Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dreaming Wisdom in Winter's Womb

Snow falls in gentle drifts 
blanketing the World 
in icy splendor. 
Listen to Her rumbling voice, 
Powerful and tender, 
as through her dreams 
she sifts… 

“Cradled by a womb of Earth, 
I will teach you to Dream True, 
Think first, 
Choose wisely, 
and act with strength
to Go Within for all answers 
to be a Mother to all, 
including yourself
to Heal through 
introspection and rebirth

Feed upon armored wisdom 
and the golden sweetness of Life! 
Look to the Standing People 
in moments of reflection, 
or strife. 

See me with my child 
roaming the nightly skies? 
You have but to ask, 
 I will most wisely advise 

as a summer breeze. 
as a winter storm. 
is where 
we’re most at ease 
to slumber 
dream deep
dream true 

Black, brown, grizzled or white
We will show you 
how to live 
in perfect Tao” 

Can you guess 
who sings now?

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant, etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Jan Neavil Herschel and Aaron Glendon Gowan for naming this Teacher! 

"Remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors." ~Charles DeLint

"Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together." Anais Nin

"Life is like art. You have to work hard to keep it simple and still have meaning." ~Charles De Lint

Bagheera: "Now this takes brains, not brawn."
Baloo: "You better believe it and I'm loaded with both!"

Grandmother Bear walks the skies with her beloved Cub to remind us of many things. There is a sacred connection between Mother/Father/Elder and Child. Respect, Love, Gratitude, Learning, Trust, and Nurturing should flow in both directions between these people. Sadly, not every child, parent or elder has the benefit of forming good connections between all of these supports. However, it is undeniable that the more of these strong and balanced connections a child has, the better the chances are that he or she will become a strong balanced adult working to live a good life. In this way, we can best carry Society forward. 

There are many varieties of Bear; black, brown, sun, spectacled and pandas just to name the most easily recognizable. Perhaps the most common here in North America would be the Black Bear, although it is most often Grizzlies that people think of when speaking about this amazing Creature Teacher. Polar Bears, like other specially adapted Creatures, carry additional messages and wisdom. Let's take a quick look at all three so that we may better understand this awesome Teacher.

The potent motherly protection embodied by Bear is so well noted that it has become a common misconception that Any bear will attack someone who is "threatening" their cub. Actually this behavior rightly belongs to the mighty Grizzly and not the Black Bear that is found only in North America. Researchers have been known to scoop up a squalling black bear cub right in the face of its approaching mother without receiving so much as a scratch! It is estimated that there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years. While rare, these attacks are typically predatory.

Black bears are generally 4-7' long, large bodied, with a longish snout, rounded ears and a stubby tail. Typically they are dark furred although color may range from black to blond! All bears are amazingly adaptive and can be found in just about any environment; forests, meadows, swamp, burn out areas or even along city waterways! Like other bears, they can stand on their hind legs. They are especially likely to do so whenever they are scenting for something, or when they feel threatened and want to appear larger. Unlike many quadrupeds, their legs on one side move together instead of alternating, much like a pacer horse, and they are naturally flat-footed. Females are mature at ages 3 or four, and can breed every two years. While males reach maturity at the same age, they often aren't large enough to win the right to breed until age 4 or 5. Mating generally takes place in mid-summer, but could occur anywhere from late May to August. First litters are often only one or two cubs. Western US record indicate that 2 cubs are the norm for black bears and Eastern records show that 3 cubs are more common, although as many as Six cubs have been born to one mother! 

Omnivorous, Black bears eat a wide variety of grasses, fruits, nuts, herbs, carrion, and insects as well as the occasional rodent or fawn and the much favored fish and honey. Bears see in color and have excellent close vision. Their tendency to raid garbage, fields and other human areas has, unfortunately, caused humans to react in their typical fashion by killing them in large numbers. In fact, almost all adult bears of every kind die as a direct result of human interaction.Bears have no natural predators, other than man, disease, other bears, and in the case of the polar bear, walrus. Other balancing energies are the deer, ants, bees, and fish that Bear feed upon, and the Trees which Bear relies on so often. Black is the color of wisdom, secrets, mysteries, change, creation, life, death, and intuition.

"Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there".~ Aldo Leopold 

Brown Bears: Both Grizzlies and Kodiaks (my personal favorite) are Brown bears.The Kodiak bear has lived on Kodiak, Afognak, and Shuyak Islands in southwestern Alaska for thousands of years with absolutely no contact with any other bears. Brown bears take in a territory of around 10 to 380 square miles, depending on their size. Berries and fruits of all sorts, roots, bulbs, ground dwelling rodents, whitebark pine nuts,army cutworm moths, carrion, moose, elk, deer, bison, insects (like termite mounds or beehives), mountain goats and sheep all make up the diet of Brown Bear. Coastal Brown Bears, like Kodiaks, also feed heavily on salmon and are likely to be larger than inland bears. All Brown Bears also have a distinctive hump around their shoulders, much like Bison, and with the same totemic values. There is an enormous amount of stored strength there, but it will require our own actions and hard work to achieve desired results.

Grizzlies range in color from white, blonde, brown, black and shades thereof.  The tips of most fur are lighter in color giving them a grizzled effect. Brown bears can weigh 150-200 pounds at the end of their first year of life. Females reach 270 to 770 pounds by eight years, and males can be a whopping one or two times that weight when full grown! They reach sexual maturity between 4 and 5 years and are considered fully grown by 8 to 10 years of age.Kodiak bears can grow to 10 feet long and weigh over 1,000 lbs. Like other bears, the greater a females weight, the greater her chance of conceiving and successfully delivering cubs. Likewise, the larger the male the more likely he is to mate. The number of cubs also depends upon weight of the mother. A mother brown bear will remain with her young for 1 ½ to 3 ½ years. 

While they will feed socially where food is plentiful, bears are typically solitary creatures and do not stay together for long. Bear people, while often charming, tend to be shy, quiet, and/or reclusive too. Brown is the color of Earth, and Bear's four legs reminds us the importance of being properly grounded. The more "out of control" a Bear feels the more likely they are to react with devastating effect. A bear "hug" is noted for it's lethal power and Grizzlies have been known to take down large powerful Elk or Moose with their might paws. Bear people should be mindful of their strength, physically, emotionally, and verbally. I have seen those who lash out in anger or fear. I have also seen those Bear people who are so balanced and self-confident that they can handle a potentially explosive situation by changing from a "smaller" less intimidating posture to a "larger" more cowing presence. Merely by exerting their powerful presence, a Bear can take control of a room full of people! 

Polar Bears: These bears have specially adapted to the Arctic conditions which were named for them. The Greek word for bear is arktos. Polar bears hunt the ice flows for seal or other prey with their camouflaged coats and massive icepick claws.As the ice retreats north during the summer months, polar bears travel with the ice floes and continue to hunt seals.Scientists estimate there are between 25,000 to 40,000 polar bears in the world.  They also believe the polar bear population is divided into 6 core populations, with members of each core never mingling with the other core populations. Although, recent evidence of Polar bear and Grizzly pairings and offspring indicate that the "norm" may have just been thrown out the evolutionary window. Current theories believe that these unprecedented crossbreeding are a direct result of the severe melting occurring in Arctic regions due to global warming.

Likewise, the size of a polar bear’s home range depends upon the annual pattern of freezing and break-up of the sea ice.  A polar bear’s territory may be small if the bear has constant access to ice and seals.  In areas such as Greenland, the Bering Seas or Chukchi, the bears may have to relocate many hundreds of kilometers each year to remain on the ice where they can still hunt seals.  A polar bear learns the seasonal pattern of movements as a cub during the 2 years it remains with its mother (Stirling and Guravich 1990). Male polar bears generally weigh between 770 to 1500 pounds Females usually weigh from 330 to 720 lbs (Lynch 1993), while a super-fat pregnant females may reach as much as 1,100 lbs(Stirling and Guravich 1990). From the bottom of the paw, standing flat on the ground, to the highest point on the shoulder, a polar bear can reach up to 5.3 feet in height.  From the tip of the nose, to the tip of the tail, polar bears generally range from 8 to 8.4 feet in length (Brown 1993). I always found it interesting that Polar bears' ear canals close up when they dive, and each strand of their fur is like a hollow tube trapping heat to keep them warm and dry. This reminds us that Bears' are equipped with a "thick hide", but if emotional waters get too deep, Bear people may stop listening! 

Polar bears have large feet, which help propel them through the water as they swim.  When they are on the ice or snow their feet act as snowshoes by spreading out their weight and keeping the bears from breaking through (Stirling and Guravich 1990).  Their feet are flatter than those of other bears and are useful for shoveling snow when building dens (Brown 1993).  The pads of the polar bear are covered with small papillae (small stiff hairs), which increase friction between the foot and the ice.  There are also small depressions in the pad that function as little suction cups and increase the grip of the polar bear’s paws on the ice when it runs (Stirling and Guravich 1990).

