And the Lion Lies Down with the Llama


Burial site of the lion’s heart and the llama’s body – Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary, South Dakota

Near Lead, South Dakota is a ranch with a unique park inside called Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. Although private property, the owner wanted to create a place where people could come and have a meditative hike and enjoy the beauty of South Dakota. Along the miles long trail he made across his ranch are posted various works of art and plaques with quotations, intended to inspire a meditative, mystical state of mind.

A friend of mine took me out there a couple of years ago. She showed me the corral where some llamas were kept. Llamas are common stock animals on the ranches of the American West; people like to make yarn out of their wool, and they also make excellent pack animals for horses.

The Heart of the Lion

My friend told me this story:

A mountain lion began haunting the ranch a year before. It would come down out of the hills and grab a llama every so often. The rancher had five llamas, but by the time he lost three to the big cat he realized he had to take action. As much as he loved the wildness of nature and the beauty of the lion, he could not watch all of his llamas die, either. So the authorities were alerted and they tracked down the animal and killed it. The stuffed body is now on display at the Journey Museum in Rapid City. But the rancher had a sentimental request: could he have the heart of the lion? Well, the authorities had never heard anything quite like that, but they figured since it had no commercial value they would go ahead and let him have it. He took the heart of the felled lion, and the mangled body of the last llama the lion had killed, and buried them together on a nice spot on his property, along his meditative trail.

I found that story to be far more spiritually illuminating that many of the quotes by various mystics and poets found along the trail. Anyone who appreciates nature understands the necessity of brutality alongside tenderness, of cruelty together with compassion, and that beauty is composed of both. It seems the rancher was somehow bringing these elements together in a lasting harmony on his place.

The beautiful and imperishable comes into existence due to the suffering of individual perishable creatures. . . This is the terrible law of the universe.

– Phillip K. Dick, Exegesis

It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. This is a dark saying, I know. . . I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the Hegelian philosophy means. . . Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

– William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience


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