Facing the Lion, Being the Lion

Full Title: Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where it LivesFacing the Lion, Being the Lion by Mark Nepo
Author: Mark Nepo
Publisher: Conari Press (2007)
Number of Pages: 301
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks, 5 days
Where I bought this book: An innocent visit to the Stanford University campus for a sunny Sunday afternoon stroll turned into an impassioned exploration of the bargain bins at the Stanford Bookstore.
ISBN: 9-781573-243155

Like a Moth to a Flame

First, it was its neapolitan ice cream colors that attracted me. Then, I started to wonder if maybe learning about the lion would give me courage to summon the lioness within me. That was a few months ago. Today, I’ve decided to start my journey with Nepo because the lioness has been scratching at her cage, and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep her safely at a distance.

Favorite Five

Whittling 17 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “…the drama of life demands that we put in the effort to consciously work with what we’re given until we practice our way into honest living.” (p.193)

4. “…the courage to lean into what needs to be joined, instead of hiding from it, will keep our brokenness from spreading.” (p.19)

3. “Like the frog put in a pot of water which is brought slowly to a boil, the numb life of illusion slowly cooks us without our knowing.” (p.133)

2. “In one way, the journey can be reduced to this challenge: to either be of God…or to be Godlike…Though the challenge seldom presents itself this starkly. More often, we are tempted to trudge after geese in the snow until we have a clear shot, only to find that the trigger has frozen, and, reluctantly, we put down our gun and just listen to them flutter off, to where we secretly would like to go.” (p.73)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” (p.275)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: jut (verb)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): extend out or project in space
Synonyms: stick out, protrude, jut out, project
Origins: 1450’s; corruption of obsolete jet (see jetty)
As in: “I named her Saba, for the mystical island south of St. Martin jutting so clearly from the ocean.” (p.45)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Nepo digs deep into the beds of fertile soil that make up our innate potential, wriggling long tendrils of exploration into the dirt like worms tunneling in search of moist warmth and nourishment. He turns the earth, showing you the pebbles that were once mountains, eventually destroyed by time and man. He brings up to the surface the tiny seedlings preparing for the sun’s maternal embrace, and implores you to scrounge up the patience to allow the seedlings to sprout.”

“So often, all we see is the surface – the cracked crust of Earth’s clay mask, the dusty blankets of sandy seas. All that is asked of us is to have the faith to believe that there is something more just beneath the surface, readying its way into our view.”

“The recipe for faith calls for a short list of ingredients: patience, compassion and acceptance. What makes this dish so difficult to create is that we’re not told how much of each to include or how long we should wait for it to cook. All we have to guide us is the unexplainable, the intangible and the illogical. Bon appetit!”

“I have been climbing the outside walls of my lion’s cage for some time. My lion has sat, still and silent, watching as I tore at her fur, hissed at her head and flailed my limbs across the bars of her cage in desperate denial.

“Then, one day, I found the latch that opened the door to the inside world of my strength. I fiddled with it for quite some time, sticking my fingers into its over-sized keyhole and digging around in its crevices. Discovering that the latch was unlocked, there was nothing left between me and my strength.

“So I embraced it, and then I threw it against the back of the cage. I nuzzled into the nook of its warmest parts, and then I tugged at its coat with regret and defeat. I danced to the melody of my impulses until my feet got entangled in my lion’s tail. Scraped and scuffed and bruised from the tumble, I decided to let my lion lead. My posture improved and I started standing taller. I was learning to live as the lion.”

“As I sit next to a man and a woman sharing their experiences of being divorced single parents struggling to find ways for their children to like them, I read Nepo quoting Hannah Arendt saying, “It is when we are in dialogue that we are most human.” (p.76)  I realize that even though I barely understand a sentence I’m reading because of all the coffee shop chaos surrounding me, all is good because I’m fortunate enough to be sitting within a live scene on humanity’s stage. Sighing deeply and sitting back in the hard wooden chair that’s supported better eavesdroppers than I’ll ever be, I take the moment to acknowledge the sticky, sloppy, unapologetic nature of life and find even greater space for gratitude for the neatly lined blank pages waiting for me.”

“To pray for courage, to ask for courage, is to ask for experiences that challenge us to show courage – an example reminding us to be careful for that which we ask. In most cases, virtue isn’t gifted, it is earned. To be virtuous distances oneself from the masses while at the same time reserving a seat of authority where those who unconsciously seek virtue within themselves can find you. What a life to play the role of a mirror, reflecting in others what they most wish to avoid. What irony not to be able to see one’s own reflection in that same mirror.”

