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Lessons from the Black Bears: Cultivating Peace with All Living Creatures

 

“When you are steadfast in your abstention from thoughts of harm directed at yourself or others, all living creatures cease to feel fear in your presence.”

—Patanjali

 

As a child I experienced the solace, peace, and beauty of nature at an early age. I discovered quickly that nature felt reliable, steady, and comforting. The birds and squirrels lived their lives peacefully with one another. I found harmony with fallen leaves, twigs, dirt, and worms. It is no surprise that I feel little fear today of the black bears that have visited us on the side of a mountain in North Carolina.

 

Several sightings of and encounters with black bears where I now live delight me. I experience a giddy and gleeful childlike joy and often rush to find my phone/camera to capture their beauty and gracefulness. I know not to get between a mother and her cub. A mama bear and her cub appeared above the bushes across the driveway. I heard papa bear cracking the sticks and shrubs around him before he emerged onto our private one car lane of steep inclines and hairpin turns. My standard wire-haired dachshund barked at him and this startled him back up the mountain. I feel like a grown up Goldilocks.

 

I discovered Mama Bear and Baby Bear in back of the Jeep having a tailgate with the snacks that had been stored in the compartment between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. The Jeep finally got the deep clean it had needed since we moved this past summer. We laughed with relief that the Jeep hadn’t been clawed to shreds. I didn’t get to my phone in time to take a photo and I wish I could push a button on my chin and that Polaroid images or a video could whir out my forehead. The images remain inside of me clear and colorful.

 

Some people continue to ask me, “Aren’t you afraid when you see the bears?” And the question surprises me. It doesn’t even occur to me to be frightened. I’m certainly awake, aware, and in awe, but I’m not afraid. I hold a deep reverence for the bears, maybe all of life.

 

It seems I’ve found a deep peace in the very core of me that cannot be disturbed by bears, people, or life events. The harsh judgments of self and others seem to have washed away. This took countless hours of many types of therapies, daily meditation, a conscious choice to shift my attention to what I appreciate, exercise, and probably some things I haven’t yet identified. What I experience now is a dynamic equilibrium with occasional waves of sadness and grief mixed with bursts of joy and utter happiness. Mostly, I’ve found this place of solid calm. It helps that I’m surrounded by exquisite beauty everyday and everywhere I go. Experiencing a sense of safety and comfort in my own skin and in the mountains brings fulfillment and freedom.

 

Having almost lost my son to suicide, I now find there’s little that terrifies or agitates me. He’s thriving now and I know what I care about. I know what I value. I make different choices about how I spend my time than I did five years ago. Becoming a loving and compassionate human being became more important to me than the hustle and the struggle. Fear and anger began to feel like a waste of my life energy. “We’ll see” became a calming mantra.

 

Maybe you continue to struggle with fears, agitations, anger, and grief. Maybe you wonder if these are the only persistent emotions you’ll ever experience in your heart. Maybe today you can choose for a few moments to focus on what and whom you love. Maybe you can commit to that steadfast abstention from thoughts of harm directed at yourself or anyone else. You might slowly replace those thoughts with gentle body movements. Can you place your hands on your heart and feel what it aches for? Is it love, tenderness, goodness, kindness, or companionship? Maybe you could finally make that phone call and get the support you deserve for your being here matters. You really are loved more than you can even imagine. And maybe like the black bears, you can begin to seek out the honey amidst the brambles and branches of being alive.

 

 

 

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