One of my favourite spiritual writers is called Pema Chodron. She’s an American lady who became a bhuddist nun, and she’s wise, kind, funny and always thought-provoking.
She talks a lot about ‘shenpa.’ Shenpa is the feeling you get when something triggers the worst of you. It’s that feeling of tightening, of shutting down, of acting in a way you don’t much like. It’s that feeling of being triggered by a person or event, and seeing yourself doing it but not being able to help it. The things that trigger shenpa are different for each of us – but it’s likely that for each one of us, they will be all too familiar. In other words, we all have our triggers and we’ve probably had the same ones our whole lives.
Maybe you feel shenpa when you’re criticized. You feel yourself tense up and then the next thing you know, you’re lashing out. Or maybe you feel shenpa when you envy someone who has what you want. Or maybe when you feel threatened in some way.
For me, it’s always about other people and my insecurities about them. I was triggered again tonight and, this time I watched and felt the shenpa as it happened. I felt tight, anxious, on the verge of minor panic, and I experienced an urge to do something to relieve the tension. To seek reassurance. To gain control of the situation.
That’s what I always do. Act. Get control. Even if my actions are ultimately unproductive, or produce the wrong result, just acting has usually been enough.
Tonight, I worked really hard at doing nothing. I simply observed, witnessed, and waited. It wasn’t easy and I can’t say I relaxed, but I made it through without trying to take control and – what do you know – everything worked out just fine without my guiding hand.
I can’t make the anxiety go away just because I understand where it came from, but I think maybe watching and witnessing are the keys for now.