Session 4: Pema Chödrön: The Three Difficulties.

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Here Pema talks about “becoming hooked” and “Shenpa, the quality of being hooked.” If we don’t feed the energy of being hooked by adding thoughts and scenarios about what hooked us, if we can recognize that we are hooked by a situation, a person, a conversation, and just sit with this feeling and let it pass through us, it will dissipate. Thoughts and stories that we tell ourselves fan the spark of shenpa into a raging forest fire. So recognizing shenpa, and not scratching the itch, or not turning the spark into a raging fire by our stories and thoughts can then help us go through the hooking.

The best sentence in this lecture to me is this (I made the letters bold): “It is very possible to drop the storyline and let this energy pass through you, tasting the freedom from suffering and the natural joy of experiencing exactly what is there. When the hook arises, it’s like a bell going off that you can begin to see as an opportunity to not feed the chain reaction of suffering. This is the great gift of these teachings.”

Yes, that is what I am looking for, the freedom from suffering for myself as well as not subjecting my friends and family to suffering because of my words and actions. That to me, would be a miracle! And I am determined to get to this freedom for my self and my friends and family, therefore I will. I am on my way! It is not easy, but like I said in my last post, I have been catching myself getting hooked, and then choosing to do something different than becoming anxious, sad, and ranting, raving, and being upset.

My dear friends and family, a new and improved version of Samina is on its way, the model S, lol! And this me is going to be kind, understanding, loving, and open to you. This me is going to listen to you when you talk, not just to say something back, but just to listen to what you are saying. Because what you are sharing with me is valuable and deserves to be listened to, and deserves my understanding. Without becoming reactive and getting hooked by what you are saying, I want to listen and understand and know the freedom from suffering and the natural joy of the experience of being with you. How amazing it would be if we could all do that! Come along with me on this journey of choosing to do something different, and freedom from suffering and natural joy!

Below is the whole text of the introduction of session 4.

“Pema begins section two with a review of the Three Difficult Practices: recognizing that you’re stuck or hooked, doing something different, and making this new response a way of life.

In this section, we’ll be focusing on the first of the difficult practices: acknowledging how we become hooked. Pema introduces a Tibetan term, shenpa, which refers to the quality of being “hooked” or “caught.” Pema then lays out for us the typical shenpa scenario: You’re in a conversation with someone and everything is going just fine. All of a sudden, they say or do something that just doesn’t sit right with you. You feel yourself tighten, perhaps your jaw or your stomach. You feel defensive or angry or resentful, but you don’t know why; things start to speed up. You start spinning stories in your mind. You are hooked.

Shenpa is not conceptual, teaches Pema. It occurs at a pre-thought level. Something in this other person or in some circumstance triggers you, and you react. It always begins at a subtle level, but has a very distinct quality nonetheless. You can really feel it.

Shenpa does not always occur in conversation. For example, you might be sitting in a park or at the dentist’s office or even standing in line at the grocery store. Then suddenly, someone you don’t know walks by or sits near you and just the way they look or talk causes you to start to shut down; there is a knee-jerk tightening that you feel throughout your entire being. Or, when someone sees you walk by, it happens to thim. You two don’t even know one another, and still the shenpa is there.

The mere arising of shenpa is a natural experience for human beings and, in this sense, is in no way problematic in and of itself. What happens, however, is that along with the shenpa there is usually an urgency to do something as a reaction—to escape, to say something, to somehow flee the discomfort of the feeling. It’s not natural for us to simply rest in the hooked feeling, and fully experience what is there. Instead, we get carried away by its momentum.

Another analogy for shenpa is an “itch” as a result of poison ivy or allergies. The simple truth of the matter is that when we have an itch, scratching it feels really good; while we’re scratching the itch, it feels so wonderful! But, as we all know, scratching only worsens the itch and spreads the rash.

For example, you might have a slight dislike for someone. Not a big deal—you can sit with it, everything’s okay. But then you might start to build a case against him—about how he’s wrong or unkind, or something is just not right about him. You go into your thoughts and create a whole atmosphere around the person and the situation. Or, you might do the same about yourself, about how neurotic or bad you are. In this way, the situation escalates from being minor and no big deal to being more difficult and even like a raging fire.

