“Give, even if you only have a little.” – The Buddha

The quote above, whether gifted to us verbatim from The Buddha’s mouth or not, is a guiding principle of the heart for me these days. In the midst of intense change and challenge, I have found that a focus on the question, How can I serve in this situation? to be a light-giving exercise as often as I can remember to practice it.

As with any exercise, I resist it.

I have selfishly guarded my heart—myself—for as long as I can remember. Why?

I had to acknowledge a primary aspect of the heart to answer this question, and also my misunderstandings. My error was in thinking, not in feeling. I kept getting hung up on the overwhelming gentleness of the heart, and so, I thought, its vulnerability.

Yes, the heart is gentle, vulnerable. Soft through and through. But these qualities are not its weakness. They are its power.

We feel called to protect what we see at risk in our often abrasive existence. Young creatures, new blooms. The tender underbelly of the love we feel. Maybe this is why we protect our hearts. The gentleness of the heart is a gateway into the very core of us, a gateway that our shared history of endless turf wars and conquests would suggest must be fiercely guarded.

Except that history has no real part to play here. The heart is ever fresh and present. A wellspring. Love rushes upon us like a gulp of fresh air after a rainstorm. It creates the world anew moment by moment.

The Lion
A few nights ago I dreamed of a lion. He was tame—weakened—though I spent most of the dream worrying about him as a potential threat. I knew that he’d been kept captive all his natural life, and that this had left him unhealthy and listless. His tail drooped, and his body had the slack, toneless look of a big cat made into a plaything.

But still, he was a lion.

I wanted to care for him as much as I feared his presence, and this duality is what remains of an otherwise foggy romp through my dream state. There were other animals and people in the dream, but the lion held court. I was aware of his movements and his location at all times. He seemed restive and withdrawn, as if I couldn’t reach him if I’d been bold enough to try. He was hungry—too hungry to eat.

I’m less in the habit of analyzing dreams than I am of ferreting out what they feel like. I am after the feeling as information and guidance. If my years of living as an emotional being have taught me anything, they have taught me that my head will take me down any number of rabbit holes while my feelings will take me inward to myself.

The lion felt like an aspect of myself. He wasn’t my whole self because another part of me also watched him slip through the dream, lassitude clinging to him the way sand sticks to wet skin. I knew him, this lion, and he was gorgeous despite his state.

It was the care I felt for him that stood out over my fear that he might harm me. I wanted to nurture him, bring him back to himself. I wanted to give him his life back, and this is the action of the heart. Gentle. Giving. Strong.

Though we may feel lost, weakened, and left with little, we can give. The action of giving is where strength lies, and its magnitude surpasses what is offered, large or small. To offer is to hold out what we hold within, freely and without fear that it won’t be returned.

Softly, softly go I through the dream and across into waking.