The Lion and the Elephant

Have you ever read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho? It is an incredibly popular book and highly recommended, yet when I looked at my Goodreads account, I noticed it had only 3.9 stars. Why? Mostly because it was a self-help fiction book with patriarchal undertones, according to the reviews. If you look past that, I suppose the next tier of dislike is the length of the book. I agree, the book could have been longer—more detailed. When I read a fiction book—or a non-fiction story, memoir, etc., I want to BE THERE. How many times could I have stepped into the story and wandered the world with Santiago?! However, I did travel with him despite yearning for a greater, longer, and more profound adventure. The point of the story was not so much about the details of his journey or the purpose of his journey but following his heart and being willing to make the journey. He wanted something more for his life and dropped everything familiar to go, do, and be.

In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t tell you how it ends—whether he ever found the treasure he was looking for or not. What I will tell you is Santiago, the shepherd boy, trusted the process, starting at the very beginning when he sold all his sheep and continuing with each and every bump along the road (and he had many).

Like Santiago, I am on a journey to find a treasure. I don’t know exactly what the treasure will be just as he was unsure of the details, and I don’t know where the journey is going to take me. What I do know is selling sheep is kind of the equivalent of burning the boats.

How can anyone trust the process when they have a boat to retreat to? How can anyone make it to the top of the hill they are climbing if they are always looking back or down rather than toward the next telephone pole? I have identified, with the help of my therapist, the boats I need to burn right now—it shouldn’t come as a shock since I have discussed it a few times recently.

The first boat to burn is fear. When I first started seeing my therapist about four years ago, I told her I wasn’t afraid of anything. I don’t remember her exact reaction, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt she let it go. Now, when it comes up, she tells me when someone says something like that, that person is likely very afraid. Truthfully, I am terrified of my own shadow most days. It’s okay. I admit it willingly now. And when I don’t? It’s obvious. I get angry, disappear, or shut down—sometimes willfully, sometimes without conscious thought. That is not to say I don’t recognize it once there. Often, I do, and I choose to remain in the place of fear as well as the maladaptive ways I deal with that fear. How does one burn the boat of fear and choose courage?

  • I have no idea.
  • Just kidding. I have a key tag that says, “Embrace the Suck.” Yeah. It’s going to hurt. And all I can do is feel it a little at a time. Santiago was robbed of all his money after selling his sheep. He had options. What did he do? He worked his tail off. In the midst of that, he almost lost sight of his goal. Yet, he continued his journey.
  • Do you know what symbolizes courage? The lion. I was reading about things we can learn from lions, and I found some pretty cool stuff on Mind Fuel Daily. Here is a brief summary:
    • We all have a starting point (cub), and there is plenty of time to explore and learn.”
    • Pursue what you want.
    • “Know that the greatest strength is never more than a deep breath away.” “Roar.”
    • Don’t be afraid to rely on others.
    • We need “time to rest and restore.”

My plan as a lion is this:

  • Recognize where I am and allow myself to be there without judgment.
  • Recognize where I want to be and pursue it—one telephone pole at a time.
  • Breathe, puff out my chest, and make my voice heard. Fucking ROAR (emphasis is necessary in this situation).
  • Ask for help.
  • Give myself a break…

Give myself a break. This doesn’t just mean taking a nap or reading a book. This is about self-compassion. The other boat I need to burn is the self-hate/judgment boat. If I hate myself enough, maybe I won’t make the same mistakes. If I hate myself enough, maybe I will eventually pay the price for the things I have done or have had done to me. Judgment is both a penance and a protective mechanism. The problem is, I recognize it doesn’t work.

Elephants are one of the most compassionate animals. They are intuitive in that they observe, understand, and empathize with others. Like, if one elephant cries, the rest are going to cry. They are loyal and protective. Do you know who doesn’t do a very good job of being loyal and protective? Me. I do it for other people. I mean, I have compassion and empathy for others and would fight to the death, but if you tell me to give myself the same compassion, protect the little parts of me who are hurting, or stick by my parts’ side, it just doesn’t happen consistently.

Through my evening reflections (after-action reports), I have discovered I have very little tolerance for the “littles” or vulnerable parts of myself. So, as an elephant, I am going to…

  • Make a point of talking with them (my parts). Every day I will tell them I want to hear what they need me to hear and protect them. I will tell them I am not great at it and will likely fail, but I mean well.
  • As an elephant would help a drowning person, I will make every effort to jump into the water and pull those parts out that are hurting and/or trying to protect me.

I have been carrying small animals around with me for a little while, and those little animals serve as a reminder to be, at any given time, an elephant, a lion, or both. It is kind of a stupid thing, but it serves as a visual and tactile reminder to be courageous and compassionate toward myself. Sometimes it seems to help. Sometimes not.

Tara Brach, a teacher and mentor of mindfulness meditation, said in Mindful magazine (August 2021):

“I have to love myself into healing.”

We cannot hate ourselves into healing. It’s going to take the courage of a lion and the compassion of an elephant.

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