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  • Writer's pictureilana

Becoming the Bear

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

How much bear are you anyway?

Photo of this sassafrass little bear cub by my mom, Ivonne Gustafson, from our trip to Kings Canyon National Park.

When I see a wild animal, I wonder what lessons can be drawn from its nature. Its essence.

When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life I began to notice red-tailed hawks. I would be at the bottom of a pit of worry and look up to see a hawk, which would draw me back out of the hole. I started to associate them with maintaining a wide perspective. They soar above their surroundings where they can gain a clear vantage point. I have since taken a hawk sighting as a reminder of this capacity in myself to step out of the trap of over-thinking, take a breath, and soar above the situation.

Each wild animal encountered has the capacity to offer such unique inspiration.

Still from an iphone video of a hawk circling above me.

The other night, right as I was settling in to sleep, I heard some shuffling outside. I live in a place that is nestled in the mountain foothills. It happens. Critters scurrying around the brush is a usual occurrence. I knew this time, however, it was something worth investigating further when my usually mellow cat jumped out of bed and cautiously approached the window. That low-and-slow-things-are-not-normal sort of cat walk.

I looked out of the window and a juvenile black bear was perched on the side of the hill about ten feet from me, but with a pane of glass between us. She didn’t notice me because she was focused on how to get down the steep 60 degree angle of the hillside without completely tumbling down. She managed to partly slide, partly leap her way down into a narrow canyon below my window until all I could see was a cloud of dust from the hillside she took along with her. My cats and I were then staring out the window for several minutes in a state of awe.

Footage of me and my cats after seeing the bear.

I have seen several bears in my lifetime. In campgrounds, on trails, and on the property I currently live. Every time I am in the presence of a bear I am taken aback by the magnetism of this being. It takes up space in a particular way that radiates widely outward. As a comparison, I’ve seen other wild animals, like bobcats. They have a strong presence as well, but in their own singular way. A bobcat’s presence is more sharp, focused, and contained.

If a bobcat were a person on a metro train, they would be one of those people who seem to defy the physics of the doors and slink in calmly as they are closing. They would be completely absorbed in whatever it is they were listening to on their headphones, unfazed by the chaos of the train. You wouldn’t be able to keep your eyes off them. They would be aware that you’re staring, but they wouldn’t show it. If a bear were a person on a metro train, they would be an oblivious spreader - those people who sit with their legs spread apart and all their stuff encroaching on “your space”. They’d probably also be listening to music without their headphones. Not because they’re jerks, simply because they lack the shame that often accompanies politeness.

One is a sharp point of focused energy, the other a wide, spacious energy.

Looking sharp, bobcat. Photo by The Nature Conservancy.

After I saw the bear, I had a hard time going back to sleep. I attributed this partly to the excitement of the sighting, but it also had to do with the ripple effect of its powerful presence. Long after it sauntered off the cats and I sat dumbfounded, under the spell of its largeness.

"While Eeyore frets... and Piglet hesitates... and Rabbit calculates... and Owl pontificates... Pooh just is."

- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao Of Pooh

I began to think about how I move through the world. Which is oftentimes apologetically. It can be challenging for me to feel a sense of belonging or permission to exist in a space. The bear, on the other hand, is fully there, wherever it finds itself. It inhabits a place without inhibition. It is ready to engage, to play, to explore. In this way, the bear is a perfect symbol of the fool. The fool is not riddled with the shame most of us have been conditioned to carry. Their attention is not instructed by self-consciousness, but rather, guided by curiosity.

More bear sass brought to you by Ivonne Gustafson.

Sure, bears can be considered a nuisance because of this inhibition - or what you could call their sense of curiosity. Particularly this time of year, the end of fall, they are motivated to find food. And as much of it as possible. This means that if a careless neighbor leaves their trash unsecured the bear will knock it over and make a mess of it in search of their leftover pizza. They will also saunter right into an open kitchen door and raid the pantry, as happened to one of my neighbors last fall. One bear cub even found a bottle of molasses and went to town. The clean up of the aftermath of that bear's exploration lasted months.

I’m not advocating for us to all be “spreaders” on the train or to make an impossible molasses mess of each other’s kitchens. But maybe it’s okay if we’re an accidental nuisance. If our sticky molasses fingers are a byproduct of us letting go of some of our self-consciousness. How can we embrace our innate right to exist, and allow our presence to radiate outward without shame? I imagine myself as the bear and I feel the possibility for my large-ness, of my belonging where I am. I feel the permission to let my curiosity reign supreme over my fear. How would some of us experience the world differently if we could become a bit more bear?


Journaling Prompt*

In what ways would you behave differently if you could find your inner bear?

Leave a comment below or email I'd love to hear your reflections.

*Journaling tips can be found here.


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