This series of photographs is inspired by the Buddhist teaching on Shenpa, a Tibetan word meaning “attachment,” or “hooked.” This teaching refers to the ways in which all human beings are triggered into instinctual, habitual patterns of thought and action by moments of painful or pleasurable experience. It’s during these instants that we function automatically, hooked and pulled forward into neuroses and behaviors rooted so deeply within our psyche that often we only come to the realization of what we’ve done afterwards.
All “fight or flight” moments, all aggression and addiction, all painful cycles of suffering, and pleasure turned into poison stem from these ancient shenpa hooks embedded deeply within us. Looking back, we may be able to piece together the sequence of events and only then do we realize how helpless we were to the words, or the look, or the feeling, or the situation—to that momentary, elusive, primordial impulse. And it is only through this willingness to look back that we can slowly, painfully learn to pull out the hooks that weaken our minds, turning us into unthinking automatons, robbing ourselves of our unique and precious human ability to reason.
These images represent the agonizing and truly profound moments that take place when we refrain, when we don’t act out, when we catch ourselves and stop the cycle. These are the instants when every fiber of our being is urging us to do what’s so familiar and so automatic, yet we summon the courage to think it through and instead pull the hook from our flesh, blood and all. These beautiful moments form the process of realization that allows us to transform our suffering into awareness, wisdom, and peace. It is my undying hope that through introspection and healing we can achieve freedom within our minds and from our reactive selves—from our shenpas. This remains an important goal in my own life and an ongoing motivation for my art.
(Dedicated to all the human beings fighting their personal battles of addiction and winning—doing whatever it takes to stay present and aware, breath by breath and moment by difficult moment.)
“When we become more insightful and compassionate about how we ourselves get hooked, we spontaneously feel more tenderness for the human race. Knowing our own confusion, we’re more willing and able to get our hands dirty and try to alleviate the confusion of others. If we don’t look into hope and fear, seeing a thought arise, seeing the chain reaction that follows—if we don’t train in sitting with that energy without getting snared by the drama, then we’re always going to be afraid. The world we live in, the people we meet…everything will become increasingly threatening.”
“What do you do when you don't do the habitual thing? You're kind of left with that urge much more in your face, and that craving and the wanting to move away, you're much more in touch with it then. The work we have to do is…about coming to know, coming to acknowledge that we're tensing or that we're hooked. … The way to do it is to experience the uneasiness completely and fully—without the shenpa. Go into the present moment and learn to stay. Learn to stay with the uneasiness. Learn to stay with the tightening. Learn to stay with the itch of shenpa. Learn to stay with the scratching—wherever you catch it—so that this chain reaction of habituation just doesn't rule our lives, and the patterns that we consider unhelpful aren't getting stronger, stronger, stronger.”
“There's this background static of slight unease, or maybe fidgetiness, or restlessness, or boredom, or aggression. And so, we begin to use things or act out to try to get some kind of relief from that unease. Things become imbued with an addictive quality because we empower them with the idea that they will bring us comfort. … There [is a] pattern of habituation, of strengthening the ignorance around shenpa and the ignorance that the chain reaction is even happening, the ignorance that you're even scratching, the ignorance that it's spreading all over your body, the ignorance that you're bleeding to death. We are willing to sometimes die to keep getting short-term symptom relief. That's the story of the habitual pattern, of imbuing poison with comfort.”
(Quotes selected from Pema Chodron “When Things Fall Apart” & various lecture transcripts)