Today is Memorial Day in the United States.
Memorial Day is the day we dedicate to remember, honor, and mourn the members of our military who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
But how many times can I repeat the same message?
This year, I decided to do something different.
Investigating the Root Cause
If we find ourselves hooked by the energy of something, it can be useful to explore why it’s hooking us. Every sensation is a messenger, and our triggers can be powerful agents for self-awareness and information.
So I put on my coaching hat and asked myself some questions:
- Why does this bother me so much?
- What was the real issue here for me?
- What was at stake here, for me?
<li>It’s not that I think the “Happy Memorial Day” people are maliciously undermining the spirit of the day with their insistence on the “happiness” message.</li>This variation on Hanlon’s Razor seems to fit here:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.
Maybe they just don’t know better. Maybe they think this is the day for honoring all of our military heroes (the living get their own day: Veterans’ Day). Or maybe they think today is about celebrating the freedom that we enjoy thanks to the service of our military (that’s Independence Day).
So by getting on my soap box and speaking TRUTH to inform those well-meaning but ignorant people that Memorial Day is a day to honor the DEAD people who served our country, I’m using my platform to create awareness. I am performing a vital service. Right?
Yes, and …. by getting up on my soap box, I also give in to the impulse to set everyone straight, and this doesn’t necessarily serve me.
Giving In to the Shenpa
The “Happy Memorial Day” messages spark a “shenpa” within me. Shenpa is a Tibetan word that is often translated as the “emotional charge” that lies beneath our thoughts, words, and actions. Pema Chodron writes that she thinks of shenpa as “getting hooked.”
In common cultural language we might say that shenpa is the feeling of being triggered.
Chodron describes it as a
sticky feeling … [that] comes along with a very seductive urge to do something.
Although it may be hard to define, shenpa is something we all experience. We know it when we feel it. It’s an embodied sensation; there’s a physiology to it. Maybe the chest feeling tight, or feeling hot under the collar, heart beating rapidly, throat closing up.
It is the sensation that triggers us into our mindless, self-sabotaging habits.
When we feel a shenpa, we may shift into a story of blame and victimization, or wanting revenge, or wanting to “tell people how it is.”
We may experience a shenpa when someone looks at us or speaks to us in a certain way, when we hear certain messages, find ourselves around certain types of people or in certain situations.
Our days are full of shenpas, but we often don’t recognize them until we’re down the rabbit hole of the triggered action. Welcome to your habits.
Resisting the Urge of the Shenpa
Chodron shares that typically we do not catch shenpa until we’ve already “indulged the urge to scratch the itch in some habitual way.” This is why habits are so hard to break.
As I explored my shenpa I started to recognize that the inner work itself can be a distracting habit.
As much as I love to ask myself why? sometimes the Why is irrelevant.
It’s enough to recognize the shenpa and the urge to act, then sit with the discomfort of not scratching the itch.
The practice of sitting teaches us how to loosen the grip and let it go.
And Then What…?
That doesn’t mean I can’t still educate and inform.
But by letting go of my emotional charge I can still serve without getting caught up in the energy of the righteous indignation that makes my blood boil. My service can come from a more loving place.
By letting go of the charge, it helps me hold more space for those who choose to honor our fallen soldiers in a different way.