Meditation: Wanting, by Catherine Rathbun (Lama Jetsun Yeshe)

Wanting is both active and passive. “I am wanting in clear mindedness” is a very different statement to “I want clear mindedness.” One is a statement of lack; the other a statement of desire.

Generally, in consciousness circles when we speak of wanting, we are speaking of the grasping part of our psyche that attaches importance to getting something. In our culture, that ‘something’ is usually a material ‘something’ and advertisers love to remind us that we should want things and that buying them will provide us with happiness. There is even a dress store called “Want” in Toronto.

But wanting in the grasping sense can also mean wanting a certain kind of relationship, or it could mean a desire to hold onto a relationship when all signs point to its passing.

Inevitably, when the grasping mind is present, there is suffering. Even if the goals are lofty, suffering is likely to still arise. Wanting a good outcome for something such as an environmental cause can cause anguish when the reality of temporizing or accepting ‘less than’ steps in. Wanting a loved one to go on living, no matter the cost, may cause immense suffering to oneself, the loved one and many others.

Much of the Buddhist philosophy is directed to addressing this question of the grasping mind and its ability to cause us to suffer. The solution of giving up this wanting mind in exchange for acceptance has led some Buddhist practitioners to become passive and to turn their eyes away from the necessity of action when harm is being done to others or to the environment. But turning a blind eye is a type of grasping at peace for oneself and thus is not only counterproductive to establishing Nirvana but also may end up making the awakened state impossible to attain.

Instead, if we look at the other meaning of wanting to see what and where we are lacking, whether it be internally or externally, we can begin to take steps to change ourselves for the better.

One way of doing this is to conduct an annual personal review. I usually suggest people try this out on their birthday, rather than New Year’s Eve, as one’s personal birthday is a time where a life cycle may naturally draw to a close. Emblematic of this principle perhaps is a tendency for people to die close to their birthday. That is, unless their will rises to meet their desiring mind enabling them to attend a child’s graduation or marriage.

As an exercise, on your birthday, take a realistic but critical look at the past year and ask yourself how have you grown? Have you achieved what you want to achieve? Don’t think so much about your family, your job or your place in the world. Rather, make a personal internal assessment of yourself. What are your strong points; what are your weak points? What do you need to improve or to change? Then make a vow to put that change into place. Write it down somewhere and occasionally, over the next year, check it out to see how you are doing with your vow. My suspicion is that you will slowly bring this vow into being, for the mind always leads us, if there is strong intention. Finally, the rest of the life usually follows along. My experience tells me that if that vow is connected to altruistic ideals that will benefit others and yourself, then the vow will quickly bear fruit and wholesome things will arise.

[1] Copyright 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.