I have been thinking a lot lately about where I become “hooked.” Usually the term “hooked” turns our mind immediately to an addiction or a compulsive behavior that we cannot seem to stop. “So and So is hooked on…. (fill in the blank).” Recently, I cancelled my cable television. When I called I thought that there would be a very simple exchange. “Hello, I would like to cancel my cable television.” I imagined that the other person would say something like, “I am sorry to hear that, is there anything else that we can do for you?” Instead, what I heard on the other line sounded like a person who wanted to keep me “hooked.” They inquired into what my favorite shows might be even though I was clear that I did not watch television. They discussed the “financial benefits” of my “bundle.” I felt as if I were cutting off someone’s oxygen supply- the sales person on the other end became rather aggressive. Finally there was a punishing tone on the other end of the line letting me know that I had been officially “cut off” from my cable television. Psychologically they had done their best to “hook” me in. Fortunately, I didn’t have the internal place for the hook to land. I do not desire nor do I crave television. But this certainly isn’t true with everything in my life. Below Pema Chodron explains the “charge” or energy or “sticky” place where we become stuck. The Tibetan word for this energy of mind is called Shenpa.
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.