It’s quite uncomfortable—almost unbearable—to sit with the shenpa, with the poison ivy, without scratching. Our habit of following the chain reaction into the storyline and away from our direct experience is very ancient and well-established. It’s not as if we stop and are then left with a relaxed, peaceful feeling. At first, we will feel the underlying uneasiness, the insecurity, and the positive groundlessness Pema spoke about in section one. Facing this requires practice, real courage, and commitment.

Next, Pema introduces the Buddhist teaching on the Eight Worldly Dharmas, the various ways in which we get caught in hope and fear. Through careful observation, we begin to see precisely how we get hooked in certain habits, all arising as a way to find comfort and security. Despite the depth at which these habits are entrenched, Pema offers the possibility for all of us to go beyond hope and fear altogether.

At its initial arising, Pema teaches, shenpa is a like a tiny spark. In response to this spark, however, we scramble to do whatever we can to move away from its discomfort, from the hooked feeling. In this process of moving away, we tend to “throw kerosene” on the spark, and unconsciously ignite it into a full-blown fire. Through this course, Pema will help us to heighten our awareness of how we escalate the spark in our lives.

Our main method for throwing kerosene on the spark of shenpa, we learn, is by going into the mind and talking to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories about other people and about the situations in our life, and then believe the stories and proceed as if they were completely true. One of the most important reasons we train in meditation and other practices is to recognize when we’re thinking, and to let that thinking go and then return to our immediate experience. With the shenpa practice, it is these thoughts that are the kerosene which turns the little spark into a full-blown forest fire; it is these thoughts that most often make matters worse. We start to see that the difficult emotions we experience cannot be kept alive unless we are talking to ourselves, telling stories about our lives and those around us.

In reality, shenpa is there underneath the thinking process; that small spark exists at a pre-verbal level. It is there in a way that we could say is pregnant with the possibility of a forest fire. But, if we can just pause at the point when we notice the shenpa, and experience its non-verbal energy instead of feeding it with our thoughts, we find ourselves standing at the doorway to true freedom. Instead of throwing kerosene on the fire, we start to discover the inexpressible wisdom and goodness of our own hearts and minds. But we cannot access this depth of experience when we keep going with the chain reaction of habitual response.

Pema then offers us the shenpa instruction, in its simplest form: notice that you’re hooked, and pause. Just notice that you’re breathing in and breathing out. Simply pause and relax, in the awareness that you’re hooked. And then keep letting the thoughts go, and come back to the body. Go beneath the thoughts and the verbal discussion about what’s happening and have a direct, immediate experience of “hooked.” What is this “hooked”? What is it that is being experienced in the most direct and immediate way? What is really there below the storyline about who said what and who hurt you and how bad you are and so forth?

When we observe carefully in this way, we can start to see that every state of mind is impermanent, fluid, and passing; all thoughts and emotions in fact have an amazingly short duration when we’re not throwing kerosene on the fire. However, we tend to make them last a long time, remaining hooked weeks after a difficult conversation or even after a glance that someone gave us. But if we do not feed the shenpa, it will just dissolve on its own, sometimes surprisingly quickly.

We begin by looking at shenpa in its subtlest form, as this heat, tightening, and subtle tension. Very often, we will not catch this very subtle level, or this first movement of the hook. More often, in the drama of our everyday life, we won’t catch it until we’ve already said something, acted in a particular way, or found ourselves quite worked up. Obviously, it is much more difficult to rein in the momentum once it’s taken off. But the truth is that it’s never too late to see the shenpa and choose something different. Even if you can just say “shenpa,” Pema tells us, you can at least realize it’s there, recognize what is happening, and to some degree interrupt the momentum of a further chain reaction.

As you become more familiar with this process, you will start to recognize what Pema refers to as “shenpa speak”— how you talk to yourself in order to justify the shenpa logic. You get hooked and you believe you have the right to be hooked, with a particular person or situation: “I have the right to have shenpa! In this situation, I have the right to be hooked! This is the exception!” This is shenpa-speak. We can learn to acknowledge that we’re caught when we notice ourselves speaking in this way, to ourselves or others.

