Shenpa Part Deux

I’m sticking with the topic of “One Little Word” for the rest of January because I want to solidify my word, shenpa, for the rest of the year. I really believe in this strategy and I encourage all ya’ll to give it a go.

As I introduced in the last post, “May I Catch My Shenpa Today, ” 2017 is the third year that I am following Ali Edward’s “One Little Word” strategy. She talks about choosing one word to meditate and focus on throughout the year, as opposed to a long list of complicated resolutions.

My first word in 2015 was “breathe.” Talk about starting at the beginning! Haha! “Breathe” was a fantastic word for me, a meditation newbie, because it is the cornerstone of meditation and mindfulness. Focusing on the breath is the definition of being HERE, not there.

My word for 2016 was “execute.” This was a nod to my perfectionist tendency of WAITING to do things until I am ready or until I have 1000% of what I need etc. etc. etc. I was sick and tired of postponing everything because “I can’t do it perfectly right now.” So I chose “execute” to focus on getting things done, whether or not they were perfect or complete. And it worked! Little things, big things… I was a lot more productive.

As I explained last week, my word for this year is “shenpa.” Pema Chodron describes shenpa as an itch and an urge to scratch. It is a trigger that starts you down a path of habituated action…negative action. You might be thinking, why so negative? Most “one little words” are positive, like calm, happy, yes, gratitude etc. Well, the goal of focusing on shenpa is to catch it. Identify the trigger as close to the starting point as possible, so that I don’t travel as far down the path of anxiety before turning it around. Coming back to baseline.

Now, if you are anything like me, you’re already thinking “That’s a great idea! I’m definitely gonna do that…next year…it’s the end of January! It’s WAYY too late to start now! I’ll wait until January 1, 2018 so that I can pick a word for a FULL YEAR.”

Haha! Such a Nelly!

OK… You can start FOR REAL next year on January 1. Just consider the rest of this year a practice run. No pressure. Take your time choosing a word that speaks to you. What is something that you’d like to make a priority in your life? What is something you want to do more? Feel more? Pick one that jumps out at you and hold it in the front of your mind for the rest (it’s alright) of 2017. That’s it. You can do as much or as little with it as you want, but I promise you, just selecting that word will make you better at it.   If you want to take it a bit further, you can repeat the word to yourself as you meditate, list all the ways you can take action using your word, brainstorm all of the synonyms and related topics to your word, or make a vision board.

My go-to strategy so far has been to post my word in a place where I will see it every day. That’s it! I have all three words posted on a mirror that I walk by every day, and that is enough to keep it front of mind. I would like to/may eventually do more work with my word, but for now, posting it where I can see it everyday is enough.

So, let me hear from you! If you’re going to give it a whirl, what’s your word? If you might do it/are thinking about it – what word jumps out at you?

Do you have several words you’re deciding between? Let’s hear them!!!!


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May I Catch My Shenpa Today

2017 is the third year that I am choosing “One Little Word” as my guide and focus for the year. This is a brilliant idea that my friend Marina at Mindful Memory Keeping introduced to me. Ali Edwards came up with the concept of choosing one word to meditate and focus on each year, instead of a long list of resolutions.

My word for this year is “shenpa.”

Er, whah? Yes, I know…

Shenpa is a Tibetan word meaning ‘trigger’; it’s a catalyst that starts you moving down a habituated path. I learned about shenpa from Pema Chodron, who credits her teacher, Ziger Contril, for teaching it to her.

Here’s a fabu article by Pema that explains shenpa:

Pema describes shenpa as an itch. A terrible itch and an urge to scratch. But, of course, scratching is bad for us. It doesn’t lead to relief but rather more scratching, and pain.

Shenpa sends me down the path of anxiety – usually in the form of racing thoughts. Before I know it, my thoughts and hypotheses and fantasies and worst case scenarios have snowballed into such a state that I don’t even realize I’m worked up until my anxiety snowball is monstrous. And it has gained so much momentum that it takes a lot of time and effort to decompress and calm myself back down. (yes, I did start that sentence with the word “and.” AND I liked it.)

For me, this feels like suddenly waking up eight miles into a 10 mile race that I don’t remember starting. I become conscious of my exhaustion, shortness of breathe, clammy skin, sweating, steaming and overheating. I am running for my life and I can’t stop…I am wondering – why am I running? How and when did I start running? How do I stop?

Pema teaches the idea of shenpa along with the habit of distraction – the repeated practice of taking yourself away from the present because its emotions are too scary. AKA ‘flight.’ We think about or do other things in order to move away from the present; escape reality. Some people distract themselves with alcohol or drugs. Some people use work to escape.

