Monday, June 9, 2014

My Shenpa is Showing

"Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down." - Pema Chodron

The therapist who runs a support group I attend loves to remind us that when we immediately close down or react without being able to hear further explanation that our shenpas are "showing." Pema Chodron points out that shenpa is a Tibetan word that literally means "attachment." When we get stuck in feelings of despair, self-deprecation, anger, or fear this is shenpa. In the clinical world, I hear the term triggered used to describe the same thing; something has brought about a reaction and we become stuck in the feelings brought up. Shenpa is a word I have thought about, prayed on, meditated with, and discussed a lot recently.

In the past 72 hours I've had several interactions where my shenpa swooped in, took hold, and refused to let go. What should have been a simple interaction with co-workers turned into an hour discussion that was ineffective and frustration. We were all tired, frustrated, and reacting. Not one of us was really hearing what the others had to say because we just weren't in the right space. When I realized the futility of the situation I attempted to point out that perhaps the discussion should take place at a later time and date. I watched as defenses went up and one of my coworkers took this to mean he was not doing his job right. Suddenly I'm being told to stop making excuses and to just deal with the situation as it comes. He pointed out that I was "obviously" tired and letting my outside world effect my job, which he sees as breaking a cardinal rule.

In that moment my shenpa jumped up, threw its arms around me, and squeezed tight. I became defensive and upset, crying and frustrated, and even more ineffective than before. I was consumed with thoughts of being judged, blamed, and used as a "whipping boy." I stayed stuck in this reaction, allowing it to consume me, and it made the next hour pretty miserable. Finally, I stopped fighting it. I acknowledged my reaction, my fear, my sadness, my shenpa, and let it be for a moment. I sat with it and suddenly the claws that held me loosened. I went a step further and practiced a forgiveness meditation I recently learned and felt even better. I forgave myself and my coworker for being human and forgave myself for judging. For once I stopped fighting my emotions and let them be.

In the Rumi poem, "The Guesthouse," it is suggested that emotions are like visitors and that they should all be welcomed. The poem goes on to explain that even emotions that wipe us out may be doing so just to make room for new and better things. I first heard "The Guesthouse" at a retreat several months ago. This was the beginning of the next (my current) chapter of healing.  The poem stirred something deep inside me when I realized that I had been treating my emotions so harshly. I was attempting to turn away "bad" emotions and trying to force in "good" emotions. I knew then I had to start rethinking my approach to emotional healing and regulation.

Yesterday morning proved me human, once again. An interaction I had with an associate left me feeling unworthy, unheard, and full of despair. I took the words and tone personally, not thinking about the fact that she was dealing with her very own shenpa. Thankfully, I am surrounded by loving and caring friends and was able to reach out and get a reality check. I also took a minute to practice that forgiveness meditation once again. Forgiveness is not a onetime thing; every moment is a chance to forgive yourself (and others) again and again.

The interactions we have are so important in helping us reach our highest potential. Shenpa is NOT a bad word. It is just an insight into the nature that makes us human. Being aware doesn't mean filtering every reaction to be perfect; that's unrealistic. It just means we are able to better to acknowledge when we get emotionally stuck, which leads us to un-stick ourselves quicker.

Acknowledge you are human and forgive yourself. Allow your emotions to come and go without fighting or forcing. There is no need to beat yourself up for something you can't help. Every day, every experience, every moment is a learning moment. Allow yourself to learn and grow without judgment. 

I invite you to take a few minutes out of your day and try this self-forgiveness meditation by Tara Brach: Forgiveness

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