So I've been contemplating shenpa lately, because I've been listening to Pema Chödrön's fantastic lecture, Getting Unstuck.
Shenpa is a tibetan buddhist word that means "attachment." It's the way in which we have a thought, and get hooked by that thought. It drags us down, drags us away from the present moment. That attachment comes in generally three varieties:
- We get angry.
- We go numb.
- We cling to pleasure.
The problem isn't the thoughts themselves. We are thinking beings. It's the hook, the attachment that keeps us from staying present. Instead we get stuck in our mind. But we don't have to do that. Or rather, we can mindfully unhook ourselves.
There's a scene from a favorite movie of mine, Peaceful Warrior that shows this happening.
A bit later on, Dan, that soggy looking, wet angry gymnast goes to the gym to tryouts for the pommel horse position on the team. Fresh from his de-bridging, he takes a shower to prepare. As the water pours down on him, he consciously unhooks this time. The water slows down. There are no thoughts. He is fully present. Then, without worry, without attachment, he performs his routine. He's amazing.
Yet still later, he goes back to visit Socrates (the guy who you just saw push him off the bridge), to celebrate his victory. He's thrilled at the success he's had using Socrates' "mind trick." Socrates chides him, telling him he's not learned anything. "How long did you stay like that, Dan, clear? You're already in the past, gloating."
I love the combination of these two things - Pema's lecture, and the lessons in these scenes. It teaches me that attachment isn't always about negative things. It can be positive things that hook you too. Both keep you from staying, from having prajna, clear vision.
So what do you do about it? You practice. A great way to practice is to realize that you are playing a game. Alan Watts called it The Game of Black and White in, The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. In the game, we obsess about binaries. "This is good. That is bad. Good must win."
We fill our lives with musts, shoulds, and wants. All of which are, you guessed it, shenpa! But you can notice yourself doing this, getting hooked, and not staying.
Which brings me to the app. It's called Bodhi Play. I found it several years ago on the app store. It's a sort of mindfulness tool.
It's got a yin-yang symbol hanging atop a zen sand garden. Every time you catch yourself celebrating something, you tap the yang (white half). Every time you catch yourself bemoaning or angry about something, you tap the yin (black half). As the day goes on, you can see how often you got stuck, in each way. You can see a bar graph for previous days, too. You don't win the game. You just play it.
It's a cute toy, with a lesson floating around it. If you catch yourself thinking, you can unhook from it. Pema's version of this is a visualization of touching a bubble with a feather, popping it.
Funny thing, just now I went to link to the app store to share where you can get the app, and I couldn't. The original publisher of the software must have withdrawn it from the app store. I got very upset about that for a bit, trying to find it, thinking I must have made a mistake, then searching for an alternative I could suggest to you instead.
Then I laughed, realizing that I was hooked, I was playing the game. Then I stopped playing.