Friday, March 21, 2014

Your Lion's Heart of Courage

There is an ancient story from India still told by Hindus and Buddhists today, about a lion cub adopted and raised by a flock of sheep when its mother abandons it. Having never known its mother, the lion cub believes itself to be a lamb. It sleeps and grazes with the sheep and even bleats just like a sheep. As it grows older, the lion never learns to roar, knowing only sheep behaviors. One day a large lion jumps out from behind some bushes where it had been waiting to devour the sheep. Still believing itself to be a sheep, the adopted lion crouches among the other sheep and bleats in fear. The predator lion sees it there, staring in complete bewilderment. He calls out in lion language, "Brother, what are you doing among these sheep? Why are you hiding and bleating? You are a lion!" The sheep-lion answers only, "Baaaa! Baaaa! Baaaaa!" its eyes wide with fear. The predator lion thinks this animal has lost its mind and is hallucinating that it is a sheep, so he pounces on the sheep-lion and drags him over to the edge of a clear lake so he can see his own reflection. All the while the sheep-lion is still bleating in sheep language, "I am a helpless sheep! Please just kill me now, or spare my life and stop tormenting me!" His eyes are tightly closed in fear. The predator lion continually shakes and slaps the sheep-lion and keeps telling him to open his eyes and look: "Wake up! See that you are a lion!." Finally the sheep-lion opens his eyes and is shocked to see that he does not look anything like a sheep--in fact, he is a very large and majestic lion. In that moment, the sheep-lion achieves enlightenment and realizes his true nature. 

This story reminds me of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz who goes on a journey to find his lion's courage. 

Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." 

Courage is not the absence of fear, but moving ahead in spite of fear. For if there is no fear, who needs courage? The word "encourage" contains the word courage. At the root of the word "courage," is the French word for heart, coeur. 

Sometimes we find our lion's heart of courage in the midst of a frightening experience: the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, facing sickness or our own death. It is often in those terrifying moments that we find the strength we never knew we had. Those earthquakes in our lives can shake us awake so we are no longer living life asleep, like the sheep. 

We also find our courage and the reflection of our true nature in encounters with other people. As we go through life we are lucky when we find friends and teachers who encourage us by helping us connect to our heart of courage, our lion's heart. Sometimes those friends may look threatening on the outside, almost like an enemy. Think of how the other lion looked to the sheep-lion at first! We can choose to recognize the awe and maybe even the fear that certain people inspire in us, as a sort of alarm, signaling us to wake up to our own strength and power. We are all lions who've been lead to believe we are sheep! When we wake up from the illusion of being sheep, we find immense freedom and power we never knew we possessed!

What can we do about the habits of the sheep: staying safe within the flock, bleating in fear and negativity, living in fear of being devoured? How can we shift our identity so quickly? Do we have to achieve total enlightenment like the sheep-lion? For us the transformation is happening gradually, so we need to use every experience and encounter to practice living from our new identity. We can start to show up in our lives in an empowered way, connecting to our courageous heart when we drive, when we fly on an airplane, when we send a child off to school, when we work a graveyard shift, when we take care of an ailing parent, when we train for a sport or a race, and even when we do yoga. All of these things present us with challenges, so how do we respond? We learn to recognize the alarm bells of fear and let them wake us up instead of shutting our eyes even tighter. 

In the Wizard of Oz, the lion goes to the "great and powerful" Wizard to ask for courage because he believes he can't summon it from within, and we often look to others to show us how to be strong. The truth is that we are all great and powerful. Others can play a role in showing us the reflection of our own greatness, but they don't possess a power we don't have. The power was always within us. Once we wake up to our own courageous heart, we are able to become the "other lion" for those who still identify as helpless sheep. 

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