This is from a classic teaching that Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, does on the concept of Shenpa. I've been listening to her lecture, "Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality," over the past few days and this concept really resonates with me. I think I'll be referring to Shenpa later, so let this serve as a definition/introductory point.
This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual
translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up
in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was
attachment. But the word "attachment" absolutely doesn't get at what it
is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it's
incomplete, and it doesn't touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect
that it has on us.
If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but
I'm going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get
Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of
last night's analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along
with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it's the urge to
scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the
urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is
where your addiction is.
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. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just
go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose
when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that
gets you, hooks you. 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.
Read the complete teaching at Pema's website, at Shambala.com.