We wear such long and heavy clothing in winter, it’s a wonder we know who we are underneath. That’s why, on this cold winter night, soaking naked in a tub was the most fitting setting for me to confront shenpa.
From “Learning To Stay,” by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron:
“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.
“Another mean word may not affect you, but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place— that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising…
“In terms of shenpa itself, there’s the tightening that happens involuntarily, then there’s the urge to move away from it in some habitual way…”
Shenpa is why I needed a bath tonight.
I was frustrated with the slow, intermittent wireless connection in my house. I was still still pissed that the dump truck guy rode my ass all the way from Kittanning to New Bethlehem. My skin was dry and I felt heavy and unfamiliar to myself tonight. And it all started yesterday with shenpa.
I want to add a warning to my previous blog, “Do You Google Yourself.” Be prepared to read ugly things about yourself if you venture into unfamiliar websites that tag your name. I found two blogs yesterday that attacked me personally. The writers of these blogs made pot shots – sweeping conclusions about who I am without ever talking to me – and they hurt me deeply. I tried to put the hurt aside, to dwell on the positive, but the feeling festered because I didn’t deal with the shenpa. I chose, instead, to get pissed at the things I couldn’t change. I moved away from shenpa rather than confront it.
Finally tonight I listened to my dried face, chapped lips, and my general lack of voice and coherency as they all screamed, “Get the hell in the bathtub and deal with the shenpa!”
The funny thing about the four Rs of dealing with shenpa – Recognition, Refrain, Relaxing and Resolve – is that the way in which we deal never plays out the way you think it will. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the most prominent thought to come out of my confrontation tonight is this: How many pot shots have I taken at people I don’t know or understand or haven’t taken the time to ask the right questions of? When, in my daily life, do I make conclusions about people based on one action, one look, one gesture, one sound? And what do I do with those conclusions? Even if I’m not verbal with my “pot shots,” they’re in my head, they form my opinions and actions. I might cut someone off, flip them off, give them a look of disdain, sigh, stomp or otherwise act like a child to make my “point,” and then I go merrily about my life bolstered by thinking I was right when in actuality, I probably caused shenpa.
I told you it was an interesting bath.
As I dried off and got into my bathrobe, I looked in the mirror. Enter lovingkindness. I realized that just as this behavior didn’t start overnight, it won’t be changed overnight. I resolved, however, to make it part of my consciousness, as best I can, to remember how I felt – the shenpa – when I read the words on two strangers’ blogs about me and how they made conclusions about me without bothering to understand who I am and what I’m about. Perhaps if I’m not creating shenpa in others, I’ll alleviate much of my own shenpa. We shall see.