Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Queen and The Lion's Gaze: Finding Balance

I've written a lot lately about awakening our inner wealth of love and compassion, both in meditation and out in the world, in ourselves and for others. This is such a wonderful way to build a solid, strong foundation for practice. But I've been reminded lately that this is not the only side to practice. If we spend too much time being "blissed out," as a friend of mine likes to call it, our mind begins to lose the quality of sharpness and acuity that's so necessary for developing insight.

 I'm turning my attention now towards, well, attention. This part of the practice isn't fun, it's not particularly enjoyable, in fact it's so simple and boring that it's remarkably hard. It requires a great deal of effort, dedication, and discipline. But it's entirely necessary.

There's a terrific book by Alan Wallace called The Attention Revolution (see link provided) that gives a really nice step-by-step guide to building attention and focusing in meditation. There are a lot of stages, and I'm still stuck at the second stage. Most of us, in fact, will spend a long, long time just at the second stage. I'm making it my goal throughout the next three weeks to make it to stage three. The difference between the two is that at stage two one is able to maintain focused attention on their meditation object (the breath) for a few minutes at a time, continuously, until this time is built up to about 20 minutes. In stage three, this 20 minute period is doubled and one is able to easily maintain attention on the breath for at least 40 minutes. I'm pretty close to the goal already, but friends, it's hard. The defeating qualities of dullness and excitation that so often plague our minds can be remarkably subtle. The practice requires constant vigilance.

Having established compassion for one's self will make training in concentration a much gentler and healthy process. For all of the effort that is required here, it's important not to be aggressive with ourselves at any point in the practice. We still must practice with an open, loving heart.

One thing I'd like to take along with me on this part of the journey is something that my psychotherapist, Lisa, brought up in our last session. She was talking to me about Jungian archetypes and how these archetypes can be very powerful totems in our lives if we have any inclination towards the magical. We'd been talking lately about how to build appropriate boundaries between ourselves and the world. This may seem to be antithetical to what I've been talking about lately with loving-kindness and compassion, but it's really such a key aspect of being able to give someone our full love and compassion. We must be strong, whole persons.

So, she suggested the image of the Queen for me. What does the Queen represent? A source of great inner strength, all-powerful, immovable, impenetrable, regal, kind, patient.  I thought about relating this to a tarot card, perhaps the Preistess. This image shares similarities with the tibetan buddhist idea of the Lion's gaze, in some respects. To maintain the Lion's gaze is to situate one's self with unmovable, unshakable concentration -- like the gaze of a Lion. In all of these images -- the queen, the lion, the priestess -- there is a being-in-touch with an inner core strength. It's as if we have a mountain inside of us that we can sit upon, always. A rock of solidity. We can use this in meditation to maintain focus and effort, clarity and persistence. We can also use it in our everyday lives as we come into contact with difficult people and situations.

What archetype would you like to envision for yourself right now? What is most helpful, empowering, and can act as a source of inner strength and guidance for you?


  1. Great stuff, Jamie. I know you can make it to stage 3! However long it takes you. I seem to be at the same place in my life, needing to find a totem of sorts. I want to find the steadiness within to have boundaries while exercising compassion. Too often I have compassion without boundaries, which leaves me hurt and fairly unable to summon compassion. So it ends up being self-defeating. As we approach 30, I know you and I both are on our way to learning what it means to be whole, strong women. I'm so glad I have you as a partner on the climb!