In part, I use anxiety to keep myself away (safe) from things that scare me. I hide in a swirling tornado of never-ending thoughts that prevent me from dealing with the issue/situation/people at hand. Anxiety and obsessive worrying prevent me from making decisions, taking action and interacting with others.

Pema explains this in one of her recorded teachings:

“Unfortunately, we get a lot of comfort from leaving – lost in thought, fantasies, plans. It gives us a lot of security and ground. So we’re very habituated to it. Pretty much we like it, and it gets stronger.”

Shenpa, or, the trigger, hooks us into a habit and we get stuck performing an action that we know is harmful. We’d like to change it but we don’t know how.

The reason that so many techniques for correcting our behavior fail is that they walk us through a multi-step process, starting at number one.

This makes perfect sense on paper but it doesn’t work in real life because we don’t consciously start at number one. In real life, we become aware of the negative habit somewhere after step number 3 in a 10 step process. Often we don’t remember when or how it all started.

At some point, a gun went off; a starting pistol that sent us, automatically, flying down the track. This response is built into our muscle memory. Our nervous system.

  1. Gunshot
  2. Adrenaline surging
  3. heart racing
  4. thoughts swirling
  5. overheating
  6. shortness of breath
  8. winding down
  9. winding down
  10. start to come back to baseline

You don’t even realize you are running until you are about halfway around the track and by this time the gunshot is forgotten and you have no idea why you are running.

The key to changing a pattern is to hear the starting pistol.

If you can identify what catapults your behavior, then you can begin to change that behavior. Choose a different reaction.

The bang of the starting pistol is my brilliant (heehe) analogy for shenpa.

So…for the duration of 2017, I am going to focus on “catching my shenpa.”

I will practice hearing the starting pistol that sends me running into anxiety. I will work on identifying the triggers that send me fighting and flying and freezing.

For me this is a process of working backwards. In a 1-10 step fight or flight race where 1 is the starting pistol, or shenpa and 10 is the finish line where I finally start to relax and decompress, I may realize I am running at about step 7. Then I have to retrace my steps/thoughts to try and discover what the trigger was. The sooner I can “catch my shenpa” the better. When I start identifying the trigger at step 3 instead of step 7, for example, that is awesome and I work through the whole process and get back to baseline a lot sooner!

In 2017…I’m going to catch my shenpa.

Thank you Pema. You Rock.

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Cut the Crap! Bridge the Gap (Strategy)

pexels bridge

Have you ever been a part of a group, but never feel like you’re part of the group?

Like you feel just as awkward and uncomfortable around these same people that you’ve known for years as you did the very first time you met them?

How can you know someone for years, maybe even see them on a daily/weekly basis, and yet still feel distant and separate from them?

This happens. Am I right? What gives? I mean, you should become BFFs with anyone, given enough time hanging out!

As for me, I know my anxiety causes me to self-sabotage. I subconsciously hold myself back from making inroads with others because I am worried about what they will think of me. I maintain a certain distance from them emotionally/psychologically in the name of self-defense. This is annoying because I am naturally very social and I like to be connected with those around me. But my anxiety throws up a roadblock.

So, how do I get over this? Knowing I have a need that is not being met due to an anxiety roadblock? Well, I have to implement a strategy –Bridge the Gap.

OK, But HOW? How do you bridge that gap between acquaintance and friend when anxiety gets in the way?

I forget where I first heard this idea, but as soon as I heard it, I thought, yes! That’s it! It makes so much sense.

 close friendship emerges the sooner individuals are able to be vulnerable with each other.

If you can let down your guard and be vulnerable, you could potentially be best friends with someone you’ve known for only three days, while you barely remember the name of your co-worker of 12 years whom you just exchange pleasantries with. (and yes, I did just end that sentence with a preposition. And I liked it)

I never realized that I get stuck in this space. I did not realize what I was doing and how that was preventing me from making real, meaningful connections.

I often hide in the shallow waters of chitchat and polite conversation because I am afraid of revealing too much about myself or offending the other person. Doing this makes me win at not ever embarrassing myself or making others angry, but not at making connections.

In order to bond, two people need to meet in a space of vulnerability.

Realizing that you share something important with someone else is very powerful and often creates a spark without you putting out much effort.

We all know someone who has a way with people – a real social butterfly. They float effortlessly through a party, talking to person after person and creating a fan base. How the heck do they do this? Well, they engage individuals on a deeper level. They go beyond chitchat and search for something real that they have in common. This takes courage because it requires letting your guard down enough to share intimate parts of yourself with folks you don’t know very well. But the only way to know them better and strengthen connections is to share these parts.

The thing is – someone has to go first, so you do it. Come on! Be the first one to disclose a handicap, a struggle, a weakness or an embarrassing moment. The potential rewards of connection and friendship you receive from making yourself vulnerable are well worth it.

