Unraveling and Peeling Away: The Core of the Ego – Chapter 3 in “A New Earth”

by Bryan Rice on August 2, 2011.

Chapter 3 of Eckhart Tolle’s best seller book “A New Earth” focused a great deal on the egoic mind, unconsciousness, reactivity, and holding grievances as they relate to delusional thinking.

He made a point of saying that most people are “possessed” by their minds – by an “incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking.” Many of us if we were completely honest would affirm this to be true. Buddhists and eastern spiritual seekers call this the “monkey mind”. Chatter. Chatter. Chatter. If a person is not aware of this they will mistake the “thinker” to be who they are. This being the egoic mind, egoic because there is a “sense of “I” (ego) in all our thoughts, memories, reactions, and emotions. This Tolle said, is “unconsciousness” in a spiritual sense.

It is important to point out that thinking is conditioned by the past and many other factors. Again, honest introspection would show us that we identify with persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns. When we say “I” we mean the ego, not our real self. Furthermore, this I, says Tolle, “consists of thoughts and emotions – a bundle of memories that people identify with as ‘me and my story’ “. The false “I” also personally identifies with possessions, opinions, external appearances, long standing resentments, or even concepts of oneself as “better than or not as good as others – as a success or failure”. Egos survive on separation.

Thoughts and emotions are nothing more than fleeting information and energy, as Deepak Chopra might say. Most unenlightened people live through their mind-made self. So, if every ego strives to survive, to “protect and enlarge itself”, others will be seen as enemies.

Now we can begin to see the structure of personal and collective egos. One egoic pattern, rather on one side of the scale, the ego consists of the compulsive habit of “fault finding” and complaining about others, and at the other end of the spectrum are the seeds to physical violence between individuals and warfare between nations. The basic component at work is that, when a person criticizes (condemns) another, it makes them feel bigger and superior.

Complaining and resentment as a topic was a big part of this chapter. Engaging in this kind of behavior is a strategy of the ego to strengthen itself, it is part of the “mind-made story”. Some egos can’t find anything better to do than to survive on complaining. This happens many times, out of unconscious and habitual neural grooves that are formed in the brain. We love to apply labels to people, to name call, egos need to be right, to triumph. Lower consciousness causes a person to shout, scream, and resort to physical violence.

Resentment as an emotion is linked to complaining. It gives energy to the ego. Resentment really means to feel “bitter, indignant, aggrieved, of offended”. What becomes problematic, is that rather than overlooking another’s unconsciousness, our egos make it their identity. We misinterpret through projection and we strengthen in ourselves what we react to in another.

How does a person go beyond reactivity? Well, Tolle says that non-reaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways to go beyond the ego in oneself and also “dissolving the collective ego”. Moreso, one can “only be in a state of non-reaction if they recognize the ego or product of collective dysfunction in another”. More importantly, refraining from reacting to someone else’s ego, creates the potential to bring out the “sanity” in others – the unconditioned consciousness.

The greatest protection to falling into unconsciousness and acting out negative emotions is to be “conscious”. Continuing with the idea of non-reaction, it is not weakness in any way” to not – react. Tolle says it is strength. Non-reaction is equated with forgiveness – “of looking through another’s ego to see their essence”.

When we peel away to the core of the ego we see that it resents situations, not just people. The ego gets more energy by making enemies. Voices underlying egoic mind-made thinking, for example are “This should not be happening”, or “I don’t want to be here,” and “I don’t want to be doing this,” also “I’m being treated unfairly”.

A very important point to make note of from this chapter it that the ego’s greatest enemy is the present moment. We must remain neutral if we are to feel any sense of peace. The little “me” enjoys making someone wrong. The ego does NOT want to change. It would be content to go on complaining. To reiterate, the ego is a conditioned mind pattern. But, you are NOT the ego voice, rather you are the one who is AWARE of it. “You are the awareness that is aware of the voice”. Once you become aware of the ego inside you, it becomes just an old, conditioned mind pattern. Since the ego equates to unawareness, awareness and the ego cannot co-exist. Therefore, once noticed, the ego is weakened.

A big section in chapter 3 was subtitled “Reactivity and Grievances.” It talked about how people become addicted to being angry and upset, in the same way someone becomes addicted to a drug. Many people says Tolle, are “just waiting to find something else to react against, to feel annoyed or disturbed about”. No doubt, this is toxic. Such feelings are strengthened through continuous reactivity.

The way the planet is effected by not only individual egos, but the collective ego, is that collective grievances are potentially dangerous and can lead to cycles of violence between nations.

Tolle defines a grievance as “a strong negative emotion connected to an event in the sometimes distant past that is being kept alive by compulsive thinking – by re-telling the story in the head or out loud of ‘what someone did to me’ (or us)”. Furthermore, to show the effects of grievances he went on to point out that they contaminate other areas of people’s lives. For one, it creates negative emotional energy. Secondly, it distorts perception of people or events in the present. Also, it negatively influences behavior and speech, and it keeps you in the grip of the ego.

By forgiving enemies and keeping our grievances in check, we can target one of the many egoic structures of the mind. In essence, grievances are baggage of old thought and emotion and by focusing on something from the past, we cannot exist in the “Present”.

Other sections of the chapter dealt with the temptations of wanting or needing to be right and make another wrong, thereby strengthening your false sense of I (enhancing the false self by making it morally superior to others). Another section talked about how we defend ego illusions by taking everything personally and over-identifying with the mind and a mental position. Basically what was said in that section was that every ego is a master of selective perception and distorted interpretation and that again, only through awareness and NOT thinking can a person differentiate between fact and opinion.

Under the section “Truth: Relative or Absolute”, the distinction between defending insane points of view of misperceived notions of having possession of “absolute truth” has led in history, to such things as torturing and burning people who held different opinions. The Catholic Church was one such institution that used the notion of “absolute truth” to justify violence. Tolle made a strong point: “Absolute Truth is NOT found in doctrines, ideologies, sets of rules, and stories (made up of thought)”. Thought can point to truth he said, but never be the truth. The major trap of religion is for one to claim that “my” religion is the only true one. This only creates illusory thinking and division and conflict with people.

All these things mentioned point to why we need to help create “A New Earth” or a “New World Order”. We in essence are each, potential saviors. If we would only transcend the ego, by undoing it, we could live in the power of our True Presence. In the Now. Not in the past, not in hurts, not in grievance, not in negativity, not through defending what we perceive to be absolute truth when it is really relativism, not by separating ourselves from others in an “us” versus “them” mentality, and not through underlying dysfunction or mental illness. The reason the planet is caught in an insane spiral of perpetration and retribution, action and reaction is because collectively and individually, we don’t go to the root, or the core of the problem. It is the complete identification with thought and emotion that is leading to the destruction of earth. This is the old way, the non-evolved way. Our greed, our selfishness, our exploitation, cruelty, and violence all act as a time bomb that could destroy us all. Once we recognize that war is a mindset and that we can’t fight unconsciousness with unconsciousness, by making ourselves right and others wrong, we can peel away at the ego and see it for what it is: the insanity of the human mind. Through awareness and the presence of our Being, or through the I Am Presence found in each of us, we can exchange reactivity for forgiveness and compassion. It is only through radical honesty that we can in fact create “A New Earth”.


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.

Messianic Consciousness: The Way to Christhood

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…

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