Lest you think that this “Adventures in Shenpa” blog is about griping, let me assure you that it’s about something very different. The aim is to learn to see clearly, to peer through the dramas and difficulties that our minds use to create anything from mild irritation to emotional havoc for ourselves and others.
In working with the concept of shenpa the past few months, I have found that it boils down to one simple thing: something happens or doesn’t happen, and we don’t like it. Another action or the absence of it, we think, would make us quite a bit happier. Examples from everyday life: Your partner demonstrates a habitual behavior. You are annoyed because it is an action that you don’t like. You wish a family member were more this or less that because you don’t like what s/he is doing or not doing. You wish all these people in this room were different so that you could be happier in this moment. You want your job to be more or less of something so that you could be happier. If it doesn’t have those characteristics, you don’t like it. You wish it wouldn’t rain so much in Seattle because you don’t like it. You wish your parent were less this, more that, so that you could be happy. You wish members of a particular political party would not believe what they believe so that you could be happy, but they do and so you are not. You wish a certain special someone loved you, but s/he doesn’t, so you are unhappy. You wish things were different. You wish they were different. You wish you were different.
Basically, when we feel the hook of shenpa, it is because we want the world to adjust itself so that we can be happy, and when it doesn’t, which is nearly all the time, we feel unhappy, depressed, annoyed, impatient, unfulfilled, irritated, angry, disappointed, let down… or just vaguely empty. Intellectually, no one expects to be happy all the time. Of course not! We know that. Duh. Get over yourself. It is a fact of life that “you don’t always get what you want.” Grow up. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Get a life. Get real.
Yeah, we know that. Of course. And yet we still get pissed off, depressed, or long-suffering. That person driving too slowly, taking too long, leaving crumbs on the counter? They still bug us. Things aren’t the way we want them to be.
Becoming curious about this tendency rather than swept away offers us a way to step out of the story line (the content) of what is happening and into the process of how it is happening. “What is this unhappiness? This upset? How does it feel in me–in my body? my mind?–and what does that show about how ego is operating?” We want to become so curious that we leave the ego no place to hide. We become honest with ourselves. Not brutally so, no. With kindness and compassion for our human condition.
I thought I’d start to take a look at some of the 59 lojong (“mind-training”) slogans from the Shambhala tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Supposedly, patient practice over time with them helps us see how our egos consistently pull the wool over our eyes about ourselves. We won’t necessarily look at all of them, and I’m not going to move lock-step through the list, checking them off. They will just provide some food for thought, applied to everyday life at home, at work, at school, and in our common life. I hasten to say that I am not a formal student or teacher of Buddhism and that I will inevitably get things wrong here. I am just a person who wants to learn to see more clearly, so I read about these things, meditate, practice, talk about them with others, and muddle through the best I can. I invite you along for the ride.