And here’s the secret bonus of actively bridging the gap – If you have made the effort several times and you are STILL not jiving with this person/group, then you can have the piece of mind that it’s not you, it’s them. Because, sometimes it really is them. Or it’s not anyone. But most importantly, it’s not you. This is crucial for me to realize because I usually put the blame on myself if I am not connecting with a person/group. But if I consciously make an effort (or several) then I can be assured the lack of connection is not for lack of effort on my part. I have peace of mind that I tried, and then I just accept and move on. I’m not gonna be BFFrs with everyone, and that’s aw-ight 😉

So, go ahead and try it. What do you have to loose? Cut the Crap! Bridge the Gap and see what happens!

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RAIN Strategy

rain pexel

Here is an important follow-up to my two posts from May 2016. My theme for the Springy month of May was “Feelings,” which is so appropriate because feelings got us springin’ all over the place!

I know this is true for me. Feelings of various types and magnitudes can send me soaring up, crashing down, floating on clouds, or just hovering in a paralyzed stupor.

The first post on this theme, How I Feel… was a collection of challenging feelings that I encounter very often and would like to feel less, such as anxiety, doubt, fear and stress. As noted at the end of this post, my go-to tactics of either ignoring these feelings or putting my head down and barreling through them do not work AT ALL! In fact, they make the whole experience a whole LOT worse for a lot loooooonger.

I am learning that these feelings need some love and attention before they will move along, away from me (thank you very much) and I want to talk about one FANTASTIC strategy I have been practicing to help them on their merry way.

The strategy is RAIN, which stands for:

  • Recognize
  • Allow
  • Investigate
  • Non-Identify

This brilliant strategy for properly attending to and really engaging with any feeling that surfaces is attributed to Michele McDonald, a longtime meditation teacher and cofounder of Vipassana Hawai’i, a meditation teaching institution.

Let’s go through the four steps:

  1. Recognize –In this crucial first step, you take a moment to stop and recognize, or “see” the feeling. You identify the feeling(s) by name…taking the time to double-check and verify that the feeling identification feels accurate to you.

I am feeling…scared. Am I scared? Or worried? Is that it? Scared. Scared. Yes. I am feeling scared. Very scared.

  1. Allow – Next, you allow that feeling to be there with you. This means you don’t try to evade it by thinking of something else, making yourself busy with a task or trying immediately to make yourself feel better. You simply accept the feeling as is and give it some needed attention. Acknowledging the presence of this emotion starts to ease the tension you feel and opens up the possibility of releasing it.

I am feeling scared. I have fear inside of me. I don’t want to feel this way, but it is here, so I am going to let it be here so that I can understand it. Fear is with me, and that is o.k.

  1. Investigate – This is where you dive a little deeper into the feeling. After labeling the feeling and acknowledging and honoring it’s presence, you contemplate why it has arisen in your mind. After all, feelings don’t come about arbitrarily like rolling a dice…there is always a reason or catalyst for their presence. Sometimes, the reason is obvious. Sometimes you have to be patient and search for the reason.

Why am I scared? Is there a person or situation that seems threatening to me? Threatening to my physical person? My ego? My job? Am I missing something that I need? What events have happened recently that may have triggered this fear?

  1. Non-Identify – With this last step, you begin to create distance between yourself and the challenging feeling. You do this by reasoning that you are not fear and fear does not define you. Rather, fear is a fluid emotion that can move out of your consciousness just as easily as it moved in. “Scared” is something that you are currently experiencing, not something that makes up who you are.

Fear is with me right now because my boss rejected my idea. I am scared that she doesn’t value my contributions and thus doesn’t value me as an employee. If she doesn’t value me as an employee, she might want to replace me. But this is a made up scenario based on an assumption. She has liked a lot of my past ideas. Not liking one idea doesn’t mean she doesn’t value me in my entirety. The fear I feel because of this is not who I am. Scared is not a permanent part of me. It is simply a temporary, uncomfortable feeling that is with me right now. Scared will pass through and away from me in time.

Now, a subtle, yet important distinction is that non-identify is not the same as disassociate. When I first started using this strategy, I thought of non-identify in terms of disassociating – running away from, almost shunning and cutting off the feeling, which is counter to the first two steps of recognizing and allowing. Non-identifying is more about understanding that the feeling is not a permanent component of who you are as a person; it is not a pillar of your character or being. It is something that your mind is currently interacting with.

