"Focus attention on the feeling inside you.A young man named "Gary Hillard"
enters therapy. He tells his therapist with
great clarity and cogency that his parents
did not love him. Yet despite this crucial
insight, Gary remains neurotic. Only when
his therapist invites him to express how
it feels to be unloved is a cure effected.
Know that it is the pain-body."
-- Eckhart Tolle
The therapist was, of course, Arthur Janov,
and it was on the basis of experiments with
patients such as Gary that Janov built his
theory of Primal Pain. Painful feelings,
Janov tells us in The Primal Scream, are stored within the organism. They accumulate
one on top of the other. Eventually they
form a "tank" or "pool"
of stored Pain. This pain is then triggered
when, as adults, we encounter situations
that resemble those that so hurt us as children.
In consequence, we experience life being
as more painful than it really is.
The problem of accumulated pain from the
past is also addressed, though from a different
perspective, in Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. For Tolle, the pool of pain exists almost
as a being in its own right -- the "pain-body,"
as he styles it. In the presence of a look-alike
situation, the pain-body awakens and comes
to life. When it does so, it usurps control
of our consciousnessness. We erroneously
believe ourselves to be the pain-body. And we then think, act and
feel according to the dictates of the pain-body.
Thus far, the differences between the two
writers might be dismissed as largely terminological.
But on the question of how best to deal with
stored pain Janov and Tolle diverge.
Janov's background was in psychology, Freudian psychiatry, and
psychiatric social work. In his approach to stored pain he draws on
the psychological theory of the defenses
-- the mechanisms that prevent full contact
with feelings. When stripped of these distorting
filters -- including, of course, the way
we think about our feelings rather than feel our feelings -- we experience our original
pain in its full intensity. And Janov's view
is that it is this bringing of feelings into
full consciousness that discharges the stored
pain, allowing healing to take place.
Tolle's viewpoint has far less conventional
origins. At the age of 29, in a moment of
excruciating self-loathing, Tolle felt one
night as though he were being sucked into
a vortex. Despite his fear, he surrendered
to the experience and eventually lost consciousness.
When he awoke, all his habitual anxieties
had vanished. In their place he experienced
only a deep stillness, a state of peace and
serenity that Tolle has continued to enjoy
to the present day. The Power of Now is Tolle's presentation of the insights
that have occurred to him over the years
as he has integrated this consciousness-changing
For Tolle, the pain-body's power to self-perpetuate
hinges on its ability to take over the mind.
When the pain-body is active, it creates
thoughts that resonate with the original,
painful feelings. The critical characteristic
of these pain-induced thoughts is that they
focus on either the past or the future --
almost anything except what's really happening
right now. And the key to ending this cycle
is therefore The Power of Now -- the practice of focusing awareness on
the present moment. In particular, says Tolle,
dis-identifying with the thoughts produced
by the pain-body, and observing the ways
in which such thoughts perpetuate old pain,
deprives the pain-body of its power to take
While Tolle's methods are clearly different
from those of primal therapy, Tolle is in
no way anti-primal. Express your feelings
if you want to, he tells us. But it is not
this expression that is therapeutic. Rather,
it is the focusing of awareness in the present
moment -- detaching from habitual thoughts
of past and future -- that really frees us
from old pain.
My only quibble with Tolle's program
the practice he recommends -- essentially,
something very similar to the Buddhist
of mindfulness -- is not the method
he himself arrived at his transformation.
In fact, Tolle's "enlightenment"
occurred, without prior practice, over
course of just one night. Moreover,
of being sucked into a void or vortex
me think that Tolle may have inadvertently
stumbled into a conception primal.
Still, the practices advocated in The Power of Now are certainly compatible with primal therapy.
Why limit yourself to just one tool when
you can have two?
Indeed, by asking oneself what one is feeling at the present time is an excellent way which many in regression therapy use to connect to their early pain. Being in touch with one's feelings in the present helps us to tap into the original repressed hurtful memories, as such unfelt memories seem to be stored in our brain according to their feeling content. Using the painful emotion we have in the "now" is an important tool in gestalt therapy -- a modality which many of us have unintentially, but happily used, to begin our primal journey.
-- John A. Speyrer, Editor, The Primal Psychotherapy Page