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The Shenpa Syndrome

--by Pema Chodron (Mar 14, 2005)

Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever.

The Tibetan word for this is Shenpa. It 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. [...]

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy--food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

In practicing with shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the meditation cushion. Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff "thinking" and return to the present moment.

What we really need to do is address things just as they are. Learning to recognize shenpa teaches us the meaning of not being attached to this world. Not being attached has nothing to do with this world. It has to do with shenpa - being hooked by what we associate with comfort. All we're trying to do is not to feel our uneasiness. But when we do this we never get to the root of practice. The root is experiencing the itch as well as the urge to scratch, and then not acting it out.

--Pema Chodron

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3 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jan 3, 2011 Pamela wrote:

I am lost. Is it not possible to just use mindfullness; stop at the recognition of a shenpa situation, feel the emotion, accept it , become aware of the choices you have and move on?



On Jun 8, 2010 steve wrote:

It seems to be about looking for permanence, and forgetting that everything arises and passes. After the perception, the "urge" to do something comes on, and we act. Understanding this "urge" is an emotion that just as it arises, will pass, and nothing needs to be carried out base on this urge. It seems to me that this "urge" is an emotion elicited by the previous perception, and we create a "papancha" of stuff around this emotion and turn it into a story. let the emotion peak and dissipate, then depart, and the story and papancha do not even start.  As always, it is forgetting the impernence of ... oh well,did I just create a "papancha" about impermenence being the cause of this issue?  I fell into the trap of making "emptiness" a concept?   As my mom said, "oy vei". At least I did not ask about the "Raiders"!!!!

 



On Jun 12, 2006 Yaniv wrote:

What is it that you use to come back to your real Self, to the present moment? Knowledge without love is as useful as a bunch of dry tea leaves. When Knowledge is brewed with compassion, a most delicious nectar ensues. Without service however, who is there to share the tea with? A disciple tells his Master "I can keep all the precepts except for drinking" The master replied "Ok, then, you can keep drinking, just remember always that Buddah's mother is always at the bottom of the drinking glass" The name of Buddha's mother is Maya, or delusion & attachment. While learning to dance, whenever someone would offer a criticism this feeling of shenpa would arise. Lately, a new strategy works really well, just accept what is being said, whether it's true or not. Resisting does not help. Pessimism is a way of trying to cope with negative trigger. Sometimes I notice that I've become attached to not being attached. When skiing, one can really lose themselves, their ident  See full.

  • What is it that you use to come back to your real Self, to the present moment?
  • Knowledge without love is as useful as a bunch of dry tea leaves. When Knowledge is brewed with compassion, a most delicious nectar ensues. Without service however, who is there to share the tea with?
  • A disciple tells his Master "I can keep all the precepts except for drinking" The master replied "Ok, then, you can keep drinking, just remember always that Buddah's mother is always at the bottom of the drinking glass"
  • The name of Buddha's mother is Maya, or delusion & attachment.
  • While learning to dance, whenever someone would offer a criticism this feeling of shenpa would arise. Lately, a new strategy works really well, just accept what is being said, whether it's true or not. Resisting does not help.
  • Pessimism is a way of trying to cope with negative trigger.
  • Sometimes I notice that I've become attached to not being attached.
  • When skiing, one can really lose themselves, their identifications in the silence and beauty.
  • Practicing mental silence is the best way I've found to bring myself to the moment.
  • Marcus Oberlis(?) "Anger cannot be dishonest"
  • The blissful feelings after meditation can also cause a reaction of shenpa, reacting in an attempt to chase those feelings and run away from other life situations.
  • Getting offended is somewhat useless, because if someone criticizes you and it is true, then that is a good thing. If they are wrong, then what is there to get stressed about?
  • Often when this feeling of Shenpa arises, I see within myself both great good and also a monstorous side. In many ways seeing both these sides is what leads to the feeling of Shenpa, knowing that there is a chance that I may choose to act from the negative aspect of who I am.
  • "Feeling temptation is not a sin, it's following the temptation which gets you in trouble" Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Sometimes negative reactions are helpful, in the sense that after suffering them you can get the strong resolve to finally do something about it. When a rocket takes off, at each stage a bunch of fuel is burnt and let go until it reaches orbit. Likewise, we can use these feelings as fuel for our own take-off.
  • My friend likes to play a game, it's called "It could be worse ..." .. whenever I'm upset, she will make me list so many ways of how my life could be worse.
  • Another friend repeats often "Things are never as good or as bad as they seem"