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By Justine Buckley
I'm sharing an excerpt about 'not biting the hook' from Pema Chodron this month because we have all experienced being 'triggered' in our lives and she describes this energy so well. At the end of Pema's piece you will find a simple yet powerful practice I'd like to share with you.
Not Biting the Hook (from Pema Chodron's book, Practicing Peace in Times of War).
'In Tibetan there is a word that points to the root cause of aggression, the root cause also of craving. It points to a familiar experience that is at the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression, and greed. This word is shenpa. The usual translation is 'attachment', but this doesn't adequately express the full meaning. I think of shenpa as 'getting hooked'. Another definition, used by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, is the 'charge' - the charge behind our thoughts and words and actions, the charge behind 'like' and 'don't like'. Here's an everyday example: Someone criticizes you. She criticizes your work or your appearance or your child. In moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste, a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever. That sticky feeling is shenpa. And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There's a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge or blaming yourself. Then you speak or act. The charge behind the tightening, behind the urge, behind the story line or action is shenpa.
You can actually feel shenpa happening. It's a sensation that you can easily recognize. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, or walk into a certain room and boom. We're hooked. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but that everyone knows well.
Now, if you catch shenpa early enough, it's very workable. You can acknowledge that it's happening and abide with the experience of being triggered, the experience of urge,the experience of wanting to move. It's like experiencing the yearning to scratch an itch, and generally we find it irresistible. Nevertheless, we can practice patience with that fidgety feeling and hold our seat'.
Practice: Resisting an urge 3 times
The force of compulsive energy pushing us to move, act or speak when we're really caught by something can seem impossible to resist, like being caught in a tidal wave! However, if we don't act straight away, each successive wave that arises loses energy and eventually settles.
Start noting or labeling urges or impulses that arise. Then, simply make an agreement with yourself to let an urge or compulsion arise three times at least before you act on it (excluding toilet urges of course!) I do this all the time and teach my clients this practice. Start with little urges, like the vague impulse to 'get up and do something' that arises when we start relaxing. With practice you begin to notice that the first time an urge arises it is very strong but loses energy every time it is not acted upon straight away. By the third or forth time an urge arises it is a gentle stream, easy to notice and without a lot of charge - leaving you free to choose a wise course of action in the moment, rather than just being at the mercy of your first impulses and reactions.