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On Working with Obstacles: 5 Suggestions

February 17, 2012   |   24 Comments


Next week is Buddhist New Year: Feb 22, to be exact. In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, the week or so preceding the new year is called Dön season and is thought to be a time of obstacles, difficulties, and stuckness. I don’t know about you, but when I find myself feeling trapped and frustrated and “I need things to move!!!” my confidence begins to wane.

During a time of obstacles (whether or not you find yourself in one right now), there are steps we can take to meet such obstacles head-on. These steps have nothing to do with slashing through limitations and everything to do with trusting our experience. We will always meet with periods of greater and lesser limitations and we can work skillfully with every kind of experience. When obstacles arise, we can acknowledge them and shift our presence to relate with them intelligently–without feeling (as I so often do) I’m doomed, this is the big one, I have royally f-ed everything up–which is so deeply unhelpful. Similarly, when we find ourselves in periods of flow, we can ride these energies by simply letting go into them–without feeling (as I so often do), I’ve made it, this is awesome, it’s all clear sailing from here–which is simply irrelevant.

Buddhist thought has many value-free suggestions for meeting both obstacles and the dissolution of obstacles with intelligence. I would like to share the super-practical, super-awesome recommendations of my teacher (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche) for rousing confidence in the face of limitations. As you will see, they are very, very basic but also quite brilliant. The underlying theme is to simplify, slow down, pay attention to details, and have faith–not as an act of wishful thinking, but because as you take these steps you see that your life is actually unfolding with a sense of order. They are:

1. Eat good food. This doesn’t mean become a vegan or do a detox fast. It means that when you buy, prepare, and consume food (and drink), make sure it is of excellent quality, procured decently, prepared thoughtfully.
2. Wear nice clothes. I thought this meant I had to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. For better or worse, it does not. It simply means to wear clothes that are clean, pressed, fit you well, and make you feel cheerful.
3. Clean up your space. It goes without saying that when we live in chaos, we feel chaotic.
4. Spend time with people you love. Requires no explanation.
5. Spend time in the natural world. Our world is good. Cold is cold. Purple is purple. Water is wet. When we touch in with what is most elemental, we remember our own basic goodness.

Of course the most important thing to simplify, trust, and turn toward is our own mind. Meditation practice is exactly this.

To establish a meditation practice, please sign up for The Open Heart Project.

PS Yesterday we passed over 4,000 members of The Open Heart Project!! I am so grateful for this growing community of dedicated practitioners from all over the world.

PPS Two wonderful pieces on Dön season here and here.

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  • Posted by:  Kristin Noelle

    I love this list – so DOable. Thank you!!
    Was there a video meant to be included as well?

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Glad you liked! Are you signed up for the OHP? I sent the video with today’s newsletter. xo S

  • Posted by:  leanna

    This is so helpful. Lately I feel like I’m back at the beginning of trying to get over something I thought I was over. It sucks and I don’t know what to do but I can do those 5 things. And run. And sit.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I agree, Leanna. I also find this list to be tremendously helpful.

      If Don season is to be believed, it makes sense that an old obstacle might re-present itself. I love your plan for 5 steps + run + sit. All best!!

  • Posted by:  Deborah Kuprunas

    I came across a great article on Dön season. “Essays on Shambhala Buddhist Chants” by Russell Rodgers with a contribution by Acharaya Cashman 2008. Appendix III: Pacifying Obstacles: The Mamo Chants. And during my time at SMC, we of course participated in word and deed! With all that is going on in the world with our present moment: US economic depression, Syria/Iran, Women in our Congress and Senate being muzzled, global environmental disasters, open racism…well for me… practice has become more important than ever. We need to stay the course of peace and keep on traveling the path with our open broken hearts. Thank you Susan for all that you do. Hmm…think I’ll leave some biscuits and tea for those pesky mischeivious mamos lurking about our sleepy Flagler Beach! PS I will be at the memorial service in the Hammock FL for Jigme Norbu “representing” our Shambhala Lineage on Sat. February 18th. Kindest Regards, Deborah

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Ooh, this is exciting. Can’t wait to read this. I found it here here. And thanks for representing us in FL– With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Jackie