The purpose of this course is to help you to see that when you’re hooked, you actually have a choice. You can choose shenpa logic and follow the momentum of the chain reaction, or you can go in the direction of practice, pausing and relaxing into the energy of your underlying experience. It is very possible to drop the storyline and let this energy pass through you, tasting the freedom from suffering and the natural joy of experiencing exactly what is there. When the hook arises, it’s like a bell going off that you can begin to see as an opportunity to not feed the chain reaction of suffering. This is the great gift of these teachings.”

I’m taking this course: The Freedom to Choose Something Different by Pema Chödrön. 1st Session.

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My last two posts were about this course, that having gotten sick of reacting and being miserable, anxious and stressed about life stressors and issues… I got sick and tired of being triggered all the time, so much so that I decided to take this course. I just watched the first video in the course. The freedom to choose something different. What a wonderful concept! I absolutely love the idea. In the video, Ms. Chödrön talks about the three difficult practices. The first is to acknowledging you are hooked, recognize that we have been hooked by a situation, event, emotion, anything. The second difficult practice is doing something different, not having your usual reaction of ranting and raving, but doing something different, not saying “Yes, but …” or even if you say “Yes, but …” and recognize that and then go on to doing something different. The third difficult practice is you have to do this every day, for the rest of your life. It is not enough to do this once, you are not done. You have to do this with every situation, every day of your life.

Great concepts, especially for someone like me, or someone like you, or someone like anyone, a human, we do get hooked by things, situations, occurrences. But we have to recognize this and do something different instead of raving and ranting, and blaming and feeling righteously indignant. Do something different. Don’t let the situation get you hooked. Get in touch with your kind, loving, compassionate, big heart, and act out of that, not out of fear and anger.

I love it. It speaks to me, I feel like I am going to learn a lot from this course and hopefully change the way I react to life, change it from a negative, angry, fearful way to a positive, loving, kind way. I am going to watch one video a day and blog about it so all of you, my dear readers, friends, and family will take this course right along with me.

Changing the habitual, negative, reactive response to PEACE and EQUANIMITY! A course by Pema Chödrön

If this course can really do what it says it can do, it would be quite miraculous for my life. I wouldn’t have to live with a fight or flight response that gets activated at the drop of a hat (in mania), and sometimes so over the top extreme that it’s like using a machine gun to kill a mosquito. Usually the situations I am reacting to are quite extreme, so many bad things have happened to me and my family 😦 I don’t know why some people carry more of a sorrow or trouble burden. Maybe I’m wrong, but some people seem to have lighter, airier, less troubled lives. Maybe they’re the ones who already taken this course and possess the equanimity that I lack. I want to stop being so reactive, and so hooked into the negative things in life. I want to be even keeled, and be the genuine, true me, who is loving and positive, and calm. Yes CALM, that is the operative word. I am going to enroll in this course, and see what happens. I’ll post about it, and hopefully I will make good progress with my goal of reaching equanimity, serenity, and calmness. Oh it sounds like a wonderful dream.

Here’s the information for the course:

The Freedom to Choose Something Different by Pema Chödrön

Course Description

Ever feel triggered and stuck in a reactive tailspin despite all your efforts?

It is from this place — this hooked feeling — that we find ourselves responding in less than ideal ways. These are the moments when we may speak with venom, act out, or completely shut down when faced with challenging situations.

It is only later, when we’ve had the opportunity to calm down and reflect on our actions, that we wonder where we went wrong and how we could have chosen a more grounded response.

In The Freedom to Choose Something Different, Pema Chödrön examines and illuminates this nebulous process, clearly identifying where and when you have the opportunity to change your habitual response patterns. . . to choose something different. In this eight-part video course, Pema personally walks you through the landscape of these internal thunderstorms and guides you through the tools to cultivate inner freedom.

What does it mean to be “hooked”?

Maybe it’s a comment from a friend about your new shirt or the dinner you just cooked. Maybe it’s a look, a glance from a stranger. But something about it sets you off. . .

  • Your jaw or stomach tightens
  • Irritation, frustration, or anger begins to arise out of nowhere
  • Time speeds up
  • Your mind begins to race
  • Thoughts about the offending action begin flooding your head — judgments, defenses, accusations…

Whatever you call it . . . You’re hooked.

