What to do when Life Sucks

Sometimes life sucks.

  • You have a bad day at work
  • You sat in traffic for hours
  • Your “fat clothes” are fitting way too tight
  • You’re sick of being single
  • You’re sick of being married
  • A dog pooped on your front lawn

In response, you:

  • Smack-talk your boss behind their back, or
  • Give the finger to the jerk who cut you off in traffic, or
  • Eat an entire bag of Oreos, or
  • Cry, scream, punch, swear, drink, etc…

And after all that…your life still kinda sucks…maybe even a little worse.

If this sounds like you (me) and you are open to breaking a few of your bad habits, you might want to listen to the words of Pema Chödrön – an American Buddhist who is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chödrön talks a lot about the Tibetan Buddhist concept of shenpa.

Shenpa is that feeling of being very uncomfortable and having an immediate desire to get away from that feeling as fast as possible. It’s kind of like we are like little kids stricken with a nasty case of poison ivy. The itch is horrible and all we want to do is scratch and scratch and scratch. Unfortunately, scratching makes poison ivy worse.

In real life, when we experience something unpleasant, shenpa kicks in and instigates a strong desire to do “something” to try and make the unpleasantness stop.

That “something” could include the aforementioned smack-talking, finger-waving, over-eating, bad tv watching, cigarette smoking, etc, etc, etc…

Unfortunately for you, giving into shenpa usually makes things worse in real life too.

  1. It relieves our suffering for only a very short amount of time, and
  2. After which, we return to the same problems we had before we inhaled those Oreos
  3. Only now we have to deal with the after-effects of our shenpa over-reaction.

Obesity, traffic tickets, unemployment, alcoholism, a punch in the nose, etc…

Chödrön suggests a different approach.

Instead of running away from life’s bad news….sit with it.

Pay attention to what has just happened and how it makes you feel. Don’t react. Pay attention. And then do what you can to make the crappy stuff a little bit better.

Kind of like putting calamine lotion on poison ivy instead of scratching it.

2 comments

  1. Pema is on to something. When your boss doesn’t give you the assignment your really want and you are all pissed off, don’t badmouth him and blame it on his shortcomings. Look at the situation and ask, “What responsibility do I have for this situation?” At the end of the day if you are willing to look at everything that happens in your life good and bad, especially the bad things, you need to take responsibility for what has happened. Maybe in the past you didn’t do a good job with certain assignments. Maybe you were late, or maybe you just didn’t do a good job. The bottom line is are you going to be at cause in your life or are you going to be the effect of someone else? You decide and live accordingly. Be willing to accept the consequences though. I admit I haven’t read her books and only saw a brief clip of her wisdom and ideas. I’m sure she is on to something, just not sure if she is pushing people to take enough responsibility for what is happening in their life.

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