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For the past week, I’ve been reading up on the Buddhist idea of shenpa. “Shenpa” is the Tibetan word for attachment, but in the books and lectures I’ve been studying, it seems to translate closer to “trigger” or “hook.” I’m finding the concept easy enough to touch, but difficult to grasp, like a wet fish.

If I am understanding correctly, it’s the sensation of being ill at ease and feeling the urge to seek relief instead of sitting quietly with it and returning to the present moment. In the process of seeking relief, we create our own suffering.

A few nights ago, I was fucking around on Facebook and discovered my ex has a baby. Instead of just sitting quietly with the discomfort of seeing him smiling and holding his child, and then getting back to unpacking in my new home, I started thinking about how six years ago I gave up my gig as a film critic, blew my inheritance, ditched my furniture and eloped with him to Oslo.

How wonderfully brave and romantic of me! Damn, I’m awesome.

Then I thought about how 10 days after arriving in Norway, I returned home from a day exploring the city to find him sitting in the dark with a huge glass of wine preparing to tell me it wasn’t going to work.

How horribly selfish and cruel of him! God, he’s an asshole.

And now he has a fucking baby? Let’s go look his partner up on Facebook… ah, she works with him. She’s probably the elusive Other Woman I suspected was involved from the start.

Poor me!

Half an hour and two glasses of wine later, I was in a full rage. And again, if I’m understanding the lessons of shenpa here, none of that self-inflicted suffering was necessary. Instead of flipping out, I could have simply seen his baby, thought, “Ugh, I am NOT in love with this,” and sat quietly, pushing the words out of my head and feeling the feeling until it passed.

Shenpa is a spark. And you have a choice: you can look at the spark and then tamp it out with your shoe, or you can fan the flames, add some dry grass, hand it a bottle of whiskey and tell it its mother is ugly — before you know it, that little spark has turned into a forest fire.

In working with shenpa, you’re supposed to perform The Three Difficult Practices: 1) recognize when you’re getting hooked, 2) pause to redirect yourself back to the present, and 3) make this a way of life.

For about a week, I’ve been trying to quietly whisper “shenpa” to myself when I notice I’m getting hooked. And wouldn’t you know: I’m deeply uneasy with how often I’m having to say it.

Um, shenpa.

Jeanine Fritz:

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