I have a thing for bears. It started years ago when I lived in Boise, Idaho. I was working for a book store with a woman quite a few years older. I saw her as a mentor. She was going through a separation from her husband and had moved from a big house in the foothills to a smaller house in town. She had dream catchers hanging from the doorways and tapestries hanging on the walls. She was a healer trapped in the circumstances of her past mistakes. She was about to take flight. She was breaking free. We talked for hours about spirituality, loss, depression, books, the nature of nature and the power of animals. She introduced me to shamanism. That was my way into myself. The first steps I took towards a life I knew I could trust beyond all comprehension and reason.
We assembled a small group of close friends for our first circle. It was on a full moon. She agreed to drum while the rest of us went on a journey inside ourselves to a beat pounding in time with our hearts. She instructed that we were to start from higher ground. It could be whatever and wherever we imagined it to be. We were to follow a path down into the earth. As we moved, we would see various animals, but once we had connected with our spirit animal, we would know. We could follow the animal, we could present any questions we needed and the animal would respond in its own way. When the sound of the drum beat changed, it was time to give thanks for the lessons we had learned, turn around and come back to consciousness following the path we had created. We thanked the sky, the earth, and the four directions.
When the drum circle started, I envisioned myself standing at the top of a mountainside. I followed a well-worn path careful to step over the unearthed roots. I could feel the breeze on my face, hear the chirping of birds. A deer approached and ran off. At a fork in the path, I walked to the left and discovered the entrance to a cave. I climbed up the low rock wall and entered the blackness. It smelled damp. Inside there was a lit candle next to a small clay pot with red paint in it. With my fingers, I painted lines across my cheeks and forehead as if it were a ritual I had done a thousand times before. I held the candle up. On the walls, I could see crude drawings of people cooking and hunting as well as alligators, snakes, birds and buffalo. I went deeper inside the cave and the walls got closer and closer until I was crawling in a tunnel. Water streamed between my hands and knees. A snake snuck past me and fear took hold. I continued to breathe, I continue to move. At the end of the cave, there was a meadow. Wild grass and flowers were blowing in the wind. It was the most peaceful place I had ever experienced. I walked until I found a stream and there he was. The biggest bear I could have ever imagined approached me. I sat down knowing this was my animal.
He sat down next to me. I asked if he was the one. He nodded. I asked if he would be willing to speak to me. He nodded. I asked, “Will I ever find love?” He laughed loudly and spoke in a voice that I could only describe as Bill Cosby-like, “Is that really what you’re going to ask me?” I got defensive. I mean, this is my heart we’re talking about. He told me that I already was loved. I just had to open my eyes and ears to all of it swimming around me. I asked if I was on the right path. He said, “You have only begun to realize where life is going to take you. You are going to look back and be amazed at what you’ve accomplished with this life.” He went on to say that in less than three months, I would leave Idaho. I would move back to the land closer to my family. The opportunity of a lifetime would fall in my lap. It will change the course of your life forever. You must stay open, keep your heart open and be willing to say yes. I was shocked. I didn’t imagine a life for myself outside of Idaho. Wasn’t it amazing enough that I had struck out on my own and moved there of all the places in the world from Cleveland, Ohio? He said it would be helpful if I talked to him regularly. He was always here for me. He was my guide. As the drum beat changed, I could feel the brittle coarseness of his coat against my cheek as we hugged goodbye. I followed the path exactly the way I had entered. Careful to blow out the candle as I left the cave.
A few months later, the phone rang and a job opportunity was offered. It had never existed before. I hadn’t applied. I said yes with an open heart. I’ve journeyed many times to speak to my bear since that first night. I’ve since learned that it’s a rare thing to have your spirit animal speak, but I guess we all uncover what we need to learn in the ways we are most able to receive it. I love a good conversation.