My Shenpa Partner

This spring, my younger daughter had noticed that I often get very impatient behind the wheel of a car. One day during a time when I was thinking a lot about shenpa, someone was driving painfully slowly in front of me, and I was getting myself bent out of shape about it. I exclaimed impatiently, thus providing my daughter with yet another golden opportunity to criticize me from the back seat. Her tone sounded kinda harsh to me, and I reacted defensively by saying something like, “Don’t be so critical of me all the time, K.!” She backed off. After I dropped my other daughter off at an activity, K. climbed into the front seat for the next leg of our errands trip. As I started driving again, I said, “You know, you’re right about me being impatient, K. I know I’m impatient in some situations, like driving.”

She said, surprised, “Well, thank you, Mom, for saying that!”

“I’ve told you before that I think you’re very observant and insightful, and you are,” I said.  “Thank you, Mom!” Smiling.

Then I said, “It’s something that I’ve been trying to work on recently, but I could use some help, and maybe you could help me. There is something in Tibetan Buddhism called shenpa. I love that word. It’s that moment when something happens or someone says something to you, and you get ‘hooked.’ You have an instant reaction of impatience or hurt or anger or deep sadness or whatever emotion, and the next thing you know, your thoughts have taken you racing down the usual path, and you end up feeling furious, upset, depressed, or bad about yourself.”

“Hmm. That’s very interesting. I know what you mean,” K. said.

“This Buddhist teacher I’ve been reading [Pema Chödrön] says that in the moment of getting hooked, you want to be able to recognize it and then allow just enough space to feel whatever emotion you are feeling in your body, but without getting caught up in all the thoughts in your mind that come as a result,” I said. “And then we have a better chance of stopping all that stuff playing out and feeling so bad. This teacher says that if you have a partner who can gently tell you ‘shenpa‘ in a kind way when they notice you getting hooked, you’re better able to break the habit and bad feelings. I would love to have someone to do that for me. Would you be my partner in helping me become more patient?”

She promptly agreed. Wow, permission to point out some undesirable characteristic in your mother, over and over? What’s not to love? So, I’m going to let her see how I wrestle with impatience over time when she tells me I’m hooked so that she will become aware of this very important concept in Life. I really like the idea of this partnership, but it can be challenging, especially coming from a 16-year-old in my face every day!

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