A year ago this August, I was in the Colorado wilderness when a black bear, curiously, bit me. I still shake my head at how lucky I am to have walked away with relatively minor injuries and no permanent damage. I attribute this, in part, to decades of practicing what to do in the face of a mountain lion attack. I was taught: get as big as possible, outstretching your arms; cry out from your belly; do not run away (as this is acting like prey) and if necessary, fight back. When I felt the bear’s fangs bite into my arm, my instincts took over. What I had learned about warding off mountain lions had clearly become second nature. I got “big”, forcefully outstretched my arms and continued bellowing from a deeply primal voice within. Today, I can celebrate life.
I asked a Native American man what his tribe’s interpretation of a bear bite is and he said, “it’s a wake up call”. I must say this was quite literal in my situation, since I was sleeping when the bear collapsed my pup tent. Admittedly, there were also many self delusions and obscurations I needed to “wake up” from. The Tibetan Buddhists believe a bite from a fanged animal is a blessing, clearing obstacles to one’s spiritual growth. I have found comfort in this view. Being human, I continue to face the upheavals that self clinging creates, all the while motivated to be of service. As Naomi Newman says, “you fall down and get up, it’s all one movement”.
Living in an urban jungle I’ve been more mistrustful of humans then wildlife, even while hiking in nature. What I didn’t consider is that bears have distinct personalities and they vary as much as human personalities do. Like humans, some bears act out of character but generally are not vicious. Of course, bears and humans share the sweet spot in nature, at an altitude where food grows. This fact requires mindfulness to live in harmony with one another. It’s probably best while camping not to tempt a bear and sleep with honey water on your face. It’s wise to pee far away from your tent because, in times of drought, human urination is like a salt lick for wildlife. Like us, bears habitually travel the same path to food sources so, pitch your tent away from acorns and berry patches and hang your food from trees.
In a recent meditation exercise, I experienced bear wisdom as informed embodiment, a fearless and vital sensing of life through all pores. The lesson for me isn’t to continue a defended approach to life but rather, to commit myself to a soft belly and straight spine and being absolutely aware of my interconnectedness with all beings. It’s important to listen to my instincts and intuition and respond accordingly. When I feel like I am being watched, I probably am. I’ve noticed that if I ask how to harmonize with my surroundings the answers come. It seems nature and wildlife are more than willing to communicate, the key is enhancing the skill of listening and being willing to act compassionately, at times, fiercely so.
Last month I spent the anniversary of my bear encounter in the Colorado wilderness with friends. Early morning several of us hiked up a mountain peak, meditated at sunrise and shared our intentions for the coming year. We finished our practice with a “call to the wild” a celebratory “ah, la, la, ho”. In perfect synchronicity our call was acknowledged by several bears whose guttural voices resounded through the valley below. I imagine they were also letting one another know where they were located, in relation to us, on that glorious morning.
BEARS IN SONOMA COUNTY
This month LandPaths is putting on “BEAR AWARE, LIVING WITH BEARS IN WEST COUNTY” September 19, 2014 7-8:30PM at Salmon Creek Auditorium. I look forward to hearing what the speaker, Meghan Walla-Murphy has to say.
Black bears definitely still reside in Sonoma County. I remember one real estate broker cancelled a tour to his property listing because a bear was hanging out at the poolside and alternately swinging from a tree, literally making himself at home. Of course, we agents chuckled and appreciated the heads up. Other home and ranch owners have inadvertently hosted bears who have fed on their home grown bounty, fished in their ponds, or feasted on other food sources like compost and trash. I was impressed with a newsletter article on Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s website, Living In Bear Country and their willingness to embrace the bear by “intentionally reconsidering our inhabitation practices”.
I am thankful to people who have devoted themselves to cultivating a mindful relationship to wildlife and the natural realm and recognize this in spiritual practices, discussions with friends, artists, biologists, rangers, wilderness guides, nature photographers and local organizations like LandPaths and Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (to name a few). In gratitude for your wisdom, I bow.