Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shenpa, Schmenpa: On Getting the Hook

Pema Chodron, in whose wise, albeit virtual company I spent last weekend, (see Time Out and Done for the Week:  All This, and San Francisco!) has been teaching for some time on the subject of shenpa.  Shenpa is a

Tibetan word . . . .usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us. 
And though she didn't focus so much on shenpa last weekend, I have been doing my own little independent study on the subject the last couple of days.  Yesterday and the day before might aptly be termed "Days of Rage," in which I became "hooked" by my feelings of anger resulting from my rediscovery of the fact that the world is not my oyster.

It started on Wednesday evening, when my meditation group was once again besieged by a building full of noisy groups of people, evincing their outrageous unconcern with our need for peace and QUIET.  Recent weeks have seen a disturbing (to me, hence the shenpa) uptick in usage of our church building by various ad hoc and standing committees on the very night that our group had chosen to meet.  The first result was that we were bumped from our spacious, and familiar quarters, and reassigned to the "Quiet" Room.  The latter is a much smaller space filled with recently relocated church library overflow and items devoted to occupying fussy children and their parents during services.  The room itself has recently been renamed, its previous moniker "Cry Room" more fitting to my experience in it lately.  

Last week, we contended with loud conversations outside the door to our assigned room, and riotous laughing accompanying a video being played at a deafening volume on the other side of an apparently paper wall.  The offending soundtrack also boomed through the sanctuary where we sought to do our walking meditation--since our "meditation space" was too small to accommodate doing anything but sitting on our chairs and cushions in a tight little circle.  We tried seeking refuge for walking in the not-so-atmospheric church basement, but a Tai Chi group occupied the central area, and the other meeting rooms, like those upstairs, were all filled.  Back to the sanctuary, and the party noise spillover.  And our efforts to "be in the moment," and "focus on the breath."  That was a new low.

Until this week, when the noise and the apparent revelry continued unabated.  This time the sanctuary too was in use by new members "building their own theology" with our minister.  Having benefited from that curriculum myself some years ago, I could hardly begrudge them the space, or their having fun with the enterprise.  But I did.  Just a little.

When it came time for our walking meditation, we decided to head outside, to our "prairie circle" drive in front of the church.  The temperature was pleasant enough, and the moon was full.  But it was intermittently sprinkling and raining for most of our walk.  And then there was the coming and going of cars to this newly irresistible mecca.  And the gaping.  What were these weirdos doing walking in slow motion in the dark and the dampness?

I know that, theoretically, "everything is my teacher," and that I should have been able to block out all this distraction and use the opportunity to train my mind.  And theoretically, I should be able to meditate in Times Square, too.  But I'm not that good.  Not ready for that particular prime time.  

But here's the thing.  It wasn't the noise, really.  It was my emotion about the noise, and the fact that others were making that noise when it didn't fit in with my plans.  What Pema calls the "story line."  And that's what hooked me.  Meditation became anger management, and it wasn't going so well.  In retrospect, I can see myself spiraling down into the kind of martyred thinking that has been a challenge for me in other arenas.  I can't get what I want, what I see myself as entitled to, so I feel and act out my victimization.  

The meditation dilemma was bad enough, but as it turns out, easily resolved.  We decided to move to another night, one with almost no other scheduled meetings or events.  We will once again have the building mostly to our quiet selves, and can return to our preferred spot within it.

But I am seeing this morning, having spent a restless night dealing with a fresh anger, that it doesn't end there.  Apparently, given my response to my husband's actions yesterday, I have the same control issues in other areas of my life.  And they hook me again and again.  

All this relates to getting stuff done because it involves so much counterproductive emotion and action and inaction.  Yesterday I was too angry to meditate.  I fell off a curb and reinjured the left foot that I am going to need for my race on Sunday.  I spent too much time trying to calm myself playing Mahjong Medley on my computer.  All the jaw-clenching and shoulder-hunching gave me a splitting headache and unraveled my post-yoga serenity.  Hours that could have been spent writing went unreflexively down the rabbit hole of web design.  Lost time.  As in, I was lost for much of that time.

This morning, prajna

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