There is a word for it




What is shenpa? I appreciate Pema Chodron’s teachings on shenpa because she has helped me identify the insidious nature of my mind.  Have you ever had a broken tooth and been unable to stop your tongue from running over the jagged edge?  That is shenpa. The broken tooth can be an event gone south, a communication gone awry, an unpleasant interaction, or a criticism. The mental argument begins and the defenses go up.  The “committee” starts chattering, “But that isn’t true!  I didn’t mean it that way!  I should have said this but I said that. Why did I say that when I should have said something else?” It is maddening, insane and endlessly aggravating.


Shenpa is what Pema calls the hook. We each have different hooks but we all get hooked by attachment to outcomes, expectations, or regrets.  It is emotionally painful and we suffer, especially if the committee adds, “And, by the way, you are really stupid, fat, ugly, and lazy.” It’s like putting a match to gasoline and then running around in your mind screaming , “Call 911!”


For example, this morning was very cold, 2F/-16C.  My daughter tried to start her car to go to the dentist but the battery was dead.  I had to call our neighbor to come help start her car.  The committee kicked into gear, “Too bad you don’t know where the jumper cables are.  This is embarrassing to have to call the neighbor.  Oh great.  Now another expense because she needs a new battery and then there’s the cost of getting her teeth cleaned.  Of course it happens right before Christmas.”  Because I was already outside I tried to add water to the llamas tub but guess what?  The pump handle is frozen.  “What is it with watering animals lately?  I’m freezing!  I don’t want to drag hoses from the other pump to this one.  It’s such a pain.  I was going to make cookies.  This isn’t part of the plan.  Aren’t you supposed to be working on feeling joyful and enchanted?”


I started turning the self-talk around.  “I’m grateful we have an income.  I’m grateful we can afford a new battery.  We won’t go broke.  We are not destitute.  I’m thankful I have such a good neighbor who is always willing to help us. I have a lovely place to live with lots of animals and I love my animals.”  And, oh yeah, two kittens just got spayed and the puppy needs shots so there’s a vet bill to pay today too.  “Oh boy!  I’m so grateful for my abundance!”  (Right?  OK, this takes practice!)


Whatever the hook is, I have to let it go.  I must remember that 100 years from now when I am dead and gone, it truly won’t matter. It won’t be important because all my actions will be in the past. Just as they are now while I am living, from moment to moment.  Why hold on to the negativity?  What matters now is being kind, forgiving and loving towards myself and others.  Pema describes a four stage process related to coping with shenpa and it’s important to practice all the steps. But for now, it’s good to be aware that there is a word that describes the difficulty and to know that there is a way out of the mental suffering.


  1. Petrea on December 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    ok a funny thing happened as I was reading this (aside from your wonderful sense of humor), I kept reading “Sherpa” instead of “Shenpa” even after I corrected myself! (from definition: “Sherpa: member of Tibetan people who serve as porters and guides on mountain-climbing expeditions”)

    Through your musings and wisdom that you share here Loran, you guide your readers through difficult terrains up the tallest mountains!
    Thank-you for being you!
    Petrea recently posted..Finding My MuseMy Profile

  2. Dionne, the Tea Priestess on December 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    ah…I had forgotten about Shenpa. I LOVE this teaching by Pema! Thanks for reminding me of it…now off to listen to it again and see what other nuggets of wisdom can be activated.
    Dionne, the Tea Priestess recently posted..A Prayer for CalmMy Profile

  3. Gaelyn on December 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I practice shenpa WAY too much, especially lately. Thanks for reminding me to get out of my own head and stop always listening to the committee.

  4. Ellie Di on December 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    This is precisely what I’ve been dealing with this week, I just didn’t know it had a name! Still not sure I fully grasp the academic meaning, but I understand it in feelings. (It’s a lot like the Evil Auctioneer, the way you describe the committee.)

    I’m working on finding a way to placate my committee right now as they tell me how little I’m getting done even though my list of things to do before I leave the country for Christmas is two pages long. I’ll admit that I’m not winning today, but tomorrow’s another day.
    Ellie Di recently posted..Forgiving Myself FirstMy Profile

  5. Loran Hills on December 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Oh, the gratification of instant comments! Yes, Petrea, I am a shenpa sherpa! I like that.

    I have repeatedly listened to Pema’s CD’s, Dionne. Every time I learn something new. She teaches in a way I can understand. Ellie, you might find those teachings useful because Pema is not at all academic in the way she presents.

    Good luck, Gaelyn, getting out of your head and shutting down the committee!

  6. Effy on December 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Boy did I ever need this today. 🙂

    Effy recently posted..A Simple LifeMy Profile

    • Loran Hills on December 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      I’m so glad that this was helpful, Effy! We are all in this together.

