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Feb 18
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Working with Obstacles – Dön Season

article by Pablo Coddou, Kado
Rusung at Karme Choling

If you have been around the Shambhala community in the earlier part of any year, you likely have heard talk about Dön Season (pronounce the ‘ö,’ like ‘could’). This is the period of time that leads up to the Tibetan New Year – referred to by the community as Shambhala Day – which marks the end of the lunar calendar and opens a new energetic cycle.

While Shambhala Day is an occasion to celebrate, rejoice, and be merry, Dön Season traditionally is seen as a time to hide in the house, not travel, and walk on eggshells, so as not to incur any really bad juju. But, as non-theistic warriors of awakenment, we are invited to take a more fearless approach. Let’s look at what Dön Season actually is about.

First of all, what in the world is a dön?

Döns are expressions of confusion, sickness, and discord that appear in our daily life. They refer to the various obstacles and blockages that manifest in our body, speech, and mind, that infiltrate any aspect of our experience.
In a 2008 talk on döns, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche teaches there are outer obstacles, which include the four elements, other individuals, and unseen forces; inner obstacles, which include heavy discursive concepts and emotions that plague the mind; and secret obstacles – those which “impede the progress of our [Buddhist] path.”

Döns can manifest anywhere from stubbing our toe on the way to the bathroom, fighting with our partner over nothing, getting a migraine, or locking our keys in the car…while it’s running, and our cell phone is sitting on the front seat, ringing, with our boss on the line.

On a more subtle level, döns are the emotional upheavals that disrupt our meditation practice, our spiritual development, and our sense of delight in life.

“Fundamentally, döns are anything that distract us from engaging with the present moment in the most clear, precise, and authentic manner possible.”

What is Dön Season?
Dön Season refers to the ten most congested days of the lunar year, when karmic accumulation is at its ripest, and negativities are gathered into a mad crescendo. It is the time when obscurations are the most thick, and calamities roam wild. Dön Season is seen as a time when there is greater disagreement in relationships, more intense emotional turmoil, more physical disease, and more overall cosmic and domestic imbalance.

Basically, it is like mercury in retrograde – on steroids.

This does not sound fun, does it?

“In our tradition of warriorship, we do not see these occurrences as insults or punishments, but, rather, messages and powerful invitations to wake up.”

As warriors, we ‘bring our obstacles to the path,’ and delight in the challenge. In fact, the greater the challenge, the greater the payoff. Therefore, Dön Season can be seen as the most wonderful week and a half of the year!

How do we work with döns?

When we encounter an attack of döns, we slow down, soften our heart, and heighten our mindfulness and awareness. We pay close attention to the döns, and listen to them.

“What is the phenomenal world trying to tell us? How can we receive the feedback, and see the obstacles as our spiritual allies?”

First of all, we need to establish a relationship with all the elements of our outer and inner environment. We can communicate with the phenomenal world by invoking drala (the awake energy of goodness). Döns are totally overwhelmed by drala, which literally means ‘above the enemy.’

How do we invoke drala? By purifying our space. This refers to our physical space – by cleaning, performing lhasangs (smoke offering), and appreciating the details of our environment – as well as our mental space, by simplifying, organizing, and focusing our intentions and aspirations.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche teaches that Dön Season is a time to reflect upon our actions, regroup, and look closely at the obstacles that have manifested throughout the year. In particular, during Dön Season we are called to strengthen our relationship with the protector principle – the aspect of wisdom that transmutes and overcomes negative energy. There are formal practices that activate the protector principle (such as making tea-offering), but fundamentally we are talking about focusing, deepening, and stabilizing the inherent power of our awareness, and applying it gently and fearlessly to every dimension of our life.

Also, during Dön Season it is important to gather with our fellow warriors and practice together. One example of this – and a shameless plug for an upcoming weekend retreat – is the Dön Season Dorje Kasung Gathering of the Clan, which will take place at Karme Choling from February 16 through 19. But anything as simple as gathering together with your fellow practitioners to practice mindfulness awareness meditation will do.

To learn more about working with döns and the protector principle, check out these links:

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche 2008 Online Address: Meeting Don Season with Mindfulness

Dorje Loppön: Averting the Negativity of the Old Year

More information about the Dorje Kasung Gathering of the Clan retreat

To learn more about the Dorje Kasung

To view more articles from Karme Choling, visit their blog here.

Typically, the ‘Rusung’ leads and coordinates activities that protect the ‘dharma,’ or Buddhist teachings, at a Shambhala meditation center. The Rusung provides overall leadership to protect the community, as well as visiting and residential teachers.

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8 responses to “ Working with Obstacles – Dön Season ”
  1. nice article that i can share

  2. Erik Blagsvedt
    Feb 28, 2012

    Pablo, Thank you. Love the pictures, love your style. Cheers.

  3. Hannah Kinderlehrer
    Feb 27, 2012

    wow, this is a great article, pablo. clearly said with just enough of your funky flavor, to make it uniquely yours. love it, much appreciated!

  4. Lisa Aweida Ross
    Feb 23, 2012

    Hi Pablo,

    I loved you article! Such a good reminder for me, especially of dons related to practice! I hope you are happy and well at Karme Choling! Cheerful Shambhala Day!

    Ki Ki So So

  5. Thanks Pablo… wish I read this on saturday… unfortunately I signed up for weekly digest!
    Cheerful new year to you!

  6. Thank you for this article! It pierced through my don related stupor and helped me remember that this is a time to deepen, reflect, and meet the world with courage. Thank you Rusung Coddou! Happy Shambhala Day!

  7. Gabriel O'Hare
    Feb 19, 2012

    So excellent. It is difficult to find good pithy teachings on Dons. Thanks for this. Do you have any recommendations for further reading?
    We just had our Kasung Don day retreat out here in Boulder. It was excellent and we miss you.
    Cheers & Love,

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