    This is NOT what I do when faced with difficulty — it is enlightening, though, because I recognize each thing as what I DO NOT do — at this moment of being overwhelmed, I eat junk, I do not put on makeup, I wear clothes off the heap that I’ve thrown on my bedroom floor — I will now pick up those clothes, press them, eat a salad tonight and fix my hair and see if today is not just a little better day.

    thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Jackie, this is awesome!! I’m like you–when I feel down, I let all these details begin to slip. It is amazing how uplifting it is on the inside to uplift your outer environment. Good luck!! xo S

  • Posted by:  Karen Swanson

    Susan, so many replies have been written to you in my head!!! It’s time to start committing them to print. . . I love this list for supporting confidence, and isn’t also a list that CELEBRATES the delights of daily life in the physical realm, as a human being?! I find that when food, clothing, my relationship to my shelter and the natural world are even a teensy bit ritualized and honored and cared for, the goodness of life expands exponentially – inside and out!!! thank you so much for all your good work. I continue to pass it along, and I know some of my friends have joined the thousands who subscribe and practice with you! gratefully & gleefully, Karen

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Karen, how lovely to hear from you. Thanks for committing this one to print. You are so right, it IS a list that celebrates the delights of daily life. When we can do that, the load seems to lighten.

      So glad to know we’re practicing together and many thanks for sharing our work with your friends– With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Patrick

    Thanks Susan. I’ve just started with the Open Heart Project and am very glad of the opportunity.

    I can particularly relate to the 5th suggestion. In spring 2010 I was dealing with the side-effects of major surgery and the ending of a relationship. I did 3 things: 1) I found a counsellor (which my employer thankfully paid for); 2) started studying Buddhism, through the local Zen Centre; and 3) swam in the sea a lot (suggestion 5). All were very helpful. I don’t know how I would have discovered the 3 Jewels without that crisis, as I was very anti-religion. Also, I’ve been learning to love with open, non-clinging, hands (like the hands of a swimmer) and have become good friends with my ex-partner.

    So thanks for sharing.


    • Posted by:  Susan

      Patrick, welcome. This is great. I’m so glad for you–your instincts really lead you in the right direction. And it is wonderful that you and your ex-partner can be friends. Happy we’re practicing together–Susan

  • Posted by:  Tom

    Item 4 is especially important to a shy, introvert like me. Being a loner is not good.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I relate, Tom!

  • Posted by:  Sandra / Always Well Within

    I love the part about not getting to carried away with an obstacle or too gleeful about flow! That’s exactly what trips us up, isn’t it!

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So true!

  • Posted by:  Robby

    I haven’t come and read this blog in a few months. This post was exactly what I was looking for. I think I’ll print out those 5 suggestions and tape them to my ceiling, so they’re the first thing I see after sunlight.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So glad to hear it, Robby.

  • Posted by:  nancy lund

    So grateful for this reminder and all your emails. Your workshop at shambala has had continuing effects.
    fondly nancy

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So glad to hear it, Nancy, and very happy to stay in touch! xo S

  • Posted by:  Nic

    “Spend time in the natural world. Our world is good. Cold is cold. Purple is purple. Water is wet. When we touch in with what is most elemental, we remember our own basic goodness. ”

    -Very true. I struggle with anxiety and confidence issues, but I have noticed that if I focus my attention on nature, innocence, I will relax. For example, on days that I work super early I listen closley to the individual songs that the birds sing as I walk through the parking lot.

  • Posted by:  Anita

    It is so wonderful that everytime you come up with a theme it is so what I need at that moment! I am so glad I join the open heart project. Everytime I receive an email it feels like a gift. Thank you Susan!

  • Posted by:  Colleen Hannegan

    I loved the simplicity of solving the problem(s)! “Steps 1 thru 5.” That’s what I’ll call it. It comes to me to eat right and love myself and my space when the pit before me seems to be eroding the very foundation on which I stand. But when I shine the light on it with my extreme self care….there really is no dark pit at all…..but another place to step out onto and proceed.
    I am loving my meditation here and now have my boyfriend meditating as well. Thank you Susan. I <3 the Open Heart Project.

  • Posted by:  underthebigbluesky

    This has been so helpful to me. Such simple directions but which are sometimes the hardest things to actually see or do. iIfind both the Open Heart Project and these latest posts have been extremely helpful during a difficult/emotional time time. I hope you don’t mind I spoke of and linked to your equanimity post on my own blog.

    Thank you.

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance