Working with Obstacles - Dön Season

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, dons 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 lhasang (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 Karmê Chöling from February 16 through19. But anything as simple as gathering together with your fellow practitioners to practice mindfulness awareness meditation will do.

Yours in dancing with delight in the display,
Karme Choling Rusung
Pablo Coddou, Kadö

More information:

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

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.


Be-My-Valentine Heart Cookies

(The cookies in the photo were part of a triple batch of Valentine cookies made by a small group of Vermont children who donated them to their local soup kitchen. Share the love!)

By Anne-Marie Keppel

Will make approximately 34 cookies - 17 sandwich cookies and 17 small cookie cutouts. For this recipe, pick out one or more of your favorite flavored jams. You will need pink frosting and sprinkles.


1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar


1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
2 drops food coloring

  1. For frosting: blend sugar, salt, and flavoring. Add just enough water to make it easy to spread. Add food coloring and mix well. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and confectioners' sugar. Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract. Mix well.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; blend into the butter mixture. Divide dough into thirds and shape into balls.
  4. Working with 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll out dough into desired thickness on a slightly floured surface. For each heart sandwich cookie, cut out two three-inch hearts. Cut out the center of ONE of the 3-inch hearts about one inch (save smaller heart shapes).
  5. Place each piece separately on an ungreased cookie sheet, 1 - 2 inches apart. Bake in a preheated, 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven until lightly browned (7-8 minutes for 1/4 inch thick cookies). Cool completely on wire rack.
  6. Spread your choice of jam on the large whole cookies.  Frost the open centered cookies with Pink Valentine Frosting, cover with sprinkles and place on top of the jam covered cookie to form the sandwich.
  7. Frost the small "insides" of the hearts and serve as separate cookies.

 Bon appetit! 

* Frosting recipe from allrecipes.com.

Valentine Flowers - Ikebana Style

By Anne-Marie Keppel

Don't order flowers for your loved one this Valentine's Day. Instead, make your gift more intimate by creating an Ikebana arrangement!  

Ikebana, traditional Japanese flower arrangement, has its origins in Shinto where arrangements are a part of shrine offerings.  

What sets ikebana apart is the asymmetry in design - open spaces create harmony between the flower stems and the container.  

This contemplative art form is meant to bring beauty, vividness, and wisdom into our lives and environment. The practice of ikebana, combined with contemplative meditation, is art in action.  Although this is a very specific practice, you can try your hand at it with some beginner instructions  (if you cannot attend an ikebana class or find a friend to help you before Valentine's Day).  Simple instructions can be found at:  Ikebana Instructions eHow.com

For more information on other Shambhala Arts visit:  Shambhala Arts

*Karmê Chöling will be hosting Shambhala Art this April 6-13 with Arawana Hayashi and Laura Simms.


Winter Haiku

By Anne-Marie Keppel

Photo take by Anne-Marie Keppel at Karmê Chöling

First month
Bone deep cold.
Visible breath forms air bodies.
Through icicles water
Still flows.