The Lion and The Stillness

Strength, Visconti Tarot (15th Century)

I keep an oracle on my desk, a pot filled with challenges, and the one I drew said to deal with something that I’d been avoiding. I felt annoyed and swore at myself for having left this oracle in the first place, a trap waiting to spring. If I dig deeply enough beneath the habits of avoidance, postponement, and procrastination, I eventually find dread.

Dread is the lion at the mouth of the cave wherein my life’s energy and purpose is trapped. The lion shows up as anxiety, fear, even anger. The lion is something I do not trust, something dangerous and feral that stirs in me the immediate urge to resist. Why on earth would I want to go face a lion, even if the most precious treasure lies behind him? What would I do when I face the lion, unprepared and ill-equipped as I am to fight?

Instead of facing the lion I find other ways to spend my time, knowing all the while that he keeps what I desire. I check Facebook for hours, I go buy a box of cookies and eat it all, I sleep a lot, I exercise excessively, I work a thousand hours per week, I get into petty arguments on the Internet with people who do not exist in my daily life, and all the while in the back of my mind I know there’s a lion who’s guarding the only thing that truly matters to me.

In my imagination I’m a badass warrior who takes down the lion with one blow, or I’m such a glorious being that the lion immediately bows before me. On the other end, in my imagination the lion devours me in one gulp, or strips me apart bit by bit. For all my fear, I don’t know the lion, I only know my image of him.

When I decide, finally, that I can no longer survive in a world where I allow this lion to control what’s mine, I turn and walk toward him. Not knowing what will happen, the anger and dread rise within me and all I can do is keep breathing and seeking stillness. The lion returns whatever energy is directed toward him; he terrorizes the terrified; he assaults the angry; he devours the anxious. What I can do is breathe deeply into stillness. The anger is there, the fear is there, and I am there, breathing in stillness and breathing out softness. Each breath is a spell on myself, a spell to become something soft and supple, something that can adapt to the moment but move forward.

From this stillness emerges something quiet and profound. A love that reaches across the space. Eyes meet and still there is anger, still fear, still stillness, and I am there, breathing with it all and walking forward, and the lion is there, approaching me. When we meet, the lion’s mouth opens and within is the cave wherein my energy and purpose is kept. When we meet, I am fully myself and more than I was before.

The lion is always waiting.

Buddha under the Nagas, Nong Khai, Thailand — by jpatokal