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Shenpa: That which hooks you in and ensnares you

Shenpa is what Pema Chodron 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. 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. ~ Loran Hills ♥

I had the sense that Shenpa might be more complex than “hook,” so I Googled it and found this article by Pema Chodron.  I was right–it is complicated.

The way I see it, the hook is actually about attachment, but in a deeper sense: more like addiction.  You’re attached to cigarettes, or food, or Farmville.  Shenpa is that indefinable itch you absolutely must scratch.  Chodron writes,

Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place— that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising. 

It’s at the point of tightening that we must be aware.  This is the time to stop it.

I am continually aware of this tightening because I quit smoking and a few times a day I sooo want to scratch my itch.  It truly is a tightening, too—I feel it between my shoulder blades, and I must consciously exhale my surrender and my recognition.

Chodron further writes,

What’s very interesting is you begin to notice it really quickly in other people. You’re having a conversation at work with somebody. Their face is sort of open and they’re listening, and you say something—you’re not quite sure what it is you just said, or maybe you know what it is you just said, it doesn’t necessarily have to be mean, or anything— but you see their eyes cloud over. Or you see their jaw tense. Or you can feel them… you know, you touched something. You’re seeing their shenpa, and they may not be aware of it at all. From your side, you can, at that point, just keep going and get into it with them, but with a kind of prajna, this clear seeing of what’s really happening, not involved with your story line and trying to get ground under your feet. You see that happening to them.

I have witnessed this many times, but this is the first time I’ve ever read anything about the concept.  One must step back and give space to the other because when shenpa kicks in, it’s like talking to a steel wall.

Go check out the entire article.  You’ll find it’s well worth your time.


We’re all just little icons
little you
and little I

I am seduced by the vacuum-cleaner dance.

first recognize your fear

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

You’d think it’d be easy, recognizing when you’re afraid.  It’s not.  Fear disguises itself in churchy clothes, prim white gloves and veiled hats that set just so on your hair.  In slutty clothes, see-through tops and tight jeans.  In tough clothes, leather jackets and shit-kicking boots.

Fear hides in mashed potatoes, and Hagen Daz ice cream, in peanut butter and bananas, and carne asada burritos.

It skulks in Farmville, and poker, porn, shopping, smoking, and reading.

I’ve skated past fear in my thoughts, come back and circled around and finally skidded to a stop so I could scuff at it with my toe.  Slowly I’ve been eliminating places it can hide, and the result is clarity.  I can see and breathe now that I am facing my fears.  Now I’m not just feeling for the edge with my feet–I can see the edge from here, and yes, the drop is steep.  But the other side isn’t as far away as I thought.

All the mixed metaphors in this post make me grin.

7 things I’ve committed myself to for the new year

…and no, one of them is not an institution, thank you.

  • Ever since I viewed this video, I’ve been on the lookout for ways I can communicate to people how important they are in my life. I was blown away by the response of the kids that Angela Maiers refers to in her talk.  I encounter people daily who say or do something that changes my perspective or otherwise rocks my world.  Now I’m telling them so.
  • I’m going to trust myself more.  No more second-guessing decisions or kicking myself all day when I make a mistake.
  • I’m going to value my time more.
  • I’m going to take more risks, even if it means I may fail. I had to tell myself over and over that messing with the style sheet on this blog would not ruin anything; so far, so good.  Marc and Angel write, “The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done.” (I read that  here.) 
  • I’m going to write as much as I long to do.  Bye-bye, rigid rules, fear, and and writer’s block. To this end, I’ve downloaded Dr. Wicked’s Write or Dieapp, which gives me the willies. (I should clarify that saying goodbye to fear doesn’t mean I won’t feel it. I’m just going to work through the palpitations and cold sweats.)  I have three options while I write using this app:
    1. Gentle Mode: Distraction will result in a gentle, almost maternal, reminder to keep writing. (Waste of time)
    2. Normal Mode: Procrastination will result in annoying sounds played at me until I start writing again.  (like Pavlov’s Bell. Might work. )
    3. Kamikaze Mode: If I stop writing, Write or Die will start eating my words one by one until I start again. (Big Sir William willies. This will work.)  Give the online version a try. (The download is $10)
  • I’m going to get rid of things I’ve been holding on to out of fear, mainly:
    1. books:  they might stop printing them; I’ll never find this book again; I’ll forget I wanted to read it; my shelves will be bare.
    2. clothes:  I won’t have enough variety; I’ve loved this shirt so long; I’ll never find this color again.
    3. and CDs.  What if I want to listen to them one day? Never mind that I haven’t in ages. I might want to tomorrow.
      Truth:  I’m not trapped in the Handmaid’s Tale, I don’t need 9 million bookshelves, I need to change my style anyway, and I listen to enough music to keep me happy, and I don’t miss what I’m not listening to. Or not reading. Or not wearing.  Seriously. wtf.
  • I’m going to enjoy the process, whatever it entails. Whatever it takes. Hakuna matata.

