Use This Tibetan Buddhist Concept to De-escalate Any Situation

Getting Hooked On Shenpa

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Use This Tibetan Buddhist Concept to De-escalate Any Situation


Being the sole citizen living inside the micro-nation of our minds means that during conversations with others we can veer off onto well-trod paths paved with familiar fantasies, and seek private comfort in the unseen world of our thoughts, and no one will be the wiser.

It happens all the time—we’re lost in thought, ruminating on wishes and worries, when something untoward snaps us back into the present moment.

A comment or situation triggers an intense emotional reaction, releasing an ancient ache buried within us, which emerges as upset, rage or anger.

This charged tightness that arises before our emotions escalate is what Tibetan Buddhists call Shenpa - being attached.

Buddhist teacher, author and nun, Pema Chodron describes Shenpa as being “hooked.” It’s a reactivity that keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns and prevents us from being truly present.

Words, people, situations can all give rise to Shenpa, evoking an escalating cascade of emotions that overwhelms us, driving us to lash out, explode, or act on impulses we know are unwise.

Think back to the last time you got upset. Either alone, trying to do frustrating admin work, or in the company of others with whom you virulently disagree.

There’s a moment, right before you follow your upset, you can feel in your throat, chest or belly. It’s a clinging ache, a tightness—this feeling-tone is Shenpa.

Words can be imbued with Shenpa, giving rise to someone else’s Shenpa. It can rise up right before we blindly follow an urge or a craving for something that’s bad for us, or that we don’t need.

The thing about Shenpa is that the feeling it evokes isn’t about the present moment, yet that’s when we feel it.

Were we less busy escaping into the comforting folds of our thoughts and fantasies as a means to escape reality, we’d be better able to recognize and meet the moment that Shenpa has the power to unleash.

But being lost in our thoughts comforts us. It’s where we go to escape. And we are there so often because we have little to no tolerance for uncertainty, and our intolerance prevents us from being present.

When we’re not used to being present, it’s easy to lose control of the strength of our emotions. We aren’t awake to the meaning behind our somatic sensations, and that’s why when we’re triggered, things can escalate in a manner of seconds.

Our ego is sensitive, and bruises so easily, that the smallest verbal slight can give rise to Shenpa.

When you’re unaware, Shenpa can cause a lot of problems. It’s hard to slow down and stop once you’ve been triggered (I mean, have you ever watched the Real Housewives—it’s Shenpapalooza).

In Pema Chodron’s book Taking the Leap, she asks us to analyze the way we live, and whether our words and actions further sanity or aggression. If our actions and behaviors add confusion, discord or chaos to our own lives, or others, we are not living consciously.


The only way to get control of our Shenpa is to be awake to our emotions. Or, put Pema Chodron’s way—the only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully.

Shenpa is not an obstacle to overcome, it’s an opportunity to be truly conscious.

As with all hard emotions, the only way out is through. And the best way to learn the silent language that’s distinct to us, is to meditate. Practice recognizing how Shenpa feels.

Some questions to ask yourself: where do you notice it in your body? Does it have movement? How does it move? What are the thoughts that come with it? What are the storylines?

When we can identify Shenpa, we can allow for a pause, and to remain present with our discomfort. In the pause, we unhook ourselves from reactivity, and are offered the opportunity to create real and lasting change. When we are free of being hooked, we will be free to respond to the daily challenges and obstacles of life with a deeper measure of wisdom and clarity.

To practice meditating on your Shenpa, I highly recommend the first 11 or 12 minutes of the Jack Kornfield video. (You can find his other meditations here.)

Have you heard of this concept before? Have your felt Shenpa? Let me know in the comments!

Until next week, I will remain…



Nope, I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional. I am simply a person who struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues for over two decades and spent 23 years in therapy learning how to live. Now, I'm sharing the greatest hits of what I learned to spare others from needless suffering.

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