A few mornings ago, I woke up to an article on Elephant Journal about what is know as the Buddhist Dön season (vowel pronounced like “could”). In a nutshell, the ten days leading up to the Tibetan New Year (this year on February 9th) are believed to enhance our awareness of daily obstacles and provoke frustration with our current situation. Whether you believe in this type of thing or not, it’s hard to ignore the how many people feel during this part of the winter — sick of the cold, overwhelmed with cabin fever, and angry at Punxsutawney Phil. Even with the unseasonably warm temperatures this week, I can feel my body and mind going into that slump that I always battle around this time. Not enough vitamin D, dry skin, angry immune system, and vehement annoyance toward slushy puddles. But underneath all this annoyance, is the possibility of a plan for the much lovelier months ahead.
Since we are about to hear from Phil tomorrow, and the Dön season conveniently overlaps with February 2nd, I will call this Groundhog Season for my own purposes of this blog post. I’ve had a lot of extreme highs and very low lows over the past several weeks. I started this Whole Life Challenge, I was cast in a show, and have begun auditioning again. On a good day, I feel energized by my sugar detox, over the moon about finally being cast again (especially in a company I have such a wonderful history), and can jump on each new audition and writing project with energy and impermanence. And by impermanence, I mean I don’t beat myself up when nothing comes from the audition or a blog post flops. On a not-so-good day, I get resentful toward salads with olive oil, am judgmental about artistic choices, and feel that I am falling farther and farther behind my artistic colleagues that don’t work 9-5s.
The latter description has been winning the battle the past several days, and strangely enough, finding out that this is a commonly recognized time of difficulty in the Buddhist calendar, made me feel a lot better. No matter what you believe, there’s a reason why traditions like this come about. And chances are, if you feel lousy at the same time every year, then you’re probably not alone. The trick is accepting that the next few weeks will be bumpy, and extra attention is required to keep yourself from losing your cool (or in my case, eating all of the almond croissants. That’s all I want. Just one damn almond croissant).
The first step for me, which I will start to take on this week, is removing the things in my life that invoke negativity. I don’t think we should hide under our comforter and watch Chopped all week, as much as I would love to do that, or hide from anything that challenges us. Hiding doesn’t work, I’ve tried. But instead, recognizing what doesn’t serve us and removing it from our habits is a strong first step. For me, this is Facebook. On days, or weeks, when I’m feeling particularly aggravated with myself, digging through social media drives me up a wall. I take all of my own achievements and place them below the announcements flooding my Facebook feed. “Oh I’m in a show? Well, that person just booked a national commercial and won a Tony.” Really helpful, brain. Also, not how I want to feel toward that friend. So for me, detoxing from Facebook before I become a bitter secretary that talks about her glory days, is pretty imperative.
Replace Them with Ladders
Just removing something like Facebook doesn’t fix the problem for me. I have to replace it with a new focus or I have no where to go when I zone out. For some, this is puppy videos, which is totally cool. For me, it has to be something relatively challenging or I start to slump farther into the “what am I doing with my life” pit of despair. Every time I get the urge to wander through a news feed, I run to a podcast or website that is not related to other people’s rants, announcements, or motivational posters. Telling me that I have to “jump into the deep end to reach my goals” or “build a rocket to reach the stars,” or whatever else, doesn’t actually help me in this moment. It’s a nice thought with no practical instructions. If the posters said, “Get up from your desk and go for a walk, you’ll feel better,” I’d be more into these types of things. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with changing up your daily input. It doesn’t make you weaker or less connected with your friends, but rather reminds you that there are a few negative sources can be controlled like a faucet, especially when many cannot.
Call out the problem
The most helpful part of the Dön season, is approaching this frustrating time of year with a Buddhist mindset. Because of the weather, it is the hardest time of year for me to do this. I recharge by going outside, and without this option, I start to close in on myself. But Buddhism has never been a fan of hiding away or suppressing issues — it’s all about calling them out and even inviting them over for tea. In the Shambala Times, a lovely Buddhist online magazine, a Dön is described as “anything that distract[s] us from engaging with the present moment in the most clear, precise, and authentic manner possible.” I know that when I get distracted by resentment or jealousy, I waste countless hours wondering where I went wrong with my acting career, what else I “should” be doing, and why everyone else clearly has some magical answer. Since I am tired of looking back on that wasted time, I’m trying a new approach cut out all this wallowing.
Here’s my new idea, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
- Make a list what is bothering you. From big things like “I am always frustrated about money” to “My toe hurts.”
- Write possibilities (obvious ones), about what is causing them, such as, “You have more debt than income” to “I keep stubbing my toe”
- Brainstorm ideas of what would fix the problem, without yet considering if it is immediately possible or not. For expample, “Get an extra job, build a budget, talk to a financial advisor, cut up your credit cards,” or “Move the table you keep stubbing your toe on”
- Here’s the fun whiney part. Write out all the excuses (legitimate or not) why none of your solutions will work. “I have no time left in my week, I don’t know how to build a budget, financial advisors intimidate me/cost more money, I occasionally need my cards for emergencies,” or…you may find there are no excuses, and all you need to do is move the damn table.
- Look through your list and figure out which excuses are completely inflexible and which ones have even the slightest gleam of hope. Anytime you see “I don’t know how,” start small, and list out possible places or people you can seek out help from. Break it down to the very very early stages of change. For example, you could google financial blogs about debt, look through your bank’s website for debt consolidation options, or even open an excel spreadsheet for 10 minutes a day in an attempt to build your own budgeting system that works for you. If you found an answer in #3, then your flow chart has come to an end!
- And lastly, perhaps most importantly, document your progress and its purpose. For example, I sought my current job out last year in order to eventually help my artistic career. In the long run, I will be in a much healthier financial and psychological place to return to the life of a full-time actor when the time comes. But on days like today, in the midst of the Groundhog Season, it can be hard to remember that. Each small step is a large part of a long hike (hey look, I made a poster quote!), but it’s important to remember the hike itself and how you are making progress. The credit card payment, that unsuccessful audition, and even that short walk around the block, is all important.
Wow, this has turned into an epically long post, and I’m pretty thrilled that it’s given me some direction this morning. Whether the unrest I’ve been feeling is a part of a larger cosmic season or just pure annoyance with the cold, I hope (as always) that a positive spin can be placed on this first day of a new winter month. If you have any advice on how you tackle particularly negative moods and stages, please let me know below! I always love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading and have a lovely week:)