  7. gina on December 6, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I love Shenpa Sherpa! lol…….I love Pema too…she’s just too cute!
    I have been doing an awareness practice of ‘flipping’ my thoughts……now what I have been doing lately is choosing, ‘on purpose’, my thoughts to think…… I’ll start thinking,
    ‘my body is healthy’
    ‘I am grateful for all I can do’
    ‘I have the best life’
    And what a difference it makes! If my mind if going to think anyway, I might all well make them all positive thoughts………so I’m trying to retrain my brain….wanna join me?!!

    thank Loran……..this is SO wonderful!
    gina recently posted..To Flow with Change, Breathe It InMy Profile

  8. Loran Hills on December 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Gina, I do try to practice training my brain, it just loves to zoom down the most familiar neural pathways first before I catch the crap in the trap! Hahaha, cracking myself up here…..

  9. Barbara on December 6, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I think the part about being embarrassed to ask for help is very American, drilled into us as part of our important “virtue” of independence or self-sufficiency. In Tanzania, people kept offering to help me with things, often things I didn’t quite know how to do, and I would say no, because I so valued being independent. Their feelings would be hurt a little bit and I would struggle with a task I could have really used help with. After I did this a few times, I would stop myself from saying no, take a breath, and say yes, I could use some help, thank you. It worked out so well, I got help and my Tanzanian friend felt happy because I accepted help. My Tanzanian boyfriend a few times expressed frustration with me turning down help because it seemed so odd to him.

    • Loran Hills on December 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

      Barb, I remember when you posted about this difference in culture. It is way hard for me to ask for help even though I am usually willing to help someone else. I understand you running into trouble in Tanzania.

  10. Margot on December 7, 2011 at 3:51 am

    I find myself in this kind of situations more and more lately. I guess letting go it’s a lesson we all need to learn – and maybe this time of the year it’s the perfect time to learn how to do it!

  11. Jacqueline Gates on December 7, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Loran, you always manage to make me laugh and learn at the same time!

    I’ve always wondered if I’m the only one who ‘picks at’ a past problem/issue/embarassment/failure like a broken nail, until it’s raw and bleeding all over again.

    What is it about knowing a NAME for something that makes it easier to deal with?

    I’ve seen Pema glowing from book covers at Barnes and Noble, but never delved into her work. I think I might be ready now.
    Jacqueline Gates recently posted..Is Your Parents’ Influence Blocking Your Success?My Profile

  12. Loran Hills on December 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Margot, you’re right about letting go as a lesson we all need to learn. Any time of year works!

    Jacqui, laugh and learn, my new motto! Pema is wonderful to read because she explains things in a way that makes sense. Let me know if you do delve into her work.

  13. Fran Riley on December 7, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for this reminder, and for remembering that this gratitude business takes constant practice. I love how funny the mind babble becomes if we can just have the presence to step back and watch it!

    • Loran Hills on December 7, 2011 at 9:28 am

      The mind babble can get pretty ridiculous if we are listening, that’s for sure.

  14. Lori on December 7, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I hear ya Loran, as well as ‘the committee’ lately! I have found myself saying (out loud to other humans) “I’m so tired and just when I thought things were going to slow down…” Then I quickly add “But! it can always be worse and I’m so fortunate to have a bunkhouse to fix up, and a talented, hard working husband to work with on this project.” I shouldn’t have to get to the second phrase, but remember it before the first. It is a constant challenge to keep the dark side of your psyche in check. So I guess you know why I didn’t make it to book club 🙁

    • Loran Hills on December 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      I can imagine that ir’s hard work fixing the bunk house up! Hope you get done soon and come back to book club soon!

  15. Sara on December 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Jeepers. My sister used the tongue-over-the-tooth metaphor with me just yesterday! I need to listen closer to my smart friends!

  16. Sara on December 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    PS: Gorgeously written!!

  17. Loran Hills on December 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks, Sara! I took your advice.

  18. Tanja on December 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I’ve never heard the term Shenpa before, Loran, but I SO know the concept. It’s like once my mind thinks of a negative concept, it just doesn’t want to let go of it – the hook metaphor is a truly apt one.

    I love your description of focussing on gratitude to counteract the Shenpa – that sometimes helps for me as well. I’m looking forward to reading through Pema’s article in full and finding out more about the 4-step process for letting go.

    Blessings – TANJA
    Tanja recently posted..WtDBP Process #2: The simple 9-step “Write the Damn Blog Post!” processMy Profile

  19. Loran Hills on December 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    The best thing about shenpa is there isn’t any baggage attached to the word, no guilt!

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