I first learned about the concept of shenpa from the work of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron who was introduced to it by Dzigar Kongrul Rinpoche. In an article in Shambhala Sun, Chodron describes shenpa as what happens the moment our ego is “hooked”:
“Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel?…[Shenpa] is usually translated as ‘attachment,’ but a more descriptive translation might be ‘hooked.’ When shenpa hooks us, we’re likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa ‘that sticky feeling.’ It’s an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions, which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.”
Chodron also describes shenpa as a mental itch that we involuntarily scratch because we are not aware of what is happening in the moment. The problem is that when we bite that hook or scratch that itch, we usually feel worse. We get upset or tense with ourselves or whoever or whatever we perceive as the problem.
Here’s a recent personal example. The other morning, I was getting something out of the refrigerator and accidentally knocked a full box of cherry tomatoes to the floor. Seemingly hundreds of tiny tomatoes rolled everywhere. I felt an immediate hit of shenpa, which consisted of me exploding with the F-word followed by that whoosh of annoyance and anger that floods the body and mind. Typically, I tend to feel very pissed off and inconvenienced by my own klutziness, stomp around in a huff cleaning up the mess, and get myself in a twist. The physical and emotional “burn” from such an inconsequential experience can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes, but it may lurk even longer in the guise of increased impatience for a good half hour after. Voila! I have created my own mini-hell.
But now that I know about this concept of shenpa, I’m starting to catch my reactions sooner. Sometimes. After the very loud expletive, I took a breath, stopped, and said out loud to myself, “I *could* just pick up the tomatoes.” No seething, no impatience, no stomping, no self-flagellation. And the annoyance faded away within seconds. Much easier on this human.
So, that’s an example of what I’m going to be writing about here in “Adventures in Shenpa.” Getting hooked happens many, many times throughout each day for all of us, in small and meaningless ways but also in potentially large and damaging ways, and everything in between. We all struggle with our reactions to shenpa. This blog will consist of describing my quest to get a little more un-hooked by my thoughts and emotions in reaction to events and other people, and how working with shenpa experiences and awareness practice can change the quality of daily life and relationships for the better.
Because I am not currently working outside the home, this blog will have more of a family-life focus, but all kinds of experiences are fair game. The intended audience is my friends and, with luck, friends of friends, so please feel free to share posts with anyone you think may enjoy or benefit from this blog. As a mom, I also have a special interest in sharing my experiences “out loud” so that perhaps my teenage daughters will be able to see that there is a way out of the hell that the human mind can be. We all have these fundamental mind problems, but we so rarely talk about them, thinking that it’s just the way life is, or it’s solely a matter of developing greater patience, maturing, or learning to see the proverbial glass as half-full.
So let’s seek some freedom from the tyranny of our crazy minds, people, young and old alike! I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you, and I invite you to comment, talk about your own Shenpa Moments, and pass along posts to anyone you think might be interested. Let’s get unhooked together!