16 December 2011

"The Power of Now" and Pain Management: Thinking

Eckhart Tolle, in his now famous book, "The Power of Now," brings incisive reflection to spirituality and what it means to be human.  He purposely is not proposing a belief system nor is he espousing any particular religion.  Yet I find his writing very hopeful, because he believes that a profound transformation of human consciousness has begun, and that this transformation has to do with freeing ourselves from our enslavement to the mind.

In this series of blog posts, I do not attempt to recapitulate or review the book in the traditional fashion.  All I want to do is to share how the book has affected my spiritual life as it relates to pain management.  Thus, there is much that I will leave out of discussion, not because I do not agree with or consider it unimportant, but because I am focusing on this one matter: pain management and spirituality.

This quote from the final page of the Introduction helps put things into perspective, as far as this blog is concerned, anyway:

"This book can be seen as a restatement for our time of that one timeless spiritual teaching, the essence of all religions.  It is not derived from external sources, but from the one true Source within, so it contains no theory or speculation."

From the beginning, this blog has been about spirituality, not religion.  I have tried to call upon the wisdom of many different religions and philosophies: pain and suffering are universal and so I take a universal approach.  It's a simple as this: when I am in pain, I do not care for theological arguments or doctrinal matters, I care about relieving, managing and living with the pain.

One of the early concepts in the book gets to the heart of pain management: in chapter one, Tolle writes about how, in our enslavement to our minds, we cause ourselves suffering.  He reminds us that the Buddha's definition of enlightenment is "the end of suffering." (page 12)  An important distinction here is that between pain and suffering.  Here is how I see it: pain is the migraine - stabbing, pounding - and is physical; suffering is the contortions - worry, fear, despair - and is mental.

I have little or no control over migraine pain (behind that statement, there is a long saga of therapies tried, drugs taken, and alternative medicine explored), and that can lead to a sense of helplessness that is truly depressing.  So there is something hopeful, something liberating in the knowledge that there is one area in which I have control: how I relate to the pain, or, how my mind thinks about it.

It's the ancient Buddhist saying, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.  For those of us with chronic pain, the physical discomfort is inevitable.  We are trying everything we can to alleviate it, and until something works for us, the hopeful news is we do not have to resign ourselves to being victims of it.

Where does spirituality come in?  For me, spirituality is the essence of being, the essential Being that is at the center of all life, and that has to do, ultimately and eternally, with Love.  Nota bene: Tolle refuses to use the word God, saying it "has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse" that "give rise to absurd beliefs, assertions and egoic delusions such as 'My or our God is the only true God..." (page 13) 

We forget the ineffable nature of this concept, and so our mental constructs about God become exercises in futility that are dangerous when taken literally.

It is in our ability to choose to leave the egoic mind and turn toward Being that we become most fully and wonderfully human.  Here we find what Jesus called, "the peace that passes all understanding." (Philippians 4:7)  And here is where I have found my most effective and healing pain management practice, in a calm of body and tranquility of mind that somehow miraculously reduces in significance the pain of my body, while eliminating the suffering of my mind.

And so intersect pain management and spirituality: suffering of the mental sort that accompanies physical pain is about relieving the mind of its incessant, obsessive need to think and have emotion.  Relieving the mind of thinking and emoting is about connecting to one's essential Being.  This is the journey to Wholeness that must take into account and include our body with its pain and our mind with its suffering.  Perhaps that is the hidden blessing in chronic pain: it makes impossible the human tendency to split body and mind, thereby opening the door to our spirituality.

I would love to hear from you. Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.


  1. I loved reading this. Thank you, Carol.

  2. Carol,
    I find this to be an excellent post and I absolutely agree with everything you are doing.
    My belief in the Baha'i tenets helps me to "know" that we are all one and whatever the religion or belief, there is one God. My favorite healing prayer starts with "Thy Name is my healing."
    With permission I would like to repost with a link back to you.

  3. Thanks, Cristina, so glad you are reading these posts! And Judith, it's fine to repost with a link - thanks.