SHEMPA… you have it, do you get it?

There is a concept in Tibetan Buddhism known as “Shempa”.

Shempa, is a place where we are “hooked”.  It’s something that gets under our skin, that works its way into our mind and we find after a while we can’t stop thinking about it and letting it go is difficult.

Shempa’s are little irritants that work away at the mind.  They can, if nourished, become very strong and powerful actually taking over.

A Shempa is an addiction to a way of thinking-a seemingly justified projection.  The Ego speaks first and loudest and is hardest to identify as a “hook”.

Growing up as an adoptee already hardwired for rejection and unworthiness creates many shempa’s.  Some have been huge and have taken years to detach dozens of tentacles.  Like an octopus they wrap around you holding you tight providing a safe and comfortable place to exist.  The smaller ones, the everyday Shempa’s are sometimes amusing if you catch them quick enough and recognize them for what they are worth.

Pema Chodron speaks often of Shempa.  She describes it as the tendency, the urge, the hook that triggers our habitual tendency to close down.  Now if that doesn’t apply to adoptee’s I don’t know what does.

Because we arrive already prewired for certain behaviours our tendency to “get stuck”, experience shempa, be attached to the prewired thoughts is frequent and devastating when we try to live in the “real world”

We grew up trying to fit in to the adopted family, trained in how to be someone other than who we really were.  Remember that feeling I so often mention and point out in my “little girl” pictures?  That tense, withdrawn, self blaming, angry, jealous place….that is Adoptee Shempa.

Those prewired beliefs and emotions lead to actions and words that end up poisoning us.  How many of “us” feel detached, separate, unlovable, unworthy, not belonging.  I would hazard a guess and say 99% of “us”.

Don’t get me wrong, normal people, you are included too.  I know the general population has the same issues and feelings. Yours come with life experience, while ours comes already programmed in the limbic/amygdala systems of our brain.

I have a bumper sticker that reads..You Don’t Always Have to Believe What You Think”.  I read it every day as I get into the car.   An older couple stood staring at it in a parking lot one day and as I approached them the man looks at me while shaking his head and says…”I don’t get it!  Way to deep for me!”  Sometimes, simple is something we complicate.

We are not our stories, nor our thoughts, despite being hardwired to believe it to be so.  Life is uncertain and that breeds fear.  It makes us insecure and leaves an energy of restlessness and slight unease.  Of course, human nature then wants to squash those feelings taking us into addictions or comfort zones of many kinds.

Trauma, PTSD…Adoptees suffer terribly from it and are so easily hooked into numbing the pain and discomfort.  I was.  In Finding Heart Horse you can see the inside life of someone in so much pain I believed without numbing I wouldn’t survive.  I had already disassociated so much in my 15yrs and there was much more to come.  I was hooked.  That was Adoptee Shempa.  I’m free now, but still experience those feelings of distress only I handle them differently.

I think it was when I read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and he was talking about the “pain body” that i fully grasped the depth of my pain.  It was shortly after meeting my birth mother and her subsequent death.  I was beside myself in grief.  Having found my mother, only to lose her was more than I could bear.  I was engulfed in pain.  Generations of pain.  Pain from my maternal generation going back years, all passed down.  I was determined I would break the pattern for my daughters generation.  I would do whatever I had to break the cycle.

We first have to recognize the attachment to thought, or Shempa.  Look outside of ourselves when we are experiencing those moments of anxiety, pain, emotion.

We need to sit with the feeling, not run to hide it or smother it with habit of choice.  Once you can identify the thought, the pattern, the pull of shempa you are able, with practice to stop and not let the habitual patterns control our lives.  Practice, awareness, and more practice eases the discomfort.

We are all so bogged down with the complexity of life as an adoptee when in fact if we could just learn to discuss things just as they are we would give ourselves such freedom.  The process takes time.  Initially, even for those non adopted persons self-absorption is a normal aspect of daily life.  The Ego has taken over. Habitual behaviour is ego-based.  Trying to make our point, running away, disconnecting or trying to fill up the space in our lives with mindless activities is all managed by Ego.

If we can get to a place of objective. clear seeing and understand we don’t have to believe our thoughts…that is where Ego is thrown out and our hearts open, compassion takes the place of self-absorption.  Life becomes easier with less drama.  Peace begins to fill those spaces.

Once you become familiar with your own begin to see it in others.  At the moment they get “hooked” there is no escaping.  All you can do is provide space for yourself and hold your mind in a place of openness.

We, as adoptees have to dig deep to discover the many ways we use these deep-seated belief systems.  We carry such heavy “pain bodies”.  We can also break the cycle so that the generations to follow are lighter, happier, freer .

In a few steps we can learn to interrupt out habitual patterns and those that are so deeply ingrained, we can learn to manage.

Recognize the pattern

Refrain from “going there”

Relax into the feeling

Resolve to keep at it until the pattern is changed..

We can do this

6 thoughts on “SHEMPA… you have it, do you get it?

  1. I am so happy to read this considering how this relates to all trauma – and A New Earth was mind-bending good. Thank you Claire for sharing such beauty and wisdom with us. Namaste dear friend.

  2. I’ve never heard of the word “Shempa” before. I vaguely remember all the study about the Ego but considered it psycho-babble. You have such an amazing way of explaining Shempa, Claire, and it makes so much sense. I’m fascinated and want to learn more. I’m not an adoptee, but I can certainly see this pertaining to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, too. Certainly dissociating is prevalent there, too. That analogy with the hook really resonated with me. I’m going to look into this a bit more. Thanks so much for this post!

    • It can pertain to everyone, even those without major trauma. Most teachings whether they be Religious, psychology related, sociology related, all say similar things using different words. It’s whatever clicks at the time. If you haven’t read Eckhart Tolle ‘s “A New Earth” it is really helpful in explaining how we carry old wounds and how they are triggered. It’s our ego that causes us so much suffering by attaching to “things, thoughts, emotions, expectations”.

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