Meditation: Back To School, by Catherine Rathbun (Lama Jetsun Yeshe)

When we are young, summer seems endless; but when we are older, it seems all too short. Our sense of time is elastic but as summer draws to an end, the days get shorter, the nights cooler and looking ahead we feel either a sense of excitement or dread.

When life is full of meaning, we experience this transition time as one of excitement. A small frisson of anticipation enters our hearts and bodies. But what if we view the coming autumn with dread, a sinking feeling at the pit of our stomachs, a heavy burden?

Here is a meditation practice that can help to turn your life from the negative to the positive.

First, some Preparation Steps:

1) Choose a time when you can be alone for 1 to 2 hours.

2) Do something that makes you feel relaxed: take a walk outdoors, have a quiet bath, listen to some soothing music. (30 minutes)

3) Sit in front of your shrine, if you have one, and take Refuge or prepare the mind with a prayer. Alternatively, sit in a favourite chair but try to have an erect posture, feet flat on the floor. If you have trouble sitting, lie flat in a relaxed yoga posture with legs straight but relaxed and arms at your sides or folded across your abdomen.

4) Now focus on quietly breathing, neither forcing nor controlling the breath, just gently noticing its rhythm. If you can stay focused in this way for 15-20 minutes, wonderful. If your mind is not yet trained to do this, then think of the following phrases: “Breathing in, I arrive,” “Breathing out, I let go.”

Main Body of Practice:

1) Once the mind is calm and has an open feel, begin to raise a questioning state around the dread. Try to pose any question softly, without a lot of verbalization, just breathing in and out the anxiety. Locate the area of discomfort in the body, if you can, for all mental anxiety will be echoed somewhere in the body. Breathe softly into the area and ask, “What’s wrong?”

2) Trust that if you can find the source of the discomfort, that the solution for it will be somewhere there also. Try not to leap to possible ‘solutions’ too swiftly. In Mahayana Buddhist studies we are taught that awakened nature lies within all of us. If that is so, then we can all know the solutions to our difficulties. The problems come when we allow the ego to interfere with the process of uncovering the truth for ourselves. We often try to force the answer, justify the failure, point blame. None of these mental activities will solve things. Holding attention on the difficulty will help us to ‘peel back the onion’ and recognize the source of discomfort. Then and only then can we begin to explore possible ‘solutions.’

3) Close the meditation when it fades away, or becomes too stressful. But try to stay with the process for 30-45 minutes, if you can. Close with sharing of merit prayers if you practice Buddhist meditation, or aspiration statements for release from suffering for all creation. Return to doing something that helps you to relax. Make yourself a cup of tea, perhaps and listen to some soothing music.

This process may take an hour, a week or a year to bring real result. Don’t discard the technique if it doesn’t work immediately. Spiritual maturation takes time and perseverance, as does healing. Remember, though, that if you heal your own life, then you will inevitably contribute to healing the lives of those around you. If we could all accept this responsibility, then life on our planet could be very different!

© Catherine Rathbun, 2012

Catherine Rathbun

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.