Shenpa: Spiritual Insight & the Four Rs
Shenpa is the origin of our habitual patterns that lead us into awkward life situations. It may be a feeling like an itch we feel a need to scratch. For instance, if we enjoy food, alcohol, or sex our initial reaction to these stimuli may be delight. However, when we habitually use these stimulations over and over to mask pain or fear or any discomfort then the positive feeling diminishes. Eventually the pleasure becomes a nuisance, possibly even producing more pain in the long run. On the surface, this habitual pattern is going on beyond our awareness. Self-awareness meditation can help one gain awareness and fully experience the pain, fear, discomfort or sadness, and let the feeling settle by itself – without “scratching the itch”. One can sit quietly in meditation to gain this self-mastery. You can also practice the following four Rs to the best of your ability in the moment when Shenpa crops up.
Usually translated as attachment, Shenpa’s meaning is more akin to trigger, stickiness, or getting hooked. This Tibetan Buddhist concept is that feeling or reaction you may get when your feathers get ruffled, or the egoic reaction to life and situations. It is the tightness, even anger reactivity, when someone cuts in front of your car in traffic, or when your sister says something that brings up pain or discomfort from your past etc. Many times Shenpa is at the root of arguments and conflict. The following four practices serve to free yourself from the Shenpa pattern, gaining mental mastery and more enlightened and conscious behavior.
This is how through self-awareness we see the first glimmer of a thought, feeling or sensation that causes us to want to scratch the itch. Noticing when Shenpa arises, when we feel that knee-jerk reaction tendency.
Once we see the possibility of getting hooked, we realize we can refrain from taking the next step. For example, if we feel criticized we may notice we tense up. Noticing this reaction may allow us to stay with the situation and refrain from being defensive or other default responses. Pema Chodron who wrote Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears suggests taking three deep breaths, when Shenpa crops up, as most thoughts and feelings will naturally subside and shift within 90 seconds or less (about the duration of three deep full breaths).
After we clearly see the mechanics of our habitual patterns, we can relax into the situation and let it unravel naturally in the mind.
This step is for us to continue working this way with our mind and our emotions.
This spiritual path of self-awareness meditation and working with the four Rs we uncover our three basic human qualities – natural intelligence, warmth, and openness without struggle. Pema Chodron explains in her book “Getting Unstuck” these qualities have always been with us, but perhaps have gotten buried or nearly forgotten due to our constant struggle with Shenpa.
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