Dear Jennifer Alyse, Lioness Love

Dear Jennifer Alyse,

Wow! What joy thinking of you. I feel a big internal smile spread, growing and expanding and stretching all the way across the oceans to you. Can you see it? Can you feel it? I hope so.

Where to start in sharing with you about this vibrancy?

Sister, I can imagine you in Africa. I imagine you here, shaking your hips in wild abandon. I imagine you looking up at the sky in celebration, in awe, with a wide smile and incredulous, joyful laughter emanating from your mouth.

You have a remarkable ability to shape-shift and adapt to your surroundings. In the Pacific Northwest, you nestle into sweaters and boots with ease, hiking the forest and holding trees. In Southern California, your beach goddess comes out; in Kauai, your magic is sparked with particular magnetism. In Ireland, you commune with your ancestry, traverse those deep hills and melancholic skies with grace and honor. It’s as if you and the location around you are immersed in a rapturous love affair: sun meets sky meets spirit meets soul.

Because of this, I want to tell you about the African skies that I imagine you under. Skies so wide they feel as if they could swallow me. When I stand below them, I feel their immensity and enormity, but somehow never feel swallowed or small. Rather, there’s a simultaneous understanding of the land, and me, and the animals and trees and all else, coexisting.

There are only a few other places in the world where I’ve experienced skies like this. One of them is Arizona. Though the plains and savannahs of the Kalahari have no connection proximity-wise to your home state, the feeling of the desert is reminiscent. The colors of the landscape, the types of foliage, whisper to me of pockets of the rugged lands of rural Arizona or New Mexico. The lions and giraffes and elephants we encountered in Botswana have never made it to the American Southwest, but they could probably adapt with relative ease.

I’ve been inspired to reflect on my connection to animals while being in Africa–both personally, and as a species. There are some elements of these wild creatures that I feel are kindred; some ways our spirits dance like theirs. The lioness has been a particularly compelling energy to explore. We had a prolonged encounter with one, who was sunning herself peacefully underneath a tree in the early morning hours. We parked our safari Jeep and turned off the motor, leaving our soundscape unfettered by any man-made noise (we were over 250 kilometers from any city, town, or village). There we all sat for nearly a half-hour: we, homo sapiens, and lioness, in calm and peaceful rest. She was stretched out languidly, occasionally shifting slightly or moving her head to survey the surroundings. After an initial flurry of photos, we too stretched out in quiet, making me wonder: people mirroring lion, or lion mirroring people? In any case, our energy reflected and matched with startling ease–albeit, our gazes conveyed more reverence, as the queen of the desert seemed a little less enchanted by us than we of her.

As we sat in shared presence, I found myself in awe. This creature seemed calmer than any house cat I know; docile and demure, with an ease and grace and grandeur. In these moments, her ferocity was imperceptible. It was wild to remember that this gorgeous lioness is at the tip-top of the food chain; she hunts, and kills, and devours, nearly every other creature we saw on our safari drives. A single lioness can take on any type of elk with ease; zebra, no problem. Even giraffe and elephants (particularly babies) are prey to these fierce females. Wild dogs, buffalo, warthogs, rhinos, crocodiles, gigantic hippos–you name it, the lioness goes after it. They are ruthless and non-discriminatory when it comes to finding food for their families. And they ravage whatever animal it is they attack.

There is brutality. There is also, somehow, beauty within it. As with life.

You certainly have a lion-like regality, dear sister, as do many of the women I admire. Women who protect fiercely those who they care for; who fight for those they love. Over the past several years, darling Jennifer, I have witnessed you fighting hard for those you love–bringing home sustenance for the elders in your family who no longer have the capacity to do so themselves. I have seen you hunt and stalk with focus and intensity–when pursuing a cause you believe in, or orchestrating events to provide tools to empower dozens of women. I have seen you embrace your dominant presence, your Desert Queen self, when standing up for your truth and reflecting back the incandescent light of others. I have seen you dance like the lions hunt! And it’s not just the ferocity in you I admire, but also the capacity you have to calm and ease your nervous system. To find deep rest and respite and restoration and relaxation, after all the incredible force you exert. In early mornings, in savasana, on retreat, embracing moments of stillness. I see you, on occasion, slow down–and truly slow down. Moments when your turn your face to the sky and close your eyes in quiet rapture, rather than dancing.

I want to reflect for one more moment on the simultaneous beauty and brutality I mention above. Sister, as a strong and fiercely empathetic woman who sees so much, I know you bear witness to this. A world where this I see you hold space for these two; feel them both so deeply. In your sobs, there is such profound sadness–as if the heart of the universe was breaking. In your rapture, when you embrace the breathtaking incandescence of life, the joyousness seems to have no bounds! There are so many people cut off from this deep level of connection to our earth, our community, ourselves. Thank you for modeling such extraordinary depth of feeling. Thank you for demonstrating how it looks to be truly alive.

I love you!

PS None of the photos I took of the languid lioness can even begin to convey her majesty, but I share one with you anyway as today’s cover shot. I can’t help but smile at the irony of a sub-par photo, ye of professional prowess, but I know you’ll forgive the imperfection. ❤

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