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Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess’s mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That’s how being hooked can feel. Yet we don’t stop—we can’t stop—because we’re in the habit of associating whatever we’re doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the shenpa syndrome.  It is usually involuntary and gets right to the root of why we suffer, why we engage in conflict, why we experience strong emotional reactions and responses.

We could also call shenpa “the urge”—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is.  So shenpa is biting the hook of our habitual reactions, our habits.  When someone leaves us, we may bite the hook of grasping.  When something unfair happens, we may bite the hook of rage.  When we are disappointed, we may bite the hook of numbness.

The four R’s to working with shenpa arerecognizing the urge, refraining from acting on the urge, relaxing into the underlying urge to react, and then resolving to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of your lives.

When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we’re not talking about trying to cast it out; we’re talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we’re starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there’s the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it, not acting upon it.  When you experience shenpa, you really have to learn not to get caught in the content:  observe the underlying quality – the clinging, the desire, the attachment.  The catch, it is almost impossible to do this without engaging in some type of meditation or mindfulness practice.  Through meditation or mindfulness practice, you learn to “label it thinking”; because what really hooks you is mental dialogue.  You will see this in your practice.

Adapted from Pema Chodron.  How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked

(image description: There is a fish hook in a glass with a gold fish look at the hook deciding if it should bite the hook or not)

There is a fish hook in a glass with a gold fish look at the hook deciding if it should bite the hook or not










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