Tuesday, July 08, 2008


In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, they have a name for that feeling of seizing up, of tightening, when we begin to react to something. They call is shenpa (I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right). It's that moment before thought, before even emotion, when we find ourselves reacting, getting stuck in something.

An example: while driving to a meeting yesterday, I pulled up behind a truck with a very unkind bumper sticker on it. I will not spread the harsh words it used, but essentially it was very demeaning towards women.

And there it was. Shenpa. I found myself thinking all manner of unkind things about the owner of that truck, making all manner of assumptions about his motives, his relationships, the likelihood of his acting in an abusive way to his wife or girlfriend.

And I think that, probably, there is some measure of truth in my assumptions about the guy. But the wisdom of the Buddhists here is that I must be careful not to become hooked, to be drawn into these reactions in ways that blind us from compassion, from awareness, from who we are.

I must admit I have similar shenpa reactions when I hear political ads that demonize undocumented immigrants, when I hear people degrade those of differing sexual orientations, even when I begin to think about the scare tactics used by the RNC in political campaigns.

The thing is, I believe that most of these groups (the reactionary ones, in particular) are simply reacting to their own shenpa -- their own fear, disgust, loathing. In so doing, I believe they are blinded. But if I fail to question myself, to find some way of lessening the shenpa's hold on me, then I am in some ways no different than they are. Perhaps my biases are more palatable to me, but they remain obstacles to compassion, love, growth, insight. They inhibit me from interacting with them in ways that promote true dialogue and understanding.


more cows than people said...

funny... i came here after reading of a friend's real estate woes which led her to (mostly in a playful way) to wish a smiting involving a boil on a seller's agent they're dealing with. and i dug it; wishing i'd thought to wish TWO boils on a certain seller's agent... given my recent shenpa.

thanks for reorienting me. : )

seriously, i miss you and your posts. you're so consistently thoughtful.

more cows than people said...

i should say i have missed you. i'm so glad you posted today.

Katherine E. said...

Wow. Yesterday I was listening to a podcast of "Speaking of Faith." She was interviewing Thich Nhat Hanh. Your post should have been on that radio show! Thank you, Steve.

(To answer your question, we're not using any specific modality. I'll be combining some of the things I've used in previous workshops, talking about fear as the major obstacle to authenticity...things like that. Thanks for asking, Steve. Take care.)