Most of you have probably never heard of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Heck, the computer just underlined “Naropa” to inform me I misspelled something! But it’s a real place. It’s where my mother taught for many years, and where I spent a lot of time as a youngster. It’s a wonderful place, founded in the mid-70’s by a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and former monk.
As with any institution, there’s a whole backstory, some of it good, noble, and inspiring, some of it shady and disconcerting. But that’s not the point I’m bringing up. I mainly bring this up to say that I grew up around a strong Tibetan Buddhist community (well, around westerners PRACTICING Tibetan Buddhism, and the occasional visiting Tibetan Buddhist monk or scholar FROM Tibet). The ideas, traditions and teachings of Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhism, were everywhere.
Those teachings always resonated with me, and I consider myself a “lazy Buddhist” to this day — that is, someone who finds a lot of inspiration in the ideas, understands the value of the practices, and meditates on a far too inconsistent basis. But all of this is beside the point, too. Or rather, it’s “preamble”.
Right now, we are in a time of the year called the “Döns.” It’s pronounced with the “o” making the same kind of sound you’d make when saying the word “book.” It’s the 10-day period before the beginning of the Tibetan New Year. According to the Tibetan calendar, it is a time when attachments increase, irritability, tension, and negativity rises far too easily, and life presents us with obstacles. It is not the time to start anything new, or venture further out into the world than you must.
For whatever reason, I seem to be very much attuned to this Tibetan cycle. My car was totaled one year, rear-ended from behind while I was stopped at a red light (the car behind me just flat out missed the light and slammed right into me). That was probably the worst Döns season, but it seems every single one is, at best, irritating. It’s just full of obstacles and roadblocks. And of course, it’s not a time of year when I experience the most well-behaved blood glucose numbers, either.
Now here’s my point (finally!): The ability to face obstacles is incredibly important for living a fulfilled life with diabetes. And the Tibetan advice for this strange time of year is pretty helpful on that front. What do they suggest? Mindfulness. Mindfulness in this case means building on our capacity to observe what is happening, understand it, and work skillfully with it, without becoming overly angry, depressed, excited, or dejected. Mindfulness is the capacity to face obstacles with equanimity, with an even temper, and a sense of calm that runs deep.
Someone said once that mindfulness is the ability to respond to the world without reacting all the time. I always liked that idea — the idea that we can respond to what is happening around us without having to let it take over and push us in this direction or that direction. It’s exactly how we should handle diabetes. We need to constantly respond to it, but that’s different from constantly reacting to it, constantly letting it dictate our actions.
So good luck everyone in these last few days of the Döns (they end February 28th, and by March 2nd the tides shift, ushering in a period of auspicious beginnings and positive movement). Keep yourselves mindful, work through the obstacles, and I’ll see you on the other side!