First, I am mortally terrified of bears. It’s a phobia. Not sure why or when that happened. I grew up in a small town in the mountains. Bears convened regularly at the dump on the outskirts of town, right next to an abandoned field we kids used to play in, building forts a collecting garden snakes. You could see the bears on the horizon, a quarter their usual size, going about their business. I don’t remember ever being overly afraid of them. I was more afraid of dogs, because I was bitten a few times. Bears? You leave them alone, they leave you alone.
But as an adult I have this fear. It could be because of this crazy documentary I saw about this bear biologist who got eaten by a grizzly – what was it called? Oh yeah! Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog. Ak! That movie warped my brain. I hadn’t realized that bears actually eat people, occasionally. Then there are stories in the paper here and there (where I live anyways) about black bear maulings or that time that couple up in the Kootenays ran into a grizzly in the forest and it tried to eat the guy’s head?
Oh I know about those bears, they’ll getcha.
This fear has kept me out of the forest, to my dismay.
Then a few years ago they started showing up in my dreams. Always chasing me or chasing someone I love. Bear has come in my dreams more than any other animal. People give me gifts with bears on them. Bears show up spontaneously in my shamanic journeys.
So I’m in a new group these days. It’s like a Wheel – we meet for a weekend each season with its corresponding direction – and because this is a Celtic Wheel so we also meet at the centre.
We’ve had two weekends so far this year, the North and the East. In the North we met each other for the first time – it’s a large group – around 30 of us, which is quite different from my last group of 5. Anyways I was nervous – people make me nervous generally – but really happy to be there. These Wheel weekends have become quite precious to me, as a mom, wife and She-Who-Runs-Everything, weekends away mean no one is asking me for anything. It’s all for me.
But – I was nervous and so of course my heart was acting up. (the Grave’s disease makes my heart run high).
baboom baboom baboom
On day two it was really bugging me. What happens is, it starts to race, and I get these thyroid rushes that feel like adrenaline, which gives me anxiety, which makes my heart race more. I get out of breath, chest pains, general discomfort.
SO this was happening when we had a check in and the antler came to me which meant it was my turn to share with the group. I didn’t know what to say, other than to express my frustration. We had done some journeying and none of it had made any sense to me. I felt blocked. Like somehow I was getting in my own way. I decided as an afterthought to share the dream I had the night before. I had a dream that there was a grizzly bear in the house. It was tearing up the pantry, eating everything, destroying the furniture. Then, I realized that I was the bear. And I was furious!
I’m the fucking bear!! Are you serious? I was so angry that I had a grizzly sized tantrum and wrecked the rest of the house.
“Weird dream right?” I said to the group, “and it’s funny because I am terrified of bears!”
At this point I was shaking like a leaf, my heart still, thud thud thud. Why am I sick? What am I not getting?
thud thud thud
Our teacher was looking at me intently – suddenly got up and grabbed something from her things and came over to me. Said,
“Someone gave me this, this morning. Now I know why. I think you should just hold it in your hands for a while.”
She put a grizzly bear vertebra in my hand.
She said (paraphrase),
“You have too much energy inside of you. You are too tiny to hold it all. Direct it to go through you into the ground, into mama-earth. And let this bone ground you. Bear is with you here. Mama Dear is also holding space for you.”
She sat with me for a time, with her hands on my hands, and this is in front of 30 people mind you! Slowly, slowly as I directed the energy down and out of me, I stopped shaking, started breathing deeply and my heart actually slowed down! It was crazy. I have never been able to slow my heart before with a Graves attack. It’s like hours of heart racing usually. It’s not like you can do some deep breathing and it will go away.
I kept the vertebra for the rest for the day – fawned over it, drew sketches. Huge thing, as big as my one hand.
A few months later I met with another group and the same teacher for an evening. We journeyed for each other. We were to look for the answer to the question the person was asking – but of course we would not know the question ourselves. The woman who journeyed for me saw a white picket fence with a bear-skin laying in front of it. A big white house with sun shining through it from the back door to the front.
The next weekend we had with the big group in the East, we were sent on a journey to find another guide in our pack – our ‘body protector’. This is the spirit who watches over you as you sleep, when you go out-of-body and on shamanic journeys. But this time we were to journey for someone else in the group to find their animal for them. It was to be anonymous, so we pulled numbers out of a hat. We each would have an anonymous partner who would be journeying for us, and we for them. We were to ask our power animal to take us to the body protector of the person whose number we had. Once we had them, we had to do a ceremony to give them to the person.
Once the journey was over, our partners were revealed to us. Imagine my surprise when my partner leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Grizzly Bear”.
featured image, “She Kissed a Bear on the Nose” by John Bauer 1880-1918