I’m reading Buddha Walks Into a Bar by Lodro Rinzler and it is kicking my ass. Lately I’ve been feeling parched, spiritually. Lately, I’ve felt my practices and paths to spirit have dried up, have gone the way of a riverbed in a Steinbeck novel. I’m a nerd, so a lot of my seeking-searching-striving has come from books and the people brave enough to put words to their spiritual experiences and questions. Buddha in a bar? That’s my kind of cosmic drinking buddy.
One of the things I like about this book is that the way Rinzler distills Buddhist tenets to assure the reader that you don’t need to go monastic to have a relationship with God or The Universe or The Flying Spaghetti Monster (whatever you throw your faith behind) and you don’t need to be perfect. The latter is a big one for me. I will call it a Catholic hang-over, with no disrespect to practicing Catholics. I happened to come up through the ranks during a time when God was less Mister “I like you just the way you are” Rogers and more Big Brother is always watching and waiting for you to screw up. That’s a lot of pressure. So, it’s nice to have someone pat your head, feed you a cookie, and tell you it’s o.k. to feel like you’re sucking all over the place; you’re still loved, wanted, and valued. I guess my God is a kindergarten teacher.
Rinzler writes from the perspective of Shambhala Buddhism and one of the belief structures in this strain involves understanding these spirit-animal type entities called the four dignitaries, one of which is the marvelous snow lion.
The snow lion is as badass as she sounds. Rinzler describes her: “white, muscular, and has a turquoise mane. She is said to leap from mountaintop to mountaintop. In traditional references, it is said that as the snow lion leaps, her mane is fanned by her herbal winds.” DAYYum. The snow lion is fierce because she’s free from negative emotions that drag us down, like doubt, anxiety, and fear, you know, those little chestnuts that can turn a perfectly good day into a perfectly good disaster in .8 seconds.
I want to be the snow lion so. damn. badly. I want to feel the wind tangle my turquoise mane like an insane Lisa Frank sticker. But most days I am the squirrel.
There’s a century-old Beech tree that grows on the side of our house, standing sentinel outside the windows that face out from our TV room. Its trunk is enormous and grey like the body of an elephant, its branches just as thick, and its leaves rain down in the fall. I love this gentle giant. I have, on more than one occasion, had an impulse to try and throw my arms around it in sheer gratitude for its existence. I have refrained out of respect for our neighbors, just yards away, who, probably don’t relish glancing out their kitchen window to see the quirky girl next door looking like she’s trying to slow dance with a tree.
Every afternoon for the past month I’ve caught a wild rustling in the Beech branches. I glance over to see something swinging on the lower hanging branches, whipping back and forth. It’s a little grey squirrel, hurling herself at these vines in the suburban jungle. She flips her body forward, gaining momentum to connect with another branch and another like a pint-sized Tarzan until she can grab onto a thicker arm and scamper to safety.
I admire her tenacity. I admire her courage. I am hip to her technique, this flinging, casting kind of thing. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got. Hungry for connection, eager to find our way to a higher place, we get a running start and launch ourselves into space hoping that when we reach out something’s there to receive us.
It is a literal leap of faith. And a very imperfect dance. Every day. And the rewards are worth the risk.
I would love to bound after my Faith, to run alongside it in joyful chase like the mighty, fierce Snow Lion, but the truth is, many days it’s all I can do to propel myself in a general direction towards where I think a higher plateau lies, a loftier spot in the tree of life where love and joy and acceptance and compassion and purpose hang out, waiting for me….
who is a squirrel
with the heart and soul of a snow lion.