Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shenpa Control

Shenpa Control Face

If anger was fire, Buddhism has been the fire department to snuff out my anger.  There have been times in my life I felt consumed by anger.  I have been quick to tell off and belittle the waiter that screwed up my order.  I used to be proud of the number of free meals I could earn by getting angry.  I even threw a VHS copy of the Wizard of Oz at a Walmart manager after standing in line for an unacceptable amount of time.  I was proud of comments that I was tough, a bitch, and even mean--don't mess with her because she will show you whose boss!  I have been literally blinded and paralized by the burning anger in my belly.  Sometimes this anger was pointed at myself.  There has been a notable change in how I respond to being angry.  Let me be clear, I am not perfect.  I have my moments I snap and yell at my kids or say something out of anger.  However, those moments are now followed by a quick observation and mental note of what I did that was unskillful.

I hope to become more and more skillful at taking notice before reacting.  Pema Chodron describes the feeling you get right before you do something unskillful as shenpa"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."

Here are the steps I am practicing to help develop better shenpa control.
  • While passing people in the street or driving in the car, send love and kindness.  I picture a Star Trek like force field of love and kindness surrounding all of the cars I pass and I say to myself "May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be peaceful."  This also works wonders if someone cuts you off in their car.  Recite "may you be happy" in your head--mean it.  There could be a reason the person is in a hurry.  Maybe they are rushing to the hospital or maybe they are having a bad day.  Give them love and kindness.
  • If someone says something that angers you and you feel you cannot respond skillfully, immediately become silent.  Just continue to say nothing if you cannot respond skillfully.  I even had to entirely leave a situation to be able to gain control.  That was much better than responding in an unkind way.  This is a baby step to take until you can simply observe as Pema Chodron recommends.
  • Practice Tonglen meditation.  Breathe in the black smoke of whatever is making you angry or upset.  Breathe out white light.
  • If something bad happens during the day, think "Good, I got the bad thing out of the way.  Now I can move on and have a good day."  Stay positive. 
  • Actively look for people doing good.  If a waiter does a good job, tell them so or, better yet, tell their manager in front of the waiter.  What if the waiter did not do such a good job?  Show them compassion.  To my surprise, I have noticed a much better response by the waiter and their management when I am kind.  Plus, I leave knowing I did not cause anyone suffering.  Everyone makes mistakes at times.
May you be happy.

For more information on shenpa and Tonglen, see the following websites.

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