Polar bears can consume up to 150 lbs. of food at one sitting due to their large size and great needs. As a result of this, they can, and often must, go weeks without eating.  April through July, when seal populations are at their peek, are critical times for Polar bears. During the summer months, polar bears will also eat carrion, small pieces of seaweed, grasses, crowberries, lemmings or voles (Lynch 1993).  They also hunt beluga whales and walruses. Polar bears utilize two different types of hunting.  The first is the ‘stalk’ and the second is the ‘still hunt’ (Lynch 1993) Stalking should be a fairly obvious method, but a still hunt is when a bear has found a seal's breathing hole in the ice and waits patiently, for up to an hour, for the seal to surface.With these special adaptations, Polar bears are ferocious and awe inspiring predators! 

From a totemic view this reminds us that Polar Bear people, more so than any other Bear, are incredibly adept at traversing slippery and intuitive slopes in life, but it requires great energy and wisdom. Bear reminds us that everything has a life and a natural rhythm all its' own. Everything happens in good time and measure. Bear people can often times be too harsh or abrupt with themselves or others. Bear people could take out their frustrations or emotions on others, but they are just as likely to beat themselves up brutally where no one else can hear them. It is often this intolerance and over-demanding of Self that leads good Bears astray. Not only is this a tearing away of self and strength, once they begin rationalizing to themselves that some unreasonable request of themselves is, in fact, is a quick step to begin making unreasonable demands on others. 

Bears, for example, tend to be very responsible individuals. Feeling guilty and overly responsible for circumstances beyond their control, say loosing a job through downsizing and being unable to support the family, are potentially very self-destructive situations for Bear people. They feel, against all reason, that they have "failed" and beat themselves up internally. All too soon, they begin to feel hurt and betrayed by loved or trusted individuals who have likewise "let them down" by not living up to such unreasonable expectations. In some cases, these attitudes would only result in depression, anger, blame, etc, but in others in can actually result in aggression and abuse. Bears are powerful and Bear people should be ever mindful of their thoughts, actions, and words.

After mating in spring, the female has only a few months to store away large deposits of fat before she needs to den in the fall.  She must gain up to 440 lbs of fat in order to have a successful pregnancy! In spring and summer, the pregnant bear will feed upon ringed seal pups that have been recently weaned.  This super abundance of seals enables the female to accumulate fat quickly (Stirling 1990). In late October the pregnant bear will come ashore and walk from snowbank to snowbank until she finds an appropriate place to build her den (Stirling 1990).  Dens are usually single chambers, slightly elevated from the entrance tunnel so warmer air remains with mother and cubs.  The den is usually about 6 ½ feet by 5 feet in size, and approximately 3 feet in height (Stirling 1990).  Entrance tunnels are long and narrow – about 2 feet in diameter.  Some bears will occasionally dig a 2 or 3-room “complex” (Stirling 1990). Two-thirds of all births result in twins.  Single cubs account for 20-30% of all births.  Triplets do occur but in most cases one of the cubs does not survive.Young are born in late November through early January weighing between 1 and 1-½ lbs.  Like other bears, their eyes are closed at birth, and male cubs are usually larger than the female cubs

Cubs learn from their mother by watching and copying her movements and behavior.  They watch everything she does and will also sniff the same places their mother has sniffed.  When the mother begins to stalk for food, the cubs will lie down and not move until she is finished her hunt.  They remain patient and well behaved.  Occasionally when a cub becomes “rowdy” the mother will cuff the cub, and vocalize.  The cub soon learns to remain silent and observe the mother’s movements.  Yearlings and 2-year-old cubs hunt approximately 4 - 7% of the time.  Mother bears spend 35% of their time hunting (Stirling 1990). 

Bear people have a tendency to "mother" or gravitate toward a teaching role. The trick is not to be too heavy handed in such a role and know when, where and how to let go. You don't "protect" a child by never allowing them to do anything for themselves or make their own decisions or mistakes. You don't help a friend, co-worker, relative or spouse by criticizing them or being too assertive. Bear people need to remember to lighten up and not take everything too seriously all the time. Sometimes relaxing, doing nothing but enjoying life, is the most necessary action we can take. White is the color of purity, protection, blessings, wisdom and overall healing. While not a Polar bear, remember the words of Baloo from Disney's The Jungle Book...

"And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life!"

Hibernation: The length and depth of hibernation is genetically programmed to match the regional norms of food availability. In northern states where food is scarcer, bears may hibernate for up to seven months deeply enough to not awaken even after being prodded or shaken, but in southern states where food is more readily available year round bears may not hibernate at all. Unlike smaller hibernating animals, bears are able to stay in this state without rousing themselves every few days to defecate and raise body temps over 94 degrees. Highly efficient hibernators, bears sleep for months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating!   

