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

When we are newborn babies, our world is very small: our mothers, their breasts and our nourishment are what we crave. Slowly that world changes to include our fathers, our siblings and others. As our bodies grow and our minds develop, we engage in an ever expanding world: school, jobs, careers, friends, partners, perhaps children of our own. For most people that is about as far as we go, though some of us step into community action and even the political arena. Studies seem to indicate that perhaps only 15% of people expand their sense of caring and connection beyond this point. If this is true, then we will have an increasing problem with understanding the complexities of the world we have been constructing in the last 50 years.

The globalization of companies is causing local concerns to become highlighted. Because of outsourcing to third world countries we have ensured more unemployment at home. Because of loose laws in other lands, we may be wearing clothing made by forced child labour, unthinkable if on our own doorstep. Because of the desire to travel everywhere cheaply, we engage in the potentially hazardous extraction of fossil fuels and try not to think of the dire consequences to the environment or the people who live in the vicinity of these projects.

In short, we are being slowly forced to expand our consciousness to include the broader world. Not to engage in this process is to allow the seeds of our own destruction to ripen.

The Buddhist teaching of the laws of interdependent arising offers us a pathway to learn a radically different way of experiencing the world. Science can help us in this matter as it demonstrates through physical form that we are all made of similar properties. The carbon atom, so vital to life as we know it, stands at the bottom of the shared pyramid of life in which we all participate, plants and animals alike. Behavioural scientists look at shared characteristics between animals and us. Our own observations of the birds at our backyard birdfeeders can do the same.

Deep meditation states reveal this law, sometimes with shocking clarity, for our ego is shattered by such knowledge. Yet freedom from suffering lies here as well, for once we deeply understand this, we become less critical of others, more empathetic and more adaptable to changing situations. However, it also means we have to accept more responsibility for what we do and how we do it. If we extend the notions of quantum physics into the world of the spirit and of expanded consciousness, then we are doubly responsible. All healing at distance engages in this process and those who do it should reflect carefully on what message they are sending out into the world. If we have not done the personal work of clearing ourselves and are not grounded in simple reality, then perhaps we should pause and attend to our personal work before moving our consciousness out towards others. There is no place for the ego in the realm of enlightened consciousness. We need to see the self for what it truly is: a tissue of thoughts, perceptions, emotions, sensations and karmic tendencies all of them temporary formations without inherent existence. If we can learn to dwell equanimously with this level of fluidity and uncertainty, then we may be able to offer our talents to others.

The way to begin is with Bodhicitta, the wish to bring all beings out of suffering and the willingness to train ourselves to become instruments of light in order to serve that end. At the present time, expanded consciousness is only achieved in a stable mind that has worked with this law over a considerable length of time. To train oneself to be able to stretch the mind across the planet takes time and effort. While some people may have breakthrough glimpses of such a state, delusion frequently arises, as no foundation has been laid for this state of being. The ego, still in charge, makes a demanding return and can wreak havoc in a life and the lives of those around. The unfortunate consequence is that this can give this exploration a very bad reputation as ungrounded states of delusions of grandeur can result.

So, dear reader, if you are interested in these liberated states of mind, take care to lay a good stable foundation with a responsible teaching and teacher who can guide you slowly to this understanding. Liberation from our own personal suffering is only the first step; the liberation that would result in global responsibility and global caring is a huge challenge but a vital one for the very future of planetary life depends upon it.

Copyright 2013 by Catherine Rathbun

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.