Shenpa and Learning to Listen
In Tibetan, shenpa describes aggression or craving. Pema Chödrön writes that shenpa is “the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression and greed.”
Not to sound judgy, but there is enough shenpa in the world right now to fill an ark, two-by-two and squared.
Although the actual translation is attachment, Pema says she thinks of shenpa as “getting hooked,” while one of her teachers describes shenpa as the “charge,” like an electrical current, behind our thoughts, words and actions.
An example of shenpa is your response when someone criticizes you. The charge fires and you have to respond. You have to say something. You’re hooked.
Someone sends you a snippy email (or one you perceive to be snippy).
You’re running late and someone cuts you off on the interstate.
Your flight is delayed—six times—and then cancelled.
Do you feel that flare? That instant of “Oh my God! Seriously?”
That flash of emotion that scales up from annoyance to outrage and beyond? That’s shenpa.
Shenpa can be managed—that’s the good news. But it takes the consistent and frequent practice of presence.
Here’s an idea.
What if shenpa could be drastically reduced in homes, schools and communities by improving how we listen?
We are obsessed with talking. If we’re not talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn to talk.
Now, I’m not implying that you don’t listen or that you’re not a good listener. But what if you began to practice radical listening?
Listening is the gift that grants peace, whether during a meaningful conversation or a solo stroll along an empty beach.
Quiet digesting of words and thoughts make up the truths and ideals that pull us back from insanity. I’m certain of it.
Listening lets you explore the edges and margins of life so as not to judge or draw conclusions, but to inquire and become more aware.
Listening provides connecting points and intersections of clarity or confusion, sometimes both. We learn to question who we are and what we want—and then how to invite our most cherished qualities of life to those points of connection.
Think of these virtues: love, compassion, forgiveness.
Let’s listen for them today. And then, let’s watch how shenpa—that snap-your-fingers nasty attitude behind so much of today’s snarly public discourse, fades to black.
Who knows? Maybe listening becomes a new cultural phenomenon—the very one that overtakes our distracting obsession with our gadgets. Stranger things have happened!
Photo courtesy of elephant journal