Meditation: Feeling Alive or Just Staying Alive, by Lama Catherine Jetsun Yeshe

The topic this month makes me feel like singing the old disco song ‘Staying Alive’. Nowadays, we are told, it is the song we should sing to accompany rapid compressions on someone’s chest if they have gone into cardiac arrest.

But let us explore the difference between ‘staying alive’ and ‘feeling alive’. Do you check yourself out each morning before you jump out of bed? Are you truly alive or just some zombie heading mechanically to the office? Zombies are called ‘rolangs’ in Tibetan Buddhist terms and can cause a leaching of your energy if you come into contact with one of them. People in big cities fear meeting such people on the subway. We don’t see them as literal, so much as we fear such people psychologically and energetically. But are we paying enough attention to our own energy and what we might be ‘putting out’?

So, if you feel a bit ‘zombie-like’ in the morning, ask yourself WHY? And then determine what you can do about it, if not out of compassion for yourself then out of caring for others. Do you need to get more sleep? Change your diet? Give up caffeine? Give up martinis?

There are fads about health these days and bogeymen abound: wheat, bananas, sugar, carbohydrates, potatoes, tomatoes, the list goes on and changes over time. So too, the list of the miracle cures: brown rice, carrots, fish, goji berries, acai berries, wheat grass. Each fad has its proponents and each ‘demon’ its antidote. So how do we poor humans navigate through this jungle?

The Buddhist path gives us a clue with its tradition of practicing “The Middle Way”. Moderation and non-attachment to all magic theories help us row our boat across the stream of information and enthusiasm. (And enthusiastic converts…)

The path of mindful attention to each moment gives us some relief from worry about past and future. Training the mind in this way helps us to notice what is present and stop theorizing about it. If we are in deep contact with our bodies, we will begin to notice what is good or bad for us. When we deny this present reality, we may fall ill, either swiftly or over time.

So returning again and again to the present moment, we can begin to see how extraordinary this precious life is and how rare it is that we have been born on this planet, at this time, in this wonderful country. If we can get out of a city and take a walk in the country, that feeling of gratitude will increase and we can become more fully alive than from any tonic we might take.

Wise ones, even those who are dying, are able to laugh and to celebrate each moment of life.

Don’t let another moment go by without taking up this challenge. If you do, your happiness will increase and you will naturally want to help others along the way. Not with theory or systems but just with the grace of the joy of being present.


Catherine RathbunCatherine Rathbun 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. She taught meditation at York University (1989 to 1997) and is the founding teacher at Friends of the Heart, a meditation centre in Toronto. 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 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.

For more on Catherine, please visit