In her book, “Taking the Leap,” Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk describes the concept of Shenpa. Shenpa is a Tibetan word generally translated as attachment. Pema, however, suggests a different translation: hooked.

When we are hooked, Pema explains, something, an action, a word, a desire, grabs us and jerks us out of the present. This experience is common to us all. Someone says something, or does something and suddenly we are angry, or jealous, which causes us to react negatively and soon enough we are in an emotional spiral of suffering. This is our shenpa.

It is important to note that our anger, jealously, fear, etc, is not caused by this person or action. The statement or experience has not caused our suffering. Rather it is our own shenpa, the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be hooked, that causes our unhappiness. If we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be hooked, we would have been fine.

In improv, most of us get hooked by the brilliance of our own ideas. We are in a scene, all is going well, but then suddenly we have an idea. Maybe it is something very funny, or a great way for the story to go next. Whatever it is, suddenly we are hooked by it. It is just too damn good to let go. This scene would be so much better if only…. And just like that we are dissatisfied with what is happening, jerked out of the moment and living in our own heads.

Some improvisers are hooked by the audience. Will they find this funny?  Do they like me?  Why aren’t they laughing? Improvisers hooked by the audience are constantly checking in with them. Their heads are always turning to look out at the people in the seats like a fish caught on a line. Once hooked, the improviser gets stuck in her need for approval and the moment moves on without her.

I tend to get hooked by my ego. Ah, I think, this will make me look good in people’s eyes. Now they will notice me. Of course I have other hooks as well. Most of us have many: money, food, sex, Facebook, anything that rips us out of the present moment and causes us to be dissatisfied with life.

I am learning to recognize the things that grab my shenpa and the emotions I feel when I have been hooked. Awareness is the first step. Although I still get hooked, if I can be aware when this happens, perhaps I can avoid the hook next time.

Just as an improviser must be mindful of the moment of the scene and stay out of his head, becoming aware of what hooks me helps me realize when I am suddenly angry, or dissatisfied what has happened. I try and feel the emotion, pause, look around and shake my head at myself. Yep, hooked again! Once I see the hook I can set about carefully removing the barb before I get too reeled in.

 Today’s Improvmantra: Notice when you get hooked.


About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
This entry was posted in Attitude, Improv Life Lessons, Taoism/Zen and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Hooked

  1. Great post. As a musician, I notice how much better I am than I used to be onstage by not caring about anything but the music. So much better.
    Now I have for a name for what I used to do!

  2. Thanks for the info on shenpa. My husband, Cameron, read Chodron’s Comfortable With Uncertainty last year and loved it. Like you, we see the connections between improv and mindfulness/Zen/call it what you will. Cameron’s awareness is far greater my own, and I think that is why – although we started studying it at the same time – he is the better improviser!

  3. zen city says:

    love pema! nice post!

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