Every morning I wake and have a sense of gratitude to a universe that has given me life and the opportunity of a new day. The day I turned 30, I made a vow to make every day count. By that, I meant count for some form of compassion, clarity, service or spiritual reflection to be present in each and every day. My journey towards ‘enlightenment’ officially began in my early 20s, when I first attended a class given by a Buddhist monk, Ananda Bodhi Bikkhu in Toronto, Canada. But it has been a thread throughout my life, carrying me from training in ballet, to a degree in literature and religious philosophy, to modern dance and thence to yoga. My training as a social worker, a mother, a high school teacher and then a movement and meditation teacher as well as a university lecturer have all contained this thread. The form it has taken has changed over time but the thread has always remained the same.
The essential question has always been “How may I help?”
The more I have learned skillful ways to help, the more gratitude I have uncovered in my heart for all the treasures this life has brought me. That especially includes the painful times, though the gratitude rarely comes in the immediacy of the suffering but in the recognition after the fact. What we learn in those hard times is invaluable for our own spiritual refinement.
Nowhere has this been more evident to me than with my cancer diagnosis in 2004. When we face the probability of disfigurement and the possibility of our death, we have a choice to make. We can weep and wail or we can do what we can and look to each day as a rich opportunity. The outpouring of support from people I had not seen or heard from for many years was a buoyant reminder of how we touch each other in life, often when we do not realize it. The change in life that serious illness brings can cause resentment or joy. That we can make a heaven from a hell is part of the wondrous free choice that we, as humans, have been given on this planet.
The Vajrayana Buddhist view of life is a wonderful guide in this exchange. It teaches us how to view the negative arisings in life by first, promoting equanimity, second, developing perspective and third, cultivating transformation so that the energy with which we greet each day is positive and life affirming. Gratitude for waking up, gratitude for the sky, the earth and the water, gratitude for clean air and a warm bed become gifts of significance. The simplicity with which we can view our lives, the perspective that comes from facing our own mortality and frailness can be rich sources of wisdom that we can pass on to others.
Our children need this wisdom; our planet needs this wisdom; we need this wisdom. Let us always see difficulties as challenges and suffering as an opportunity to wake with compassion, to speak with compassion, to act with compassion.
May all beings be touched by the hand of compassion. Sarva Mangalam.
© Catherine Rathbun, 2012
Catherine Rathbun has studied meditation with His Holiness XVI Karmapa, head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and with pre-eminent individuals like Ven. Kalu Rinpoche, Ven. Karma Thinley Rinpoche, Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche and John Coleman. She received her traditional teaching name, Lama Jetsun Yeshe, from Ven. Karma Thinley Rinpoche, a lineage master of the Sakya and Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, in 2002. Catherine taught meditation studies at York University for seven years (1989 to 1997). With a background in dance — she was a member of the National Ballet Company of Canada from 1962 to 1963 — and a modern dance career in England (1967-69), she frequently incorporates creative movement exercises into meditation studies as a way to bypass the tight hold that the Western intellect has on one’s development.
She is the author of Developing the World Mind and Clear Heart, Open Mind, and is currently working on a new book called Waiting for Truffles: Meditations for Daily Living. Her books are available from her directly or from Friends of the Heart or Snow Lion Meditation Shop, both in Toronto.
She is the founding teacher at Friends of the Heart, a meditation centre in Toronto.