Note from the Universe:  If you understood the extraordinary gifts that every single challenge in your life makes possible, even inevitable, you’d celebrate your challenges, new and old alike, as the omens that they are of new beginnings and spectacular change.


How to be a legend

Note from the Universe:  A tip on legend making:  Always do what you most want to do, and do it your way.

This note reminds me of the quote:
Well-behaved women seldom make history.” ~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
In that case, well, shut up?! I’m already there.

What do you most want to do?

I want to express myself. (ok, that made me laugh. I have a blog, so that’s obvious.) I mean I want not just to write, but to paint. But I have this vivid image of what a painter looks like:     my mother.

Mama was a wildly talented painter and sculptress. Her paintings hang in libraries at Western Washington University and she had numerous showings.  Her long brown hair was often tipped with cerulean or burnt umber or yellow ochre because she never tied it back.  Turpentine. Palettes. Paint tubes. Easels.  All of it looms in my head when I look at a blank canvas.  It reminds me of her talent and I am stalled. I can’t use a brush correctly (seriously. It looks so easy, but the brushes never do what I tell them.)  When I paint I use my fingers, or a sponge, or a palette knife, anything but a damn brush.  I cannot draw a proper representation of anything to save my life. My bent is strictly abstract.

I have a beautiful 36×48 blank canvas hanging over my desk that I am afraid to ruin. I have it there to …coax me, I suppose.  It’s not working.
Mama…Mama was a columbine. And I am a dandelion.

…and dandelions are amazing.

  • They grow wherever they damn well please.
  • We make wishes on them,
  • and we divine whether someone loves us by holding one under our chins.
  • They help plants to crop more heavily,
  • and it’s believed that if they grow near fruit trees the fruit ripens more quickly.
  • You can make wine out of ’em,
  • or salad,
  • or tea.
  • Herbalists use it to treat liver ailments.
  • They’re used in pagan celebrations of springtime. (Beltane is my birthday, so I love this.)
  • Dandelions are a symbol of perseverance in the face of hardship,
  • and they are so ubiquitous that nearly anyone can picture one.
  • And have you heard of our Dandelion Universe? Look here and here.

"The dandelion is an excellent barometer, one of the commonest and most reliable. It is when the blooms have seeded and are in the fluffy, feathery condition that its weather prophet facilities come to the fore. In fine weather the ball extends to the full, but when rain approaches, it shuts like an umbrella. If the weather is inclined to be showery it keeps shut all the time, only opening when the danger from the wet is past." Source: "Camping For Boys," by H.W. Gibson

So ok, I can hang with being a dandelion.
I do everything else my way. Can’t hurt to suck it up and paint, too.

What amazing flower are you?

The power of noticing

December 23’s Note from the Universe:  Who would have ever thought that you would see, feel, and intuitively know so much that others completely miss?  You’ve changed absolutely everything.

Ten+ years ago, I couldn’t think of a single person who could say that I was special to her/him.  I don’t mean romantically. I mean in the sense that it mattered to anyone that I got up in the morning, that my existence was not just important, but crucial. I don’t remember precisely why I was in that space, but I remember the blackness, and I remember having enough sense to reach out to close friends. (Here’s a terrific post about crawling out of the hole.)

