Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain-body.  In the New Testament it appears as a “legion of demons.” Many contemporary spiritual teachings refer to it simply as “my story.” Psychologists describe it as “the shadow,” or “the dark side.”

It is the residue of pain I carry buried in my being. I am not entirely sure of its origins, or where it lies coiled in my psyche. It mostly lurks in the hidden realms of my unconscious. I can live alongside it unaware for days, weeks, even months, if I and the people around me, are lucky.

Then, often without warning, I trip against a jagged stone in the road and that inner destructive demon rears its ugly head.  Suddenly, this secret enemy lashes out against whatever perceived threat or wrong has stirred it into action.

When it is dormant it feeds on insecurity, doubt, fear, and disappointment. It is sustained by the view that life is a competition between winners and losers and I have ended up on the losing side.

When this dark madness lurches up from the depths, it heeds no reason. It seeks only to ease its pain by inflicting maximum suffering on any unsuspecting victim unfortunate enough to stumble into its path.

It is locked into the tight little vortex of the bitter story to which it clings in an attempt to ease its own pain. It is trapped in the prison of resentment and bitterness. There is no escape, no way to the light, no words that reach this locked-in place.

All addictions and most mindless distractions are merely attempts to keep this darkness at bay. I seek to avoid the abyss of my shadow by escaping into a world of unreality and denial. Like the monster under my bed, if I do not look at it perhaps it will not be there.

Sadly, avoidance only increases its strength. Like a poisonous mushroom, the pain-body grows in the dark soil of denial.

The only hope in this desolate geography lies along the path of honesty.

Jesus is reported in John’s Gospel to have said,

‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’(John 8:31,32)

When I am honest I know there is no relief in blame. My pain is not your fault. Neither you, society, human history, the universe, nor even God, is responsible for this struggle. Suffering simply is an unavoidable dimension of the human condition.

But there is always a choice. I can sink into the quagmire of despair. Or I can turn to that place within myself that sees more deeply and more truly. I can open to the reality that I am not defined by this pain. There is within me that which is stronger and more real than any hurt I ever have experienced.

When I cease listening to the lie of blame and instead heed the reality that pain is not the final truth, my heart begins to soften; I open to a deeper dimension. I awaken to the gentleness and beauty that are always available no matter how difficult and dark my experience of this moment may feel.

Jesus affirmed that,

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)

In the midst of the darkness, I may only be able to hold this truth with the most tenuous grasp. But Jesus also affirmed that,

truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20)

The mountain of pain shifts when I assert the tiniest glimpse of faith that there is more than the pain by which, at this moment, I seem to be consumed. The light shines in the darkness, when my heart opens a crack to the love and light which is my true nature. The gates of the prison open when I allow the truth to reassert itself reminding me of that which is more real and enduring than any pain has ever been.