Pushing Off From the Shenpa Shore

I had vowed to write a blog entry every week.
The last two weeks have been a dry spell.
I love writing, it's my way of exploring the mysteries of life and sharing my ongoing musings with others.
But when I'm distracted with strong emotions or lost in seemingly unstoppable internal narratives that cause worry and rumination - my writing flow jams up.
Basically, I've been having a wholehearted Shenpa party with one guest: My worrisome mind.

Shenpa is a Tibetan word, which Pema Chodron (American Buddhist nun/teacher) translates as the experience of getting hooked, emotionally activated, caught in a sticky feeling. It has a quality of urgency where we feel the urge to feed and escalate the troubling emotional experience with wholehearted gusto.

I just love the word Shenpa.
Something about the sound of it evokes the nitty-gritty, real-time tangle of emotional activation and reactivity. When Pema explains Shenpa she spells out the word with a dramatic pause on the "N" and says "N as in nutcase." This is a great reminder to bring humor to the moments when humor is not our go-to resource. Humor is enlivening and, if we let it, can expand our limited perspective of what is possible with the challenges we are facing. Pema is also pointing out that, yes, at times, we are all nut cases. Join the human race; get on the bozo bus, all good, nothing going wrong.

Shenpa is like getting our canoe caught in a tangle of deep rooted reeds on the banks of the river. We see the river; want to get into the creative, pleasurable, open flow of our lives and selves - but somehow, during a Shenpa attack, pushing off from the shore seems impossible.

I'm assuming that we all get tangled in Shenpa; we all hit the reeds and feel off course in honoring what we hold to be most valuable, meaningful, and true in our lives. We question if we were ever on course. We get caught in the reeds of strong emotions and troubling inner stories about how difficult life is; how we are incapable of rising to whatever is on our plate; how we are lacking in innumerable ways; how someone else is not being what we need or want; how things are not going the way we had hoped. Judgement and blame take over.  Fear lurks. We contract, feel hopeless, confused, exhausted and set up camp on the Shenpa Shore. (Yes, I'm really milking this Shenpa metaphor.)

In the grip of Shenpa we also lose confidence in our abundant inner resources, natural intelligence, and resilience. It's like we are blindfolded, bound, gagged and barricaded in a corner. The barricaded state and accompanying loss of confidence and hope - often have to do with the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible. We have a limited view of who we are and what we are capable of being and achieving. We usually set narrow parameters for what is possible based on what we learned long ago in the limited classroom of our childhood (implicit core beliefs).

My experience of this kind of Shenpa Party on the Shenpa Shore is that at some point, when I think I can't take it one moment longer and I've exhausted myself from clawing and cursing at the tangled reeds; worked myself into a frenzy of worry, fear, doubt and self-judgment - something dawns on me: I can decide to be with my emotional activation and inner stories with the trusty tools of radical compassion and open, loving curiosity.  I can push off from the shore simply by naming and taming my fears and self-judgments and questioning and updating the files on my limited stories about what is possible.

Yes, not so easy to do, but simple in that it only requires my willingness to pause and look down into the murky, reed-filled waters, reach in and slowly, gently, lovingly begin the untangling process.  When I do this, I notice that the Shenpa gradually subsides and I'm pushing off from the shore; back in the flow of my river.

That's just what I did before sitting down to write this musing.
I found out that my belief that I must say something wise and brilliantly original in my writing or write nothing at all - gets me caught up in the Shenpa Reeds.
It took a bit of time to untangle that bundle of reeds but I stayed right where I was, all blocked and fearful and worried and hopeless and kept reaching into those murky waters (as deeply as necessary) with compassion, curiosity, humor, and patience.

So as usual, I invite you to test out my remedy for Shenpa.
Notice when you're having a Shenpa Party with a guest of one, caught in the Shenpa Reeds, setting up camp on the Shenpa Shore - and experiment with using my way of pushing off from the shore.

I welcome your feedback on how your experiment unfolds.


Another great resource for pushing off from the Shenpa Shore:
Tara Brach on Standing Still and Listening


  1. Bikram brings you right into the shenpa. It forces you to face fears. You have to kind of talk yourself into calm and tell yourself "I can do this" with a smile. It changes everything.

    Thanks for posting!!

  2. With a smile! I like that bit. The humor and perspective piece is essential!


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