Black bears have far more insulating pelts and have lower surface to mass ratios than the smaller hibernators.  As a result, bears' body heat is lost very slowly, enabling them to cut their metabolic rate in half and still make it through winter, maintaining temperatures above 88 degrees--within 12 degrees of their normal summer temperature. Mother bears wake from hibernation to birth cubs and will take excellent care of them throughout the rest of their hibernating period, responding to cries and movement. While a cub is conceived during the summer months, it's embryo will remain dormant until the mother reaches her hibernation state that year, around which time the embryo will attach to the uterine wall and begin developing. 

Hibernation, periods of solitude and retreat, and other introspective/self-nuturing actions are vital to a Bear's well being. Bear people tend to take their time when making decisions, sometimes too much time! However, it is always wise to take the time to properly examine and contemplate a situation before deciding on what the correct action should be in that given circumstance. Bear people just need to remember that sometimes it is just as vital to retreat for pleasure and re-energizing, as it is is to make a decision or take an action. Bear people tend to go and go until they drop right off the edge, sometimes right into sleep! Take a step back and give yourself some breathing room.

"Dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask."  ~X-Files

Dreams are illustrations... from the book your soul is writing about you.  ~Marsha Norman
I think we dream so we don't have to be apart so long.  If we're in each other's dreams, we can play together all night.  "~Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes~

"Dream True"~ Charles De Lint

Obviously, Bears are great Dreamers, infamous for their ability to hibernate. Lucid dreaming and Dreamtime in general are popular stomping grounds for Bear and Bear people. It is most often through our Dreams that Bear will reach through to alert, teach or heal us. Most likely this is because it is only during this state of swimming through our own unconscious are we truly receptive. For example, when there is something "wrong" or "bad" in our lives, we are more likely to see, understand and accept it on an unconscious level first. Many times people will rail to others and themselves that they knew "somehow" a spouse was cheating, a child was in trouble, a friend was betraying trust, or grandmother was dying. 

These types of truths are painful. During our conscious states, how many of us would want to accept that our spouse is unfaithful, a beloved child doing illegal or dangerous things, or a cherished elder preparing to leave us forever? Even if the subtle evidence we have picked up on is true, most people will resist such painful types of Truth at least once before exploring the possibility consciously. As always, pay attention to your dreams and intuitions! Painful or not, it will only get steadily worse if we continue to reject Truth. Keep a notebook and pen, or a recording device beside your bed to immediately capture first impressions upon waking. Like the High Priestess card in a Tarot deck, whatever questions and turmoils are currently stirring in your life, if you look within you will find the answer you already knew in your intuitive heart to be True. 

Bear reminds us to "find our north"; to find, define, practice and remain true to our guiding principles. It should be obvious that if you are practicing beliefs which are harmful or infringe on the rights of another being, than they can't be in harmony with the Universe and Truth in it's largest sense. In the rich, warm and creative environment of Dreams, Bear can help us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world, clearer vision, better decisions, boosting our adaptive abilities, and the strength to act on what needs attention. 

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." ~Shakespeare 

"The best people are like water. They benefit all things, and do no compete with them. They settle in low places, one with Nature, one with Tao." ~ Lao Tzu

A balanced Bear in general is a Great Teacher and represents everything truly respected in a Leader; wisdom, moderation, fair and sound decision making skills, intuition, nuturing, modesty/humility, strength, mindfulness of community, honesty and charm. Considered a strong feminine energy, Bear is much desired for males. A man's role in life is meant to be protective towards those who are loved and cherished. To properly fufill that role a man must be both powerful and decisive, and loving and humble. When reading Profiles in Wisdom: Native Elders speak about the Earth by Steve McFadden, I read something which really clicked with me. I don't have the exact quote at hand, nor do I remember which Elder actually said it, (I'll fill that in when I can check it at the library again). However, the gist of what she said was... When the men in our lives forget or are incapable of nurturing (a woman's goal in life), our own protective natures are awoken and we try to take on their role. This only throws us all further off balance as the longer and harder women try to take on the Protector roles, the more likely we are to forget our own nurturing selves. 

