Alex Wright

Dön season

January 31, 2005

According to the Tibetan calendar, the last two weeks of the year (ending Feb 8) are the season of the döns. Döns are harmful forces that bring sickness, conflict, and various flavors of unpleasantness.

You don't have to be Tibetan to know what dön season feels like: those times where we feel out of sorts, when situations around us seem to turn dysfunctional, and everything somehow goes a bit off. That might be happening this week, or it might be the third week in October. The point is that we all go through negative phases.

So this is surely just a coincidence, but I've been sick with the flu for the last week. Not coincidentally, being sick has also meant feeling mentally muddled and a bit persnickety. That might just be the flu, or - from a Buddhist perspective - I might be churning up some old negative karma to round out the year. Dorje Loppön Lodrö Dorje explains the Buddhist view of the dön season this way:

Traditionally the end of the old year is seen as a time of the ripening of karmic tendencies... Outwardly, this negativity manifests as discord, opposition, desires, accidents. Inwardly, it manifests as emotional fixations, sickness and unbalanced inner energy. Secretly, it manifests as fixed beliefs concerning ourselves. Now, given all that, you might think that the döns are things you would want to avoid. But this is where it gets interesting. The teachings actually advise that you should welcome the döns. That's right, welcome them.

Now, this takes some explaining. In the Buddhist tradition, working with negative energy does not necessarily involve wishing it away or trying to "fix" it (which might just generate more negativity), but rather engaging directly with the experience. "Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization," says one verse. So when you get sick, when something goes wrong, or when you find yourself caught up in a bad situation, the idea is not to turn tail, but to cultivate some kind of gratitude for whatever's happening. Chogyam Trungpa imagines addressing the döns this way: 'I feel so grateful that you have woken me up from my sleepiness, my slothfulness. At least when I had my attack of flu, I felt much different from my usual laziness and stupidity, my usual wallowing in pleasure.' You ask them to wake you up as much as they can. Whenever any difficult situation comes along, you begin to feel grateful. Now, that is an admittedly tough pill to swallow. I mean, who doesn't want to get better when they're sick, cheer up when they're feeling down, or to change a dysfunctional situation? But that's not quite the point. The point is not to give in, or give up. The point is to stay, to face whatever is happening directly rather than looking away. Neurosis and confusion are considered the essential ground of enlightenment, because without them, how would we ever find the motivation for liberation? This is why, as Trungpa said, "chaos should be regarded as extremely good news."

File under: Dharma

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