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.


  1. This is a fantastic post. Thank you so much, Pablo. Plus, you used my (inner) description of Don season: "mercury retrograde on steroids." I laughed out loud when I read that.

    Thanks for the great insights and writing, Warrior bro.

  2. Great post, Pablo- Long time no see! You are the man.