The World needs more Compassion and attitudes of Universal Love, which are feminine strengths. Strong protective instincts are a wonderful quality, however we should never forget  that our best defense is not aggressive, but compassionate! We must be as nurturing and loving with ourselves as we should be with the world at large, and this is a constant balancing act. I suppose it is because Life can be very harsh, and People don't always think about their instinctive reactions and interactions with the World. However, quite contrary to what most folks seem to believe, Compassion in its' proper place and time is a tremendous strength. Steady Bear in all her forms can show us how best to develop this nurturing environment for ourselves, and how to share this creative, evolving positive energy with the World. 

Mother bears may be a bit gruff, but they expect attention from their "cubs" if they truly wish to learn how best to survive in this life, as evidenced by Polar bear cubs bright eyed, obedient and attentive silence as she hunts. The Jungle Book's beloved Baloo the bear was a jovial and loving Teacher to young Mowgli, but even he knew that there comes a time when we must let our "cub" go off on their own to make their own way in life. Bear people need to realize this too. Unbalanced bear people may be making too many decisions for others, children or otherwise, even if they feel that they are doing so out of loving and positive intentions. Aggression, violence, self-destructive behavior, and even, in rare cases, cannibalism (like other totems, Primate for example) are another spectrum of unbalanced Bear symptoms.

"With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity." Keshavan Nair

" Love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image... otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. " ~Author Unknown

"You'll discover that real love is millions of miles past falling in love with anyone or anything. When you make that one effort to feel compassion instead of blame or self-blame, the heart opens again and continues opening." "As you continue to send out love, the energy returns to you in a regenerating spiral... As love accumulates, it keeps your system in balance and harmony. Love is the tool, and more love is the end product."  ~Sara Paddison, Hidden Power of the Heart

Wise, courageous, and loving, Grandmother and Grandfather Bear sit in the North to remind us always to turn with Gratitude and Love towards each new challenge in life. North is the direction of kindness, gratitude, purification, protection, and Divine energy. Strength, stamina, peaceful warriors, and physical protection are represented by the direction North and the color white, and sometimes purple. With age comes wisdom. The more "snow" an Elder has on their roof, the more they are due our respect. Bear reminds us that it is our sacred duty to respect, care for, and protect Elders, Children and Women. These qualities are also why Men sit in this position on the Medicine Wheel. Bear, men, deer, women, wolf, children, bison, elder, the elements, the directions, Divinity...we all have our place on the wheel, none higher or lower than the other. All worthy of respect, and desirous of Love. 

Balance is not an easy thing to maintain, and we all take a wrong step, stumble or even crash dramatically upon occasion. However, the abundance of disrespect around the World is a clear sign of just how out of balance we, collectively, have become. More than any other totem for me, Bear teaches us to "go within" to the "cave" of our soul and examine our selves for ways to nurture and practice these positive attitudes in our lives. It is not easy to think or act charitably towards those who harm us in some way, even if it is as simple as a case of someone who's behavior annoys us, let alone those who do true and malicious damage to our lives. It is easy to respond instinctively, and devastatingly, like a "grumpy bear" just rousing from hibernation. Yet, we do not truly want to invite such destruction into our own lives, and must strive always to respond with the wisdom, kindness, humility, and courage of a truly a truly Awakened Bear. Bear people should be especially careful of anything altering their sleep patterns (snoring, sleep disorders, poor sleeping conditions, etc), heart problems, and unhealthy weight gain, as well as aggression or acts of violence (either delivered or tolerated). These things will attack the body, mind and even the spirit of a balanced bear, causing severe changes in behavior and mood, and are ultimately the bullets which will bring a Bear down. 

Bears at their best are much needed in these troubled times. A loving and balanced view between Sense and Sensibility is a Bear trademark and should be not only sought after, but encouraged to develop at every stage in life.  We all experience metaphorical Winter's, or find the need to retreat into our own sacred space for contemplation or renewal from time to time. Bear shows us how best to utilize and live through these times. This piece is lovingly devoted to the Bears in my own life, grumpy or otherwise, with the hope that we might all cultivate a "bear necessities" attitude in our lives! How does Bear appear in your life?

"I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers." ~Kahlil Gibran

"(The) Great suffer hours of depression through introspection and self-doubt. That is why they are great. That is why you will find modesty and humility the characteristics of such men." ~Bruce Barton

"The philosophy of the wisest man that ever existed, is mainly derived from the act of introspection." ~William Godwin

Works sited:
Stirling and Guravich. Polar Bears. 1990. 1st edition. 
Brown 1993, Gary. The Great Bear Almanac. 1993. 

Lynch 1993, Wayne. Bears- Monarchs of the Northern Wilderness. 1993. 1st edition. (the Mountaineers Publishing Co.) 

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