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

“And the look in his eye seemed to say to the sky,
Now how to amuse them today.”

(Christopher Robin, from A.A.Milne)

These days there are TV ads entreating people to “bring back play”. Ruefully, I reflect that the culture has swung so far to “achievement” and “productivity” that it has become necessary to advertise us back into what is a natural state. Play is significant, particularly for a child’s mental development, although the present strategy is a push back from the increasing obesity in our population caused by inappropriate food and too much sitting in front of video screens and televisions.

Today marks 40 years since I landed in New Zealand with two small children, aiming to attend a three month meditation course, not realizing that I would spend the next seven years there before returning home to Canada. But I look back with gratitude for the blessing that our life on a New Zealand farm provided. There was little money, few toys and nothing electronic, not even a telephone for nearly two years. The boys could run outdoors for miles in the sheep paddocks and as long as we knew where the bulls were, they were safe from danger. Along with the farm manager’s children they learned to invent their own games and as the land was full of hills and dales, they became strong in the legs and developed great cardiovascular strength. Television came on at 4pm and together we watched hamsters running in and out of made up sets and stories. On rainy days we read books borrowed from the library or worked on projects from a craft book that used common things from around the house, like old toilet rolls.

Today they are grown, creative men, excelling in their disparate fields of theatre and environmental science. They are fit, creative, reflective and alive men, well loved by their families, their friends and their communities. They are also still full of a sense of play. We still play together though now, mostly via Facetime. Family stories abound from our years together, as we all riffed off each other with gentle jokes for visitors to the family cottage (beware the freshwater sharks, etc.)

Our born in Canada daughter, deprived of camp experience (mostly for economic reasons) has grown up to be a thoughtful, creative writer and producer. Her two-month stints each summer at the cottage taught her resilience, self-reliance and a great appetite for literature as well as the ability to evaluate books and people. When friends came over to play, a shampoo bottle, a cake of soap, a shoe, all became tools for ads created dramatically on the deck out of earshot of the grownups.

A great deal of creativity comes from children having “loose time”. By that, I mean time to dream, time to dawdle, time to reflect, time to play. Constantly organizing things for children to make them more adept, successful, “advanced” may be counterproductive. It trains children to always look outside themselves to other agents for their entertainment, their pleasure and their success.

If ever we needed some new thinking to rescue our world, it is surely now. We seem to be irrevocably tied to outdated economics, fossil fuels and quarrelsome, stalemated governments. So yes, bring play back into your life and into the lives of your children and grandchildren. Laughter could bubble up; joy could arise, a loosening of body and mind could bring forward new insights. Health is an outcome; suffering is reduced; creative solutions to old problems could dawn and love for the world could sing again in your hearts.

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.