Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Getting Unstuck

Pema Chodron, an amazing Buddhist nun, deeply, deeply inspires me. She has an acute sensitivity and understanding for the human experience. And she's real, not just rhetoric. She has an incredible sense of humor and is very much attached to reality. You can tell she has lived through the types of experiences she describes, either directly or indirectly.

I've been listening to her speak on a CD called Getting Unstuck, which she also wrote a book with this title. In the portion I listened to tonight, she addressed people's habitual tendency to close down. There is a Buddhist term she used for what pulls the trigger- Shenpa, described as follows:

"Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief."

She notes we reach for relief in many ways- whether alcohol, self medicating, eating, being critical of others, being critical of ourselves, shopping, or many of the other creative ways we use to escape the uncomfortable moment. We all have our methods :)

Over time, this becomes our habit and common reaction. We program ourselves to react this way in our effort to find relief (or temporary relief). I know for me my reactions are often an undesired state, but I don't know how to change them so they just keep repeating.

Her solution- be in the moment.

"To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment."

So essentially, identify it is happening and then be with it. It seems like a self intervention of sorts. Realize its happening and then relax with what is happening.

This will not change it overnight. We have to do it over and over and over again. But then we reprogram and we start to empower what she calls our "wisdom guide," which is our own mind. I love that!

I'm still trying to get my arms around all this, but the concept of Shenpa, getting unstuck and having our own inner "wisdom guide" is very interesting to me. As I learn more I'll share.

In the meantime, if you want to read more, see...

And there is also the book and CD- both titled Getting Unstuck.

Excerpt from above piece by Chodron:

The Tibetan word for this is shenpa. It is 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.

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. The word "attachment" doesn't quite translate what's happening. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer.

Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, we smell a certain smell, we walk into a certain room and boom. The feeling has nothing to do with the present, and nevertheless, there it is.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Love, Anger and the Immune System

I'm reading a book about highly sensitive people. In case you haven't noticed, I am one :)

More on that later.

I just read an interesting bit on the effects of the exposure of love and anger on the immune system. A Harvard scientist named David Mclelland conducted a research study which showed watching anger-provoking movies suppressed the immune system (measured by chemicals in the saliva) for five to six hours in the subjects. On the flip side, watching the compassionate work of Mother Teresa caused elevation of the immune system levels.

Clear evidence that we must manage our exposure to stress for the sake of our health. Not surprising, but the physiological evidence always has a greater impact on my motivation to take things more seriously.

So I am off to find movies about Mother Teresa, butterflies and unicorns.
Have a lovely day!