Shenpa is a Buddhist concept that I’ve been spending a lot of time studying and contemplating recently. I study mostly Pema Chodron’s teachings and this is a big construct for her. Shenpa really causes us great pain and makes us continue to reach for ground. The Tibetan translation is “attachment”, but the construct is much more. It is about the sticky, clinging, distracting reactions that we are so hardwired to have to both external and internal thoughts, feelings, and actions. I felt this was a good analogy of what shenpa is:
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.
I struggle with this a great deal… the experience of someone (even myself) saying/doing something mean or hurtful and the following spiraling down of low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness that happen after.
One of the interesting things is shenpa’s relationship to meditation. One of the goals of meditation is to learn to stay with feelings that we normally pull away from and to work to see our true minds and self. Quite often during meditation we will have to face insights into ourselves and these insights are often of things that we might label “bad” or “wrong” even though it is never a good practice to label things as “good” or “bad” in general. They just are. So, ironically, the more insight we have into ourselves, the greater potential for shenpa to take hold and to bring us down. It is a balancing act…awareness and acceptance without judgment. Very difficult.