Last week I drove to work the last few days of my old job. It was just too darn cold to take the train, and I wanted to clean my desk out, and have time to do it thoroughly. So instead of taking the train, I got in the car. I also put on a new audiobook, Pema Chödrön's Getting Unstuck.
It's an audio lecture she gave, about the Buddhist concept of shenpa, the process of becoming hooked (like a fish) because of attachment. Something happens that we don't like, that hurts us, and we react to it.
In the lecture, Pema said that there are three ways generally we get hooked:
- We get angry. "How dare that person speak to me that way?"
- We go numb. "I'm just gonna shut down and not feel this terrible fear." (Or anything else for that matter)
- We seek pleasure. "I'll just eat this big plate of french fries, or stare at porn for a few hours. That's better than thinking about this terrible thing."
When we do any of these behaviors, we're not present, not with the world anymore. We're hooked, and have left the world behind. Our eyes cloud over, our body language changes. We're stuck,
The good news is we don't have to be. Getting unstuck isn't the process of not feeling the pain (just the opposite). It's instead gently allowing that it's so. We can gently touch the thoughts we're having, and acknowledge that they are just thoughts. We can focus on our breathing, a constant in our lives.
It doesn't make the bad feelings go away - it makes the thoughts around them unclench, fade. Then we can just feel the energy of our shenpa, and be with it. Then instead of stoking the fire, feeding it, it gradually fades into the background. The painful experience, memory, fear, or idea isn't gone - it's just one more of the countless number of experiences which are a part of us. The further away we get from it, the quieter its loud voice becomes. It doesn't disappear. We don't run from it. We just build upon it.
So I listened to about half of the three and half hour lecture on my way in to work. Right away, I felt good. Those last few days at the old job were such an odd time. I had very little to do, just a few short projects. The time had been passing torturously slowly before. But after I was newly armed with my knowledge of shenpa, I could tell when I was hooked, and spent the day gently getting off that hook.
When I left at the end of the day, I felt calm, easy. Instead of stuck I felt limber, loose.
On my way home, I finished the lecture. It's been moving through my head for days now. I'm so grateful for that time, and the opportunity to process such a giant idea, as I make a giant change of my own.