Like all new things, implementing the RAIN strategy is not easy and it takes some getting used to. The hardest part for me is just remembering to stop and recognize challenging feelings as they come up. In order to give myself a helping hand when I first started using this strategy, I wrote it out on a small card that I kept in my wallet. I didn’t necessarily pull it out when challenging feelings came up, but every time I went into my wallet and came across it, I was reminded that it was available for me to use, and eventually, I started remembering to use it 🙂

While I primarily use this strategy for working through difficult feelings so that they will leave sooner, this is also a great strategy for remaining in the moment with positive feelings. Going through these steps with feelings I want to feel, like the feelings I wrote about in This is How I Want to Feel... makes them seem to last longer. I can appreciate the positive feelings more when I use RAIN because I experience them more deeply.

Isn’t that amazing?!?! The same strategy helps you to pass through the difficult emotions faster, but hold onto the desirable feelings longer. YES!!!

You try it – Go ahead. It’s pretty cool.


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”Courageous Moments” Strategy

pexels-photo-courage moment

Every month I’m going to highlight one strategy that I have found useful in managing anxiety. The strategy for this month is to recall and relive moments in your personal history where you did something courageous. Courageous Moments. This is an appropriate strategy for this month’s Ownership theme, because while we are getting used to the difficult process of accepting all parts of ourselves…the good, the hard and the awkward…it is motivating to remember that through it all, we do amazing and brave things every day.

It happens without warning. Your fears are just… gone. You have a crystal clear focus with not one second thought. You are filled with a thundering yet controlled confidence. The kind of confidence that surges through your body, calms your breath and squares your shoulders. You don’t care if anyone notices. You don’t need any praise or recognition. You just revel in this feeling of ownership. You absolutely, positively, matter-of-factly Own. This. Bitch. You know what you want to do. You know how to get it done and most importantly, you have made an irrevocable decision to execute.

This last step is the game changer. After all, there are about a million things that you want to do. And you have at least three solid, well thought-out plans for accomplishing each one. But the execution…that’s where fear typically steps in front of you and says,

“Wait! Wait! Wait! What about this? Have you thought about that?”

But that loud, doubting voice isn’t here right now. You don’t know why or how…where did it go? Who cares. You are in control. You are in charge and this is a courageous moment.

This calm and focused sense of bravery is what I consider to be one of two categories of courage. This is of course the ideal. I cherish and hold onto these moments because that is how I want to feel ALL THE TIME – Calm, Focused. Strong. Brave. Secure. I consider these rare moments gifts to be treasured—remembered—and recalled often.

The second and MUCH more common category of courage, is the one where you are scared outta yo mind! Before you do it. While you do it. After you do it. But when the dust settles, you are so unbelievably proud that YOU DID IT! These moments are just as important as the first type of calm and collected courage. In fact, they are more important because they are much, much harder. These moments should also be treasured, remembered and recalled often.

We must recognize, glorify and cherish these moments. If not for these moments, you might see yourself as nothing more than a quivering mass of gooey, whiney potential – hiding in the corner (or in the Perfect Harbor), watching everyone else live out their dreams which are not half as brilliant or well thought out as your own, but they are being executed, which is all that matters. Courageous moments remind you that you are strong. You are brilliant and you DO know how to handle things. Any things. All things. These are your moments of hope and inspiration that will carry you through dark and fearful times. These are better motivators than any celebrity, athlete, hard-luck story or Rocky movie out there. Why? Because these moments are about you, from you, by you. Nothing provides a better catalyst for being brave right now, than a reminder of you once being brave.

So, right now, instead of reliving that time you sweated your way through a big presentation, instead of envisioning all of the ways that tomorrow’s dinner with your future in-laws will go horribly wrong, think about that real moment in history when you were brave. The time you voiced your opinion on where to go for lunch among a new group of colleagues. The time you went to that event by yourself instead of staying home…and had a great time.

These times in your life are not flukes or lucky accidents; you actively engineered these moments, so OWN them. Because in these moments, you owned yourself, without apology and without explanation. Hang onto these memories. Recall them as often as you can and relive the feelings that coursed through your body. After all, we are what we think we are. So the more we think of ourselves as brave, the more we will be brave. And guess what? The more we focus on these courageous moments, the less we will replay negative moments! This is what I look forward too! Let’s replace as many negative reels as we can with courageous ones!!

Next week, I’ll share with you one of my courageous moments that I keep in my back pocket, to remind myself that, yes, I do own a pair of big brass ones and I can screw them on at any time. But, until then, I want to hear from you.

What is a courageous moment from your past when you stepped up to show the world “this is me, and this is what I’m about?” Something that you can pull out of your mental files in order to give yourself an injection of bravery.

In fact, go ahead and make a whole heaping list of them. Sit. Take a deep breath. Relax. Don’t rush. Don’t panic. You have these moments. Plenty of them. It may take some practice to drag them out if you are not used to thinking this way, but you can do it. Choose one or a couple and share them in the comments section. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss future posts!

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