Reflecting on our discussion on totems, and since winter is settling her blanket upon us, let’s take a closer look at Bear medicine. It is said that Bear medicine resides in the West—the area where our dreams and goals exist. Winter is also in the West, so it is appropriate that we consider this medicine now and utilize the lessons.
Many of us are currently caught up in the rush-rush-rush of Christmas shopping and planning for holiday events. We forget that there is a forced “stillness” that winter demands, as we blast through this season like credit card-waving lunatics. When we get to the end of it, or maybe even just close to the end, we find ourselves burned out and exhausted. At worst, we wonder where the time has gone, having seemed to fly by without notice. A year from now, it is unlikely most of us will even remember what we did, said, or bought.
Now is the time to STOP. Winter demands it. Look around you. Nothing grows now (especially if you’re in an area that receives snow!), the summer birds have gone and taken their joyful songs with them, and most of the critters we are used to seeing (except for squirrels) are either fast asleep or hunkering down to stay warm. All of these natural things are clues to the state of being we are meant to adopt. However, as much as I’d like to toss that line to my employer and legitimize my desire to “hibernate” all winter, I don’t necessarily mean we are meant to stop living our lives and go to sleep. What I mean is that we are meant to slow down, take a deep breath, and stop the rushing busyness of life.
I have heard it said by Native peoples that winter is the best time for meditation because everything is quiet. This is the time when many First Peoples go into their lodges and do various dream or meditation or spirit communication ceremonies. (Note: I am aware they don’t necessarily refer to the lodges in this manner; I am simplifying it.) The reason being is that it is easier to think, to meditate, to hear the spirits of their ancestors at this time than any other. Quite frankly, the forest is much too “alive” in the spring and summer months and the animals are too inquisitive as to what the Native people are up to, thus making far too much noise, so to speak.
Bear medicine is one of introspection (according to Sams and Carson). Bear teaches us to go into the cave, the womb of the earth as it were, and be silent. Here, she reflects on the year’s lessons and quite possibly how this year’s lessons have contributed to all the lessons in her life. In order to adopt Bear medicine, we need to do the same. We must find that quiet space within and reflect upon all of the lessons we have learned this year. This isn’t a one-and-done exercise, mind you. Winter holds a long, long (long if you live in anywhere it snows!) conference with the earth. Again, that’s a clue to how long our reflection time should or could take. Utilize the stillness of winter to your advantage.
So how do we find our inner “Bear”? First, try calling on Bear medicine to come to you to aide you in your endeavor. Sit in silence, whether in your house, in your car, or—if you’re daring (and dressed for it)—in the woods somewhere. Call to Bear with your mind, your spirit, and ask for assistance, guidance, and wisdom. Be respectful! Feel the strength of Bear moving through you. Imagine your hands turning into bear paws, your body being covered and protected by a thick warm coat of fur. Close your eyes to the world around you, shut out any sounds as best you can, ignoring them. (I love to go to the woods for this exercise simply because of the closeness I feel and the lack of constant human distraction. We’re very noisy creatures indeed. Especially in my household!)
Once you feel relaxed, your mind has adopted the image of your body transforming into a bear, sit in the silence and just be. Keep your eyes closed and let any images you see or feel float by freely without giving them much attention. Ask Bear to help you reflect on this year, or a time in which you feel especially drawn to reflect upon. As those thoughts, images, or feelings arise within you, let yourself just examine them as though you were on the outside of the event. How did that situation make you feel? Why? How did you react? Could you have done better or did you do it the right way? What is the lesson learned there? Why do you feel that you had to go through that situation in the first place? And so on.
If that situation is painful or especially difficult, try to see it through Bear’s eyes. There is always a lesson, as I’ve said in the past. We don’t always know it. Sometimes the lesson is just to make us stronger, like a sword being forged in a fire. You might need this strength for another moment in your life, or to help someone else in theirs. Other times, the lessons are such that we had to come to a new way of thinking or being, and this was the only way to get it through our thick-skulls, so to speak.
By looking at the instance (or instances) through Bear’s eyes, you have shielded yourself in protection that allows you to be safe as you examine your life lesson(s). It also allows you to try and be objective. You aren’t you looking at these moments, for example. You’re Bear; you’re brave, strong, quiet, and wise. You’re not shirking the responsibility of having to live with or through the moment, you’re allowing yourself a place of safety so that you can learn from what has happened.
We often say of our good friends that they know us better than we know ourselves. This is because they have the benefit of seeing things from the outside. We see it only from the internal. We see an injustice done to us, not what we might have done to contribute to the outcome. We see hardships put upon us or moving through our lives, but fail to see that we repeat the same mistakes again and again that completely foretell what the results will be. By adopting Bear medicine, we are giving ourselves permission to look at ourselves from the outside. We are allowing ourselves to be objective.
This seems contrary to the idea of “going within,” I know. But think of it like this: sometimes, in order to go within ourselves, we must see ourselves in a different light. It means we must allow ourselves to examine our actions and our decisions from the outside as our friends or loved ones do. If we constantly remain inside our own shell, we rarely take a real look at the lessons or the situations we have found ourselves in. We rarely get past the “well this happened to me,” or “they did this and now I feel…” and “this happened and now my life is such because of so-and-so.” That’s Ego doing its job, protecting us from hurt as best it can by deflecting blame and/or responsibility. Ego is meant to keep us alive; introspection is meant to help us grow (spiritually). By adopting Bear medicine, we not only wrap ourselves in a serious cloak of protection, we allow ourselves to see through a different set of eyes.
Use this time to go within. Use the stillness of winter to slow down, even despite the rush of the Christmas season. You’ll find you will enjoy the holidays more if you actually participate in the art of being rather than doing. In twenty years, your kids/family/friends/etc. will long remember your actions, not the gifts you gave them. Give yourself permission to go inside and examine what life has taught you this year. Become Bear and move with confidence, knowing you’re protected, you’re strong, and you’re meant to learn.