I had lunch with one of them, and when I told her what I was struggling with, she was so shocked that tears sprang to her eyes.
That image has stayed with me because her surprise was genuine, and I think that’s what made me realize my perspective was skewed.
I was beyond tears, myself.  My despair was edged with a curious, baffled detachment:  Why couldn’t I name anyone who could say that I was special?  And why did it matter so much?  I hated that need, and I hated myself for being pathetic.

Lately I’ve been studying metaphors and human needs,  for both my writing and my personal growth.  I don’t want to be stuck focusing all my energy on fulfilling the two core human needs (certainty and significance) to the detriment of the other four, which I wrote about in my last post.
I’ve picked up several books on metaphors:

David Grove is particularly important because it is he who came up with the concept of “clean language”–language which is free from your own metaphors and which reflects those of the person you are listening to.  It’s a therapeutic tool, but the use of clean language can transform anyone’s listening skills. I’m finding Sullivan and Rees’ book to be more helpful than Grove’s because of the practical applications they suggest.

For example, they present two of twelve core questions of Clean Language in Chapter One:

  • (And) What kind of X (is that X)?
  • (And) Is there anything else about X?

They explain that “the X in the question refers to a word or phrase the speaker has used” and the question ‘What kind of X?’ invites them to ‘zoom in’ on the specific details, while ‘Anything else about X?’ can help them ‘zoom out’ to the wider context or to focus on other details about ‘X'” (2).  Then they share this anecdote for illustration:

A mother who had just learned some Clean Language picked up her daughter Jenny from school.  When Jenny showed her a picture of a house she had drawn, Mum asked, “What kind of house is that house?”, “And is there anything else about that house?” and so on. What resulted was one of the longest after-school conversations they’d ever enjoyed.  The next day after school, Jenny demanded, “Ask me some more questions, Mummy!” (2-3)

The purpose of using Clean Language is to strip your own metaphors and assumptions out of the discourse so that you can truly hear the other person. I’m reading this book and practicing on myself so I can discover my own metaphors, and so I can flesh out my characters.

I’ve also been assessing how I can better meet my own six core human needs. (This post is good, too.)  Ten years ago I was focusing on significance; today I’m learning about how I can meet my need for certainty and contribution.  Certainty, for me, means I keep my schedule from being blowtorched by others’ urgent needs.  It means I have a list of the 6 most important things I need to accomplish each day (I don’t know what the deal is with the number 6) and that I have a specific plan in place for each of my long-term goals. These things make me feel like I have some measure of control in my unpredictable uproarious life.

My need to contribute, I’m finding, is complex. I thought it was a simple matter of giving things to people: books, clothes, food. But giving away thousands of books hasn’t met that need the way connecting with people does. (Read about why I give away books here.)  I watched a brief TED talk this morning that showed me a way I can contribute:  You Matter  I hope it inspires you, too.

It’s all good

Thank you, Mike Dooley. Once more your gentle advice via Notes from the Universe has upended my perspective and made me serene and thankful.

Dooley’s flip calendar has this note:  Sometimes difficult people are placed on your path so that you can be reminded of what you may have once put others through.  In all cases, you both thought it was a good idea to meet up this time, for reasons that will one day make perfect sense. ~The Universe

When I read that, I thought, “NFW.”

I have spent the last two weeks or so navigating through various peoples’ schedules, and I was craptastically inconvenienced by one person who took vacation during a time when work exploded.  This person is crucial to getting things done in a timely manner–there are things only he can do.  When I complained to him when he got back, he said, “hehehe.”  Scowl.

But that Note has been marinating, and today I see its truth.  I can remember taking desperately needed time off during a time that inconvenienced others.  Any time would have been inconvenient, and there was no way to foresee complications. He couldn’t have known, either.

So I’m serene, and genuinely glad for him. I get the giggle, too.

Nobody died. Work got done.