Shenpa is the Tibetan Buddhist term for attachment and craving that can keep us hooked in a pattern of overindulgence, particularly when it comes to our addictions – whether they be to food, alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, or even such seemingly healthful things like exercise and spirituality.
Traditionally, the definition of shenpa is literally “attachment.” But the subtle meaning, in Buddhism, is more nuanced. Pema Chodron, a contemporary ordained Buddhist nun and writer on Buddhist philosophy, defines shenpa as “the hook” of craving that keeps us mired in the prison of our own attachment. Or, to put it another way, it’s the itch that we can’t help but scratch.
Mastering our struggle with shenpa is the first step in empowering ourselves to get our lives under control. And the first step (to that first step) is, of course, figuring out where our attachments lie.
Shenpa is what keeps us stuck in the late night craving for junk food; it’s the overeating when we’re already full; it’s the compulsive drinking or smoking under stress. It’s the trapped feeling that keeps us mired in negative thought and self-imposed suffering.
Cheryl Sindell, global nutritionist and author of Not “Just a Salad” and Cooking Without Recipes, has this to say:
“Shenpa is both the root of suffering and the portal to end suffering. Shining awareness on shenpa allows us to get unstuck by staying with our uncomfortable feelings long enough to receive the wisdom that lies beneath the urge to obliterate our feelings by over doing.”
Using our eating habits as an example, Cheryl believes that consuming food is a spiritual practice and that the mindless food-shoveling that shenpa subjects us to leads to a lack of balance in our lives. Developing mindful eating habits means starting to recognize bona fide hunger versus the craving for an emotional fix in the form of food.
How Can Shenpa Serve Us?
We can alter our health simply by altering the attitude of our mind. Buddhists believe that as soon as you shine awareness on a problem area, you then gain power over it and can use your awareness as a tool to create your own exit strategy.
A certain degree of struggle is unavoidable. An important element of shenpa is the acceptance that “life is suffering.” How we choose to respond to that suffering is what determines our level of peace and happiness.