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  That tense, withdrawn, self blaming, angry, jealous place….that is Adoptee Shempa.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

Day 13 of Self-Love Challenge

ImageDo I matter?  Does it make a difference in anyone’s life that I am here, on this earth.  Me….that little girl in the picture above with the blank stare on her face and her fist held so tightly…

Today I am going to tell that little girl that she matters.  She matters a great deal.  She was meant to be here and her life has meaning.

   “Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.”


This morning, someone noticed.  Someone noticed I wasn’t around much in the world of writing in the cyber world.  My friend Kim from Muse in The Valley noticed and took the time to check in with me and see if all was ok.

As an adoptee there will always be deep seated beliefs that need recognizing, reframing and relearning.  Just as non-adoptees only these are ingrained from the Primal Wound, in utero most likely.  

These beliefs don’t come from the neocortex, if they did they would be easy to change.  They are feelings, emotions, senses all products of the Limbic system.  Look at that little girl.  Already at that tender age these fixed beliefs were evident.  As I looked through pictures to put in my first memoir Finding Heart Horse, I was struck by the fact that all…yes….all of my pictures look just like her.  Disconnected, sad, aware that she doesn’t matter and must do what is asked of her.

I need to connect with her.  Convince her that she does indeed matter and people do and will miss her presence in this world.  Convince her that she has an impact and is loved by the person that is now wrapped around her little being in this adult body.

Of course, intellectually i recognize this, analyze it, work on it, over and over and over.  I need to learn to feel it.  Believe it.  Soak in the moments that present themselves that tell me she matters, that I matter.

Acting solely from emotion is dangerous for people who have suffered trauma.  When you have Primal Wound trauma along with severe PTSD from rapes and beatings and life on the streets where death is always one step behind you triggers are many.   Eckhart Tolle talks about the “Pain body” in his book The New Earth.  It was with that information that I recognized how much pain I was carrying and how my every minute was being triggered constantly in reunion.  Emotions run high in the internal world of adoptees and one has to step outside of themselves and see objectively that it is this pain body screaming from the emotions holed up inside the soul.  Once you can see…from the outside you understand it actually has nothing to do with the present situation.

Being and staying in the present while digging in the dark places of the soul to retrain, reframe belief systems isn’t easy. Layer by layer by layer you dig, and heal, and dig some more in order to get to your heart, the place that holds the love for that little girl.

They say there are five levels of healing.  They jump around in no particular order just like the grieving process and it may take days or years depending how willing you are to do the work.

It’s like hauling away heavy rock and sediment by the handful.  First you dig through anger, then sadness, fear, longing and forgiveness.  You will know each level intimately and be able to call it by name.  Every time you shed a tear, express your anger, feel your fear or admit a longing you are getting closer and closer to being able to rescue your heart.  You need to learn to feel them and then let them go.

In Buddhism we are considered to already be diamonds.  Like the lotus flower which I consider to be the symbol of my life.  The lotus grows in and through the mud eventually becoming the most beautiful flower that opens petal by petal and is then able to show the world it’s beauty fully bloomed.  I’m still finding my diamonds and shining them up.  I’m out of the mud and beginning to bloom.  And still, even with that awareness….when I look at that little girl, I can see that those old beliefs are still there.  

I will continue, day by day to say to her…that she matters…that she would be missed…but most of all she is loved and wanted.