase coined by spiritual thinker, Eckhart Tolle. Tolle is an enlightened teacher not affiliated with any particular religion. What he called the pain-body, has inspired Catholic priest Richard Rohr in his talks about violent behavior and spirituality. Rohr specifically talks about the biblical notion of “driving out demons” and relates it to Tolle’s ideas about the pain-body.
The key to understanding pain, is to (if mentally able) check how aware you may or may not be in the present moment. Tolle’s best selling book The Power of Now, deals directly what I have mentioned about pain and its cumulative effect on the well-being of an individual. He says that emotional pain leaves behind a residue that gets lodged in your body and mind. When you include pain you experienced as a child, from intimate relationships, family dysfunction, patterns of rejection or abandonment (my emphasis), then there is an accumulated source of pain that exists as a negative energy field. As mentioned this occupies your body and mind. When looked at as an invisible “agent” or “energy field”, it can rightfully be called the pain-body.
The pain-body can be both dormant and active. For those in whom, it lies dormant, it can be triggered by any number of things. Whether active or dormant in a person, it particularly can be triggered by anything that resonates with a pain pattern of the past. When awakened from its dormant stage, even a thought or an innocent remark made by someone close to you can activate it.
Tolle says that some pain-bodies are “obnoxious”, but “relatively harmless”, while others are “vicious and destructive monsters”, “true demons“. Some are even physically violent any many more are emotionally violent. He goes on to say that some will attack people you surround yourself with and others may attack you, as its host. Then what happens is your thoughts and feelings which you have about your life then become “deeply negative”, and “self-destructive.” This is something to take serious, because illnesses and unplanned accidents can happen as a result of this. Even worse, certain pain-bodies can corrupt a person into committing suicide.
So, how do you recognize the pain body trying to take control of your being? Tolle advocates watching for unhappiness in one’s self. That sounds generic, but whatever form unhappiness takes, there are warning signs. Irritation. Impatience. A somber mood. A desire to hurt. Anger, rage, depression, or a need to have drama in one of your relationships. He says to recognize it the moment it awakens from its dormant state.
The pain-body’s desire is to “survive” and the only way it can do that is to get you to unconsciously identify with it. Once that happens, it can “rise up”, “take you over”, “become you”, and “live through you”. It needs to get its “food” through you and will try to feed on any experience that “resonates with its own kind of energy, anything that creates further pain in whatever form: anger, destructiveness, hatred, grief, emotional drama, violence, and even illness.”
When the pain-body has taken you over, what happens? Well, you want more pain. You become one of two things, a victim or a perpetrator. So, what drives the pain-body at this point? You/it wants to “inflict pain”, or you/it wants to “suffer pain”, or both. To continue to further describe its nature, the pain-body is the “dark shadow cast by the ego” and is afraid of the “light of your consciousness”. The pain-body has a fear. A fear of being found out. The reason it feels this way is because its entire survival depends on “your unconscious identification with it” and on your unconscious fear meeting the pain that lives in you face to face. Tolle stresses the importance of facing your pain, for if you don’t bring the light of your consciousness into the pain, “you will be forced to relive it again and again.”
The pain-body once understood in an objective way, may seem like a dangerous monster, something you can’t find the strength to look at because it is too hideous. Tolle, who understands this phenomena with great authority and tact, assures us in The Power of Now, that the pain-body is an insubstantial phantom, that cannot prevail against the power of “your presence”. A phantom? This sounds like a spirit? So, were those Catholic priests in the wrong or were they just not educated in the way Tolle is about such a reality.
Having come full circle with the description of the pain-body, a question was posed to Tolle, in the chapter titled “Consciousness: The Way Out of Pain” (from which I have been quoting. Someone wanted to know what happens to the pain-body when a person becomes conscious enough to break their identification with it. His response was such that, “unconsciousness creates it; consciousness transmutes it into itself.” He went on to quote St. Paul, who he believed expressed “the universal principle beautifully”. St. Paul said, “Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light, and whatever is exposed to the light itself becomes light.”
In tribute to Eckhart Tolle’s phenomenal teaching that explains the nature of “being possessed”, I will publicly agree with him. He says,”Just as you cannot fight the darkness, you cannot fight the pain-body. Trying to do so would create inner conflict and thus further pain.”
In conclusion, the substance of the pain-body is trapped life-energy that “has split off from one’s total energy field and has “temporarily become autonomous through the unnatural process of ‘mind identification’. ” What happens is it turns in against itself and becomes “anti-life”. Tolle used the analogy of an animal chasing its tail to describe this. He goes on to talk about the calamities that occur when the ego identifies with the pain-body. I think we’ve all met those self-loathing, or super critical, explosive people.