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I started this painting shortly after my dad passed last November to work through my grief and also to remember him how I saw him, and not how he saw himself. He loved lions and was also a leo. Today would have been his 67th birthday. I wanted his lion to be wild, free and proud of all of the unconventional colors that made up his personality. He didn’t live his life like that at all, although I know that’s how he wanted to be. The saddest part of his story is that he lived like a lion who didn’t even know that he was a lion and was afraid to find out. It’s not an uncommon story.

Do you ever wonder why we say someone has a heart of a lion, and not the mind of a lion or the guts of a lion? A lions is a symbol of courage, so it must follow that the greatest courage we can have as humans is to live from our hearts. And to live in such a way, which is the only authentic way to live, we first must muster the courage to access our hearts, unafraid of what wounds we may encounter during that journey. And wounds we will find aplenty, no doubt about it. But what if the wound is the gateway to the healing? Maybe our emotional pain and freedom from that pain are two sides of the same coin, and all we have to do is have the courage to look at the side we have so far mistaken for the only side and flip the damn coin. Rumi wasn’t kidding when he said “the wound is the place where the light enters you.”

We are conditioned to spend most of our time and an incredible amount of energy hiding our tender places, doing everything we can to appear as if we got it all together. The armor we build around our hearts starts off as a natural response to the hurts of our childhood, but the longer we carry that armor, the heavier it gets. Instead of offering protection, the armor walls us off, not only from the people we love but from our own self. Ultimately we collapse under the burden of all of our unacknowledged emotional bruises because life becomes too heavy to bear. This is how my dad lived and died. A lion who forgot the power of his own roar.

I could have painted a lion with a majestic, golden mane and power and confidence in his eyes. Instead, I painted one with colorful, frizzy strands that don’t make sense to our linear minds, with sad but clear blue eyes and a beard that shows off wisdom forged by the fire of facing one’s wounds. And to me, that’s a picture of beauty, strength and grace.

May we all realize we already have the heart of a lion and spend the remaining days of this human experience with courage to dig deeply into the muck within our wounds and transform it into gold through the miraculous power of self compassion, self forgiveness and self love. There really is no other purpose to being here but to remember who we are at the core of our being, which is love unbound. But to get to the core, layers and layers await. I won’t say let’s not be afraid to face those layers because fear will be there, you better believe it. Instead, let’s decide that diving into the heart and setting free our own inner lion is not negotiable.

Don’t waste another moment pretending to be who you’re not and who you were never meant to be. Plunge into the depths of self discovery and trust that love will be there every step of the way, because how could love not be with you and within you when love is what you are?