Working With The Mind – (Not) Getting Hooked
One of the complementary differences between a psychotherapeutic approach to growth and healing and a meditative or contemplative approach is that the latter is much clearer about the feeling of how our minds work. The meditative description is more “1st person”, how I feel, than “3rd person” or how I objectify or categorise what is happening. (Both are valuable if not indispensable).
Here is an excellent article from Pema Chodron which gives us a new word (shenpa) and description of what it feels like as we begin to get hooked or triggered. And, of course, what it feels like when the emotional hook is set and we’re being dragged along by our emotions. Naturally she also describes the meditative response to allow ourselves to learn to avoid the hook.
Is that feeling of “tightening” or “closing down“, that “taste” that she describes familiar? Would you use a different word or phrase? Or a different sense: temperature, sound, gut, throat, mouth?
The article is quite long and will reward re-reading, especially if you’re relatively new to meditation as you may not yet have developed the clarity of experience in meditation to get everything she mentions. For that reason it’s also a very good pointer to useful meditation practice.
- We can be “hooked” by meditation experience itself so that we become annoyed with ourselves when our experience is not the one we want or think is right!
This feeling is a GREAT opportunity because it is so common. When you’re meditating and find yourself thinking either that “this is great” or “this is awful/wrong” or “I’m failing/fantastic/not doing it right” The feeling of grabbing or pushing away that drives the thinking IS THE HOOK! Shenpa in Chodron’s term. So you can never do it wrong.
- Success in becoming aware of shenpa grows from failure.
Chodron recommends reviewing a hooking event internally to see as much of what happened with us as possible. These reviews (which will often happen, uncomfortably, in meditation) are our learning experiences; we begin to see our pattern both of response and, most importantly, feeling. It is of course our feeling that drives our response.
On Being a Smarter Than Average Fish
She finishes with this:
“I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, “The secret is non-attachment.” That’s a shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don’t bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what’s happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.”
The metaphor can be extended: the hook itself is often concealed by attractive and often deceptive bait. If we can catch ourselves in our attraction to the bait and then, gradually, become aware of the concealed hook, we develop that bigger internal perspective.
It is almost always the case that grabbing the hook, indulging in the bait, trades momentary, immediate satisfaction for more lasting future unhappiness. We trade away tomorrow’s happiness for its illusion today.
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