“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~ Mary Oliver
I’m still collecting my thoughts around the coincidence of two bear dreams. They were not dreams I had. They were dreams that two friends had of me and a bear.
These two friends had these dreams about 6 years apart from each other. Both dreamers were located in Southern Appalachia, black bear country in these parts. And, both knew me pretty well.
In both dreams, a vehicle (I think it was a Jeep with its top off in both dreams) was going down a dirt road in the mountains. Eventually I would be with them on or near the hood of the Jeep as a bear or bears approached.
In one dream, I reached out to stroke the face of one of the bears to show my friend that it’s ok. …I wanted to show him that the bears wouldn’t hurt us while my friend frantically tried to shrink and hide.
In the other dream, and I will never forget this image, my friend told me that I walked to the front of the Jeep and the bear started to approach me. My friend had an iron skillet and lifted it as if to hit the bear on the head.
I held my hand up to her to tell her that there was no need to hit the bear. About that time in the dream, the bear lifted its large, hairy self into my arms and let me hold it, indeed, in a bear hug.
After I realized that I had been in two very similar dreams with similar themes with two different friends, I contemplated what I could be representing in their dreams (as well as the bear). Soon, I realized that both friends had been dealing with pretty dark depressions. And, they both knew that I had my rendezvous with severe depression back in 2002-2006.
With what I know about the symbolism and nature of bears, this made sense.
Bear energy is what I associate with the “dark mother” energy. She is a deep nurturer and a fierce protector. She can also give us tough lessons that are quite difficult in the short run but transform us on a deep level so that we can live a more authentic life. And, by that, I mean more authentic to our primal nature…with an understanding of our intuition and instincts.
Bear is not afraid to go into the depths and dig out the deepest of unskillful roots and wounded parts of our psyche. She will go in and meticulously follow these roots to their end, grab a hold, and pull them out…so that they can be looked at, realized, and transformed.
She teaches us that sometimes we need to “hibernate” and go into dark spaces to give birth to new parts of ourselves. She knows that there is a rhythm to this hibernation that is unique to each of us. If we disregard the invitation to turn inward or retreat for too long, her intensity builds until there is some implosion in our lives.
As well, she knows that some like to burrow in dark caves and never come out; they are too comfortable here. But, she lives in the cave and walks in the sun. She teaches us that we can spiritually starve in the cave if we rest in there too long.
This lunar creature also teaches us the importance of the darkness and not to fear it, although fear is a valid and healthy response to what bear requires of us. We also learn to hold respect for the lessons from the dark recesses of our psyche. It’s very powerful stuff that can show us important details on how to move forward in our life if we can see things clearly (in the dark, that is).
It’s no surprise that one friend asked if I had any mugwort for her to get to know and experiment with. Mugwort, a lunar medicine, with a silvery sheen under its leaves, helps us work with dreams and the dreamtime. It has helped quite a few people begin to remember their dreams if they are having trouble with this or clear up their vision when dreaming so that they remember more details.
Simply placing a bundle of mugwort under your pillow will do. As well, you can take 1-3 drops of mugwort tincture before bedtime.
I definitely sense that cultivating the ability to go into the darkness is paramount right now in our modern culture. Everything is lit up, exciting and stimulating in this culture…the wounds and traumas that invariably wait for us in our psychic landscape is not particularly appealing to most people.
And, unfortunately…if we don’t sift through difficult material waiting for us in the dark…we never get to experience the actual luminosity of being in the dark. The difficult material actually clouds our ability to experience the gifts of the dark. The quiet. The stillness. The dream-like quality of it all. The shadow. The beautiful eeriness.
Bear can teach us how to be present for the dark times…and, eventually, find the beauty…so that we can find more freedom in walking between the light and the dark.
Most of us (me included) have to be pushed into the dark by some cataclysmic life event. And, I get it. Who would want to sort out this stuff? Depending on the person, it can be quite intense! In my other blog post (linked above), where I write about my experience with the “dark night of the soul,” I write:
Later, I realized that I was born and raised in a culture that loved the flower and systematically avoided the rot and compost of the soil. We love the shine, but not the slime. As the Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hanh says, “no mud, no lotus.”
To wade through my own mud was a herculean effort. I saw no merit in the muck. I saw no glimmer of hope in the rot. I was not being rewarded, exalted, or famed for being in pain. I was not being cheered on for confronting it.
And, this is true. Our culture loves the rise and not the fall. It loves the stimulation but not the nothingness.
Fortunately, we are slowly getting the tools on how to navigate these dark waters. Writers, healers and artists are beginning to share their journeys. I think this is incredibly important to map out the terrain of the “dark mother” so that we can go there to heal instead of getting stuck or paralyzed (what else would we do if we saw a bear?).
One of these friends reflected to me that it’s hard to walk in the world feeling depressed. Everything is so fast, stimulating, and up-beat.
I knew about this feeling. There is some strange shame or guilt associated with dark things that we carry. Maybe because shame can sometimes make up the content of this darkness. Many times it is not even a personal shame. It is a cultural shame. Sometimes a family shame. And, it is heavy. But, we have to carry it and transform it.
I told this friend, “don’t believe what you see.”
That’s caffeine, or sugar, or drugs talking… People aren’t really feeling this way. This is just the momentum at which society is moving… We are caught in its wave. We are all coping with our current situation right now and we all have our ways of dealing with it.
“What we need more of,” I told her, “are people showing up raw, feeling their feelings, and being present to what is unfolding.” There is so little of that in the world. Oh, so little…
I encouraged her to find her own rhythm if she could. Show up in the world just as she was and how she was feeling. Know that she was not alone. And, just be present.
With the rise of pharmaceutical drugs and opioids to handle the terrain of the dark, instead of community, nutrition, herbs, dreams, and time…I have great concern over our ability to go through rites of passage which dark times require of us.
In 2016, we had 1 in 6 Americans on a psychiatric drug. I think that most people do not need drugs. Some people may need a drug to cross over a bridge to get their footing. While a very small percentage may require more support from medication.
As well, in 2016 we had are highest amount of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses. That number? A staggering 59,000+.
However, we are finally beginning to see that there are no magic bullets for the dark times. More than ever, an increase in our social and psycho-spiritual technologies are needed to help guide those through their upside-down sojourn. And, the ability to think (and live) outside the box is more than necessary for deep healing and a new way forward.
Bear, the dark mother, says…I am fierce, but I will not kill you. I support life…but I thrive off the rot of death… Come closer to me…strip down to your skin…and spend some time with me in the cave within… When spring comes…new garments you will wear…and you will learn to collect sweet honey…just like the bear…
Some resources that I suggest are:
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan
Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn
The Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron
The Power of Addiction and Addiction to Power by Gabor Mate (TED talk)