You have just disappointed someone you love. You are feeling rushed for work, school, an appointment, or meeting a friend. You can’t get your work done with your children around. A car cuts you off on the road. Someone looks at you wrong, or has a tone. Your child’s behavior embarrasses you in front of another person. You feel unwell in your body, again. These are just a few of the countless ways that might call it in, but once you begin to take notice, you may realize this experience is very familiar.
In essence, you are hooked. It begins with a tightening. It could be anywhere – in your jaw, in your throat. Then it moves into withdrawal and shutting down. Or it can shift in another direction altogether – an outright explosion of anger. That clenched feeling has the power to hook us into self-attack, blame of other, anger, or jealousy. These emotions can easily lead to words and actions that end up hurting us, as well as others.
In the Tibetan language it is called Shenpa. Shenpa, in its simplest form, shows up as attachment, and with the attachment comes discomfort – which causes suffering. Though it’s more than this. It’s the urge to take away the discomfort the attachment brings. The story’s content is irrelevant. What matters most is how we begin to relate to these uncomfortable feelings within ourselves. Whether you are noticing them or not, each moment is being recorded as good, bad, or neutral. That is not the inherent problem. Many of these moments, however, bring a sense of attachment to them and this is where it gets tricky. The good news is we will have many opportunities each day to work with this discomfort.
Over the holiday, I attended a silent retreat in a desolate landscape just outside Joshua Tree. The retreat was very challenging, though not in the areas that I might have imagined. Being given the wrong directions and ending up lost in the desert was a moment that hooked me, if only a little. Upon arrival, I was told the woman leading the retreat was unwell and therefore not able to give the teachings – another hook, a little stronger this time. Being told to put out an incense that I had lit in the room, mild annoyance. Rats scurrying all around me in the walls and ceiling of my room, while I gazed transfixed at the opening under the doorway, waiting for their arrival – really challenging. I was undone! But I was there to meditate and that’s what I did. I just tried to watch it all without reacting. What became clear is my deep attachment to comfort and what happens to my equanimity when it is taken away.
Since I’ve been home, I am observing the moments where I get hooked. If I don’t get enough time for Self or time to call in Spirit, I can become impatient (hooked). My dogs peeing on the carpet, I can get mad (hooked). If my house is out of order, I am uneasy (hooked). When my daughter continues to interrupt me when I am on the phone, frustrated (hooked). When everyone else’s needs surpass my own, I am done (hooked). No matter what words we use to describe the sensations, it simply comes back to Shenpa.
What hooks you?
We all want some kind of relief from the discomfort, so we turn to the places that offer us a reprieve from the feelings – whether it be shopping or food, alcohol or drugs, work, sex, gambling, TV, anything that takes the temporary unease away. I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that many have an addiction to “processing” their feelings, and to perfection. In moderation, all of these are pleasant and not a problem. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our angst, well therein lays the rub.
Sometimes being hooked is so fierce that we say things to others that couldn’t possibly have come from our own mouths. The momentum behind the urge to say something hurtful to another can be very powerful – like moving mountains. You might find yourself saying harsh things to another – even if its just in your own head, knowing that you can’t stop yourself, or approaching everyone and everything with a critical mind. However it shows up, it gives us a satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from our uneasiness. The reaction to another becomes a distraction from our self.
As we say hello to the New Year, lets see if we can begin welcoming in the tender moments of discomfort. This is no small task, but working with these moments softens the edges around our reactions and our heart. Learning to recognize where we are attached and learning strategies for how to unhook from these attachments is the beginning. The trick is to be willing to see the suffering as our own without feeling entitled to blame another for causing it. To do just that bit would change our inner landscape from immovable boulders to rivers. Just knowing that our habitual pattern is to get hooked, can help relieve the tug. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes a willingness to notice the repetitive places that grab you. It takes thought out strategies and a lot of run throughs to refrain from reacting; it takes a determination to keep practicing this way. Be patient. The joy that comes from unhooking is a Spiritual practice that can truly offer you the fertility of freedom.