How do you choose something different?

  • Develop a subtle awareness for what it actually feels like to be “hooked”
  • Learn how to recognize the feeling when it first arises and “catch it” quicker
  • Interrupt the momentum of your habitual responses by slowing down your reactions
  • Establish alternative forms of responding that come from an expansive sense of self-worth, rather than a constricted place of self-protection
  • Get the support you need to reinforce this change and make it a new and active part of your life

Are you ready to get unhooked?

Take this course and discover the tools needed to cultivate true inner freedom.

What are the requirements?

  • No prerequisite knowledge needed

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Over 21 lectures and 9.5 hours of content!
  • Achieve freedom from your habitual response patterns
  • Transform your habits, addictions, and behaviors
  • Discover the value of your imperfections in the process of spiritual growth
  • Learn to access your innate wisdom and inner ground
  • Develop tools essential to your transformation in times of duress
  • Cultivate unconditional self-acceptance

What is the target audience?

  • People looking to transform reactive habits, addictions and behaviors
  • People looking to learn more from the renowned Pema Chödrön
  • People seeking to better understand practices of Tibetan Buddhism


Section 1: Positive Groundlessness and the Three Difficult Practices
Section 2: Shenpa and the Power of the Pause
Section 3: Sowing the Seeds of Freedom
Section 4: Being Kind to Yourself
Section 5: The Practice of Meditation and Its Relevance to Shenpa
Section 6: Choosing a Fresh Alternative
Section 7: BONUS MATERIAL – Live Sessions with Glenna Olmstead
Live Session with Glenna Olmsted – 1
Live Session with Glenna Olmsted – 2

Instructor Biography

Sounds True , Publisher of book, audio, and video titles in the fields of self-development, personal growth, and spirituality

Sounds True was founded in 1985 by Tami Simon with a clear mission: to disseminate spiritual wisdom. Since starting out as a project with one woman and her tape recorder, we have grown into a multimedia publishing company with more than 80 employees, a library of more than 600 titles featuring some of the leading teachers and visionaries of our time, and an ever-expanding family of customers from across the world. In more than two decades of growth, change, and evolution, Sounds True has maintained its focus on its overriding purpose, as summed up in our Vision Statement:

Sounds True exists to inspire, support, and serve personal transformation and spiritual awakening.

Sounds True is an independent multimedia publishing company that embraces the world’s major spiritual traditions, as well as the arts and humanities, embodied by the leading authors, teachers, and visionary artists of our time. Our approach to publishing is not dependent on a single format or technology—rather, we strive with every title to preserve the essential “living wisdom” of the author, artist, or spiritual teacher. It is our goal to create products that not only provide information to a reader or listener, but that also embody the essential quality of a wisdom transmission between a teacher and a student.

Throughout the years, Sounds True has developed a guiding philosophy that we call “multiple bottom lines.” Our dedication to this principle is embodied in our Mission Statement:

The mission of Sounds True is to find teachers and artists who serve as a gateway to spiritual awakening and to produce, publish, and distribute their work with beauty, intelligence, and integrity. We treat our authors, vendors, and partners in the same way we would want to be treated. We work flexibly and efficiently together to create a cooperative, loving environment that honors respectful authenticity and individual growth. We maintain a healthy level of profitability so that we are an independent and sustainable employee-owned organization.

The three essential bottom lines for Sounds True are the integrity of our purpose, the well-being of our people, and the maintaining of healthy profits. All three of these priorities are important in the decisions we make as a company. It is our conviction that each of these bottom lines must be healthy for the company to prosper as a whole.

In our history as a publisher, Sounds True has produced a wide variety of formats in order to fulfill our goal of disseminating spiritual wisdom.

Full biography

Instructor Biography

Ani Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, Ani Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to Scotland at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave her explicit instructions on establishing this monastery for western monks and nuns.

Ani Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. She is also a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the oldest son and lineage holder of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Ani Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in the West, as well as continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. Her non-profit, The Pema Chödrön Foundation, was set up to assist in this purpose.

She has written several books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, The Places that Scare You, No Time To Lose,Practicing Peace in Times of War, How to Meditate, and Living Beautifully. All are available from Shambhala Publications and Sounds True.