“I have been struggling recently with whether to take on a new project. I have a feeling that its cost will end up outweighing its reward, but it’s a job, and in this economy, one is best advised to consider all jobs quite carefully. Then I read this quote from Thoreau that Nepo included in his book: ‘The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.’ (p.98) And so, I have my answer, for ‘life’ I value most of all.”

“Breaking bread with friends is a wonderful opportunity to embrace one’s connection with humanity. It’s far too easy to explore the inner depths of one’s being while lackadaisically dismissing the outer companion that shares our reflection in the mirror.

“So it was in a moment of inconvenient truth that a friend’s innocent observation pummeled me to my bruised knees. We were speaking of the nature of one’s exploration of the inner worlds, of whether it is an act of nobility or one of denial. With the gentle wave of his ethereal hand, he brushed away the dust blanketing a truth I do well to sidestep. ‘As important as it is to be willing to do the work to explore the depths of your purest self, equally vital is to remember to leave the door open so that you have a way of coming back.’

“It isn’t so much that the exploration of the unseen is so enjoyable that it draws one into a state of procrastination or avoidance. It’s more that it has a way of intoxicating its visitors, filling their surroundings with musky perfumes promising perpetual bliss on the cusp of godliness. It’s that the unseen world is easier to embrace because it cannot be denied by those who believe in it. And if it can’t be denied, that must mean there’s a place in it for each believer. The world we see around us is much more cruel in its ways – reflecting exactly what we present, manifesting truths we strive lifetimes to deny.”

“As the setting sun warmed my right cheek and my mental gnomes worried whether I’d wake up tomorrow with a face half burned by the sky, I received a phone call that momentarily interrupted my conversation with Nepo and the lions. It concerned a job for which I’d applied three months before. In the midst of our first warm January afternoon, I found myself digging through my past in an effort to explain how it justified my entry into this new future of potential. I spoke of colleagues I now only see on Facebook, and of projects I had left unfinished.

“I eventually returned to Nepo, and as I did, he greeted me with the following words: ‘It’s been a year, and what stays with me is this question of how to build on the past. For aren’t we all pressed with excitement and necessity to build new homes, new relationships, new careers, new lives – always pressed by some real or imagined deadline, eager to get the thing done? Yet suddenly, if blessed, we trip on something of the past and, just as it feels that we are stalled, the thought appears that the need to dig in order to build might be God’s way to unearth our foundation.’ (pp.182-3)”

“I was recently at dinner with old friends from a distant and transparent past. One of them asked me how I felt about a place where I spent living many skinned years. I thought I had an automatic response – my usual adamance to renounce every last suppressive ring on that rusty chain of limitation.

“So it was to my delighted surprise that my answer had decided to change. I realized that I was no longer equipped to reply as the person I had once been. I was no longer playing that role. Some time between then and now, I shed my scales and left them to dry on the side of the dirt road that’s led me here, to a new life in which I’m ok with not knowing.”

“I was expecting an intimate conversation with the writer and his inner self. Instead, I feel more as though I’ve been sitting in an auditorium, listening to him talk about all the things he’s learned. The occasional story makes a positive impression, but the way the book started created a false impression of its potency. At the same time, the book’s brought tears to my eyes and encouraged me to continue reexamining myself.

“I think what bothers me is that it doesn’t feel as though I’ve been reading a book. I could just as easily have been reading columns in newspapers or pages of websites during a power browsing session. Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps I should have known that I was in the mood for some fiction instead. But no! I remember being in search of a clear answer. When this book appeared, I felt so comforted that answers were on their way. Perhaps that’s the problem – expectations. Perhaps I should try learning from the sky.”

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  1. Kat Kiddles says:

    Books speaks to every one of their readers in unique ways. It sounds like you were much more deeply inspired by this book than I was, and that’s great. I believe the profundity of a book’s message is influenced by many factors, one of which is its timing in our lives. For many reasons, Nepo’s message didn’t feel attuned to my vibration when I read his book. That’s all.

  2. CJ says:

    “I think what bothers me is that it doesn’t feel as though I’ve been reading a book. I could just as easily have been reading columns in newspapers or pages of websites during a power browsing session. Perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps I should have known that I was in the mood for some fiction instead. But no! I remember being in search of a clear answer. When this book appeared, I felt so comforted that answers were on their way. Perhaps that’s the problem – expectations. Perhaps I should try learning from the sky.”

    If you are incapable of self reflection this book will be a waste of time. Learn from yourself. Your core.

  3. CJ says:

    I can’t help but feel you read this book expecting for Nepo to do all the work for you. He provides powerful anecdotes and stories to show you a path. You clearly did not have the desire nor willpower to follow through in what requires true self honesty and requires one to face scary parts of themself. Perhaps a book on the power of self reflection would be an appropriate starter before reading this.

    You can lead a horse to water…

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