As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been heavily influenced in my early sobriety by Pema Chödrön, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun (there’s a mouthful). Her take on the Four Noble Truths, and especially on the idea of suffering and the concept of getting “hooked” into negative thoughts and actions and old habits, are especially pertinent to me. The term she uses for getting hooked is shenpa, which I may or may not have talked about before:
“Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.” (more here)
I’ve made a good deal of progress when it comes to interacting with my children, whereas I used to drink to prepare myself for an evening with them or interacting on the weekend. The idea sounds pathetic to me now, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much for me to get back into that lifestyle. Just one drink, I suspect.
Anyway, I was so focused on “choosing a fresh alternative” (as Pema says) to my children when they misbehave that I completely missed shenpa cropping up in my work life. I taught long enough to have had plenty of needy, clingy students, and I can usually spot them on the first or second class day. Such students can be extremely draining, especially in the public school setting. Now that I teach on the college-level, I’m not responsible for students on a day-to-day basis; I’m not required to counsel them or intervene in fights or, thankfully, babysit them during lunch. Instead, I encounter students two days a week for about an hour. However, during the summer semester, we meet for over two hours, and that extra time is more than enough for a clingy student to push his or her way into my life.
I have such a case, and I found myself getting more and more irritated with him when he insisted on talking too long or veering wildly off the subject (like I don’t when I’m up in front?) and generally sending out the “I have no one to talk to and you’re an older guy who seems to have it together so I’m going to glom onto you” vibe.
I ran through scenarios in my head in which I told this student off, or at the very least ignored him until he stopped pestering me. This went on for a week, and I complained about it at home.
I wasn’t choosing a fresh alternative; I was right back into my old way of dealing with the world, with me dead in the center of it. I didn’t offer lovingkindness to my student. Instead, I willed him away from me because I feel him crossing boundaries that perhaps I didn’t establish clearly enough in the first place.
All of this occurred to me while I was taking a shower two days ago, so I’m going get back into focusing on the positive traits of people and practice empathy, especially for my student, who is clearly lonely and sees something in me that makes him feel safe and noticed.
At the heart of this whole thing is fear. I’m afraid of doing things differently–in this case, offering myself within limits to a student in need for fear that I’ll get wrapped up in his problems and wind up drinking again. But fear is cropping up in other areas, too. Sometimes, I glance at my tattoo and I think, “Did I really do that? Wow.” And then I start getting a little panicked…not because I regret getting it done, but it’s different. I’m different. Getting drunk and dealing with life through a haze was simple; navigating emotions and responsibilities without a crutch is difficult.
I remind myself that I can handle this with the help of others, which in itself is a huge change. Tomorrow, I’ll be in class with my student, and I’ll do my best to offer him the same lovingkindness I offer myself and my family. Here’s hoping for the best.