Thursday, September 24, 2009

Live and Love With The Heart of A Lion

Defining myself,
as opposed to being defined by others,
is one of the most difficult challenges I face.
~Carol Moseley-Braun

I Am King © 2009 MJohnson.
I once bought some cheese at the market – a real stinky camembert that smelled dramatically similar to my running shoes – wrapped in white parchment paper with Coeur de Lion scrawled on its face in a delicate French hand. The smellier the cheese the better the quality, gourmets would say, but I was enticed by the label; drawn to the essence of the heart of the lion.
After leaving the market, I carried that label in my purse for a while as a gentle reminder of my own strength, contemplating from time-to-time what it means to live with the heart of a lion. Sure, the lion gives us images of power, courage, loyalty and strength; the energy of the Sun (think of the astrological sign of Leo, ruled by the Sun). Yet to watch these animals in action has given me greater insight into the truth of their leonine energy; great lessons in what it means to live with integrity.
Consider the mountain lion, for instance. Not long after moving to Colorado, I saw one of these magnificent creatures from my living room window, crouched low with his front paws on a rock, watching a rabbit from a distance; waiting patiently for the right opportunity to strike. The rabbit was making a feast of the wildflowers, minding her own business; but I saw the defining moment, when she knew that she was being watched. She stopped in place, still as a rock, and for a minute I lost her in the tall grass.

Hidden © 2009 MJohnson.
Then suddenly, as if on queue, the rabbit took off—hopping and running as fast as any rabbit I’ve ever seen—with the mountain lion not far behind. The rabbit sort of zig-zagged through the yard, heading toward the creek, as the mountain lion leapt over rock outcroppings, doing his best to keep the rabbit in focus. But when she dropped out of sight, hidden by the forest vegetation, the mountain lion pulled back, standing quiet and still by the embankment, looking and listening for signs of his dinner. Within moments the mountain lion turned, defeated, retreating to his rocky ledge somewhere out there. I kind of felt sorry for the guy, but he was big and strong, and I knew that he would find other food. As for the rabbit, well, I was glad she would live another day.
Though it happened in a flash, the scene stuck with me. I thought about the quiet strength of the mountain lion—the way he carries no doubt, no anxiety, no fear or remorse. There is simply what the mountain lion wants and desires and the focused strength to carry it out. He doesn’t linger in doubt and disharmony; he doesn’t stick around and wait for more of whatever isn’t working for him. Either he overpowers the rabbit or he leaves. It’s that simple. And in the flash of an eye he’s gone.

African Female Lion © 2009 MJohnson.
The African lion lives with a similar approach. I’ve been fascinated by these cats for years and, recently, I had the opportunity to observe some of them at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, just outside of Denver. Their size alone gives them the appearance of royalty, intimidating in their 10 to 13 foot length (tail included), the males posing with their thick, impressive manes; some of them weighing more than 500 pounds. And as I watched them I understood that they never fail to do what is in their nature to do.

Lavish Lounging © 2009 MJohnson.
When hunting in the wild, for instance, they bend to the inherent skills of the pride. Recognizing that females are the best hunters, they honor this feminine energy. In fact, females do most of the work, leading the hunt by lying in wait for their unsuspecting prey, led to them by the male’s powerful roar. As a community, they ban together to overtake their prey. They do not negotiate with terrorists.

© 2009 MJohnson.
As the second largest member of the cat family, these carnivores can go long distances, sometimes walking 20km a day, rising up to meet their challenges as predator cats; always in harmony with the truth of being a lion. They don’t question themselves or blame each other. They don’t go back to their den and beat each other up for not catching the zebra, gazelle or other tasty treat; doubting their prowess. And they don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves because they’re hungry, expecting someone outside of their pride to deliver their food (unless in captivity, of course). They simply move on to the next potentially lucrative food source.

Frolicking © 2009 MJohnson.
Yet their natural state is love and, unless cornered, they tend to move away from conflict and danger. Playfully, they lounge around in the sun, R-O-A-R-I-N-G their greetings to each other, exuding intense passion, loyalty and, yes, sexuality through their very distinct male and female energies. To me, these lions are symbolic of humanity and great civilizations throughout time—the kings and queens and those who followed them.
Think about it: There’s not another being on this planet that could cause the lion to question himself. When he comes up against an obstacle, instinctively and without question, he knows what has to be done and he does it. She doesn’t sit on the fence of life, debating her next move ad nauseam; doubting her instinct or her right to “be.” He doesn’t allow himself to be threatened or victimized either. They are what they are meant to be, without question and with complete validity as lions. We could learn a few things from our cat friends.
As for me, I want to live and love with the heart of a lion—passionate; confident; loyal; protective of those I love and of those who can’t defend themselves; always giving to my community; independent, yet part of the pride; validating myself rather than waiting for others to give me permission to be who I am; exuberant like the Sun.
And you—how are you defined?
Photographs of African lions shot on location at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado, a 501(c)(3) non-profit exotic animal rescue and conservation center. To learn more, visit their website at