Pema Chodron has a wonderful program called Getting Unstuck that I find myself returning to frequently. This is one of those programs I can listen to multiple times and glean something different each time. Shenpa is something she addresses in detail and I have found it to be a wonderful way to conceptualize and understand the moment at which suffering hits me.
Shenpa can be directly translated as “attachment” (in the Buddhist sense), but the true meaning is somewhat more nuanced than that. It is really that feeling of tightening in your mind/body when something triggers a negative reaction in you. It’s not the thing itself, but rather the mind/body’s reaction to it – the sudden grip. Sometimes the grip comes and passes and at other times it stays.
For me, I find that shenpa is somewhat tenacious. Once it settles in it stays, sometimes even after I have forgotten what triggered it in the first place. There is nothing like feeling the gripping and having to stand there and say to yourself, “okay, I was sitting eating my sandwich and listening to music…everything was fine…oh, right there was that news story about…” Interestingly, I have found that going through this cognitive process with shenpa that hits suddenly is often helpful in dispelling it. Not always.
So, one of the mindfulness practices I have assembled for myself is to sit and try to feel where there shenpa is in my body. So, I scan and ask myself, where does it hurt?Once I have found the location in my body where I feel the focus of the pain, I attend to it very strongly and breathe in long, cleansing breaths. I have been pleased to see that it works more often than not. I’ve been interested to note that I usually find the pain centering around one or another chakra. (Most often either the solar plexus or the heart) So, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I try to understand what it is about the current shenpa that relates to that particular chakra. Sometimes I figure it out. Sometimes I don’t.
Recently, I have expanded this practice to include some tonglen practice to this. For those who don’t know, tonglen is where you feel the suffering/shenpa in yourself and you imagine some other person or group of people who may be feeling similar pain. You breathe in (visualizing taking in the yucky dark energy) and then breathe out (visualizing having transformed the yucky stuff into pure white light). In this way, you can incorporate a compassion practice into the work you are doing to reduce your own suffering. Adding the tonglen I find has been particularly powerful. The same dissipation comes out of it, but at the end of the process I feel so much more connected to the experiences and suffering of those around me that it makes me feel less alone in the world.
So, that’s what I currently doing with shenpa.
Fish hook picture from: http://mytreetv.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/shenpa/ Nice entry on shenpa with Pema Chodron.
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