Safety can be stifling.
Sometimes we need to take risks, to be exposed to the elements, and to leave our comfort zones in order to learn and grow…
I was hiking up into a beautiful canyon. The transition from chaparral to tree line with over 4000 feet of elevation contrasts three completely different worlds. From scrub oak and mesquite, to cottonwood, sycamore, and willow, to ponderosa pine and alligator juniper. All at finely demarcated lines of altitude or water course. The canyon’s green armies of pines climbing beyond the highest point I would reach today.
It was hot and there was a dry breeze channeling through the mountain passes. I stopped at an overlook, a cliff perched midway into the canyon. I was taking in all that surrounded me. It’s a mystical sort of beauty. It draws you in. Captures all of your senses. Takes you on another journey. An infinite landscape.
And then I heard something. Maybe “sensed” is a better word, because I just knew I needed to turn around for a moment. Turn my back to the captivating view because something else was happening. Or was about to happen.
The feelings of curiosity, excitement, and fear all hit simultaneously when I saw it. Bounding down the trail behind me and coming right towards me was a black bear!
I quickly stood on the rocks and waved my arms to try to make myself look bigger and more menacing than I am — not easy to do. And we exchanged growls. Fortunately, the bear was just as startled as I was and it turned and ran off into the woods. I continued to yell out and heard it scrambling farther away.
This had all happened in the blink of an eye, so I replayed what I saw in my mind. Over and over again. It was a bear all right. It seemed to me that it was in an almost playful stride. Happy to be facing another day in this peaceful forest. Its forest. Until it saw me jump up.
This was the first time I had a close encounter with a bear. Fortunately, it was a black bear and not so aggressive.
As you may know from my prior writings, I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Nature is constantly giving us messages, if we take the time to read them. So what meaning could I derive from this encounter? Regardless of how brief it was.
The bear’s symbolism is rich. While awake it has been portrayed as having strength, courage, and male energy. It is also said to be a teacher of boundaries, for itself and others. But it seems its greatest powers lie in its ability to sleep through the winter.
The bear doesn’t go into a true hibernation, rather its metabolism slows way down and it enters a state called “torpor.” It can still wake easily, and the females can even give birth in this semi-conscious state. The bear draws upon its fat reserves for nourishment during this time of prolonged rest.
While in torpor, the bear is said to be in a receptive state. This energy of introspection is said to be female in nature.
The ability to go deep within to find resources necessary for survival mirrors a state of deep meditation. Go deep within your soul’s den, draw upon your inner stores of energy and essence. A time to awaken your personal power during this solitude to bring it out in the Spring. Spring itself symbolizes birth and renewal. Resurrection.
The bear is considered to be a messenger of the forest spirits. It demonstrates more than just strength, but a supernatural power. Fortitude. The whirlwind. The will.
It’s been immortalized in the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater She-Bear, more commonly known as the Big Dipper. According to Iroquois legend, the quadrangle of the dipper forms the bear that is being pursued by seven hunters. The three hunters who are closest form the handle of the dipper. The four farthest hunters drop below the horizon in autumn and abandon the hunt. At the same time, the bear rises to stand on its hind legs and one of the hunters wounds the bear with an arrow. The bear sprays blood back on the hunter and blood falls on the forest to turn the trees red. The bear is eaten but its skeleton remains, traveling on its back during the winter. But in the spring, a new bear leaves the den and the hunt begins anew.
In Chi Gong, the bear is one of the five frolicking animals. The exercise practiced mimicking the bear is believed to aid the stomach and spleen. And these are considered the energy centers for applied thinking, for generating ideas, and for aiding memorization and concentration. The digestion of knowledge.
To the Seneca tribe, the bear is a symbol associated with the West Shield. Again, it relates to the pathways of attaining knowledge. Entering torpor represents entering sacred space to be receptive to information. This information is digested and integrated to discern truth. And once we tap into our personal truth, we can seek out our desired goals.
So, what message can I derive from this brief meeting in the woods?
While many would think this encounter had little meaning, other than being glad the bear didn’t maul or eat them, examining the symbolism carries a major life lesson. Recurring themes of introspection, digestion of knowledge, and attainment of truth span multiple cultures. Once attaining truth and direction, one then should seek out their goals with strength and fortitude.
Recent times have been a period of solitude for me. Other than contacts on social media, I have been pretty much resting in a somewhat semi-conscious state. Waiting to be awakened. In torpor, I examine myself, my life, my successes, my failures, my goals. I must integrate this knowledge into action.
The appearance of the bear marks a metaphysical inquiry. Is your judgment or the judgment of those surrounding you in error? Do you fail to see the beneficial things happening in your life? Are you being too critical, or not discerning enough?
Time to venture inward and awaken potential. And then emerge from the den. Personal power must be brought out in the open to taste the fruits of such labor.
Whether you believe these messengers are sent by the Source, or that this is just mystical thinking, lessons can still be drawn. Introspection is always good. An examined life. The integration of truth. Acceptance of what has been. Strength to face what will be.
To hibernate, or cut oneself off, to simply achieve safety is ultimately a sacrifice of living. But hitting the pause button to gain knowledge, insight, and truth for a later emergence can lead to powerful growth.
Be the whirlwind. Hit the trails. Face the bear.
Sip a little more: