What is shenpa? I appreciate Pema Chodron’s teachings on shenpa because she has helped me identify the insidious nature of my mind. Have you ever had a broken tooth and been unable to stop your tongue from running over the jagged edge? That is shenpa. The broken tooth can be an event gone south, a communication gone awry, an unpleasant interaction, or a criticism. The mental argument begins and the defenses go up. The “committee” starts chattering, “But that isn’t true! I didn’t mean it that way! I should have said this but I said that. Why did I say that when I should have said something else?” It is maddening, insane and endlessly aggravating.
Shenpa is what Pema calls the hook. We each have different hooks but we all get hooked by attachment to outcomes, expectations, or regrets. It is emotionally painful and we suffer, especially if the committee adds, “And, by the way, you are really stupid, fat, ugly, and lazy.” It’s like putting a match to gasoline and then running around in your mind screaming , “Call 911!”
For example, this morning was very cold, 2F/-16C. My daughter tried to start her car to go to the dentist but the battery was dead. I had to call our neighbor to come help start her car. The committee kicked into gear, “Too bad you don’t know where the jumper cables are. This is embarrassing to have to call the neighbor. Oh great. Now another expense because she needs a new battery and then there’s the cost of getting her teeth cleaned. Of course it happens right before Christmas.” Because I was already outside I tried to add water to the llamas tub but guess what? The pump handle is frozen. “What is it with watering animals lately? I’m freezing! I don’t want to drag hoses from the other pump to this one. It’s such a pain. I was going to make cookies. This isn’t part of the plan. Aren’t you supposed to be working on feeling joyful and enchanted?”
I started turning the self-talk around. “I’m grateful we have an income. I’m grateful we can afford a new battery. We won’t go broke. We are not destitute. I’m thankful I have such a good neighbor who is always willing to help us. I have a lovely place to live with lots of animals and I love my animals.” And, oh yeah, two kittens just got spayed and the puppy needs shots so there’s a vet bill to pay today too. “Oh boy! I’m so grateful for my abundance!” (Right? OK, this takes practice!)
Whatever the hook is, I have to let it go. I must remember that 100 years from now when I am dead and gone, it truly won’t matter. It won’t be important because all my actions will be in the past. Just as they are now while I am living, from moment to moment. Why hold on to the negativity? What matters now is being kind, forgiving and loving towards myself and others. Pema describes a four stage process related to coping with shenpa and it’s important to practice all the steps. But for now, it’s good to be aware that there is a word that describes the difficulty and to know that there is a way out of the mental suffering.