When the bear is too much of a bear…

By Rev. Jim Innes

I am a bit of a bear. I growl when I stub my toe. And though it’s just a pained reaction, with no intent but combustion, they retreat…the “they” being, unfortunately, my friends.

I’ve learned that many are attracted to bears, but not so much the growl. It’s a sad state for any bear… an irritation really, continually wondering why they can’t handle the whole package.

The attraction to a bearish type can be understood: engagingly fuzzy, childishly awkward, forgivably bristly, and charmingly rugged (so I say). But unfortunately, people are shocked when the bear makes his rumbling noise… when the bear is a bit of, well… a bear.

Over the years I’ve come to terms with some of these dynamics, including my occasional tendency to grunt and grumble. Here is how I see it…

The bear is symbolic of strength and confidence. This animal is admired. Its presence inspires respect. This is good! But the bear is a perfect mask for uncertainty. And when that weaker bear awakens, bearish power loses strength, replaced by an overreaction that induces fear.

The bear in me, in us, is a real power. Among Native Americans, ‘Bear’ represents “extremely strong medicine including special powers in the areas of wisdom, strength and healing.” The bear represents courage and a deep connection to earth.

Despite the bear’s power, and likely because of its power, the bear can trigger shame. Some of this shame arises within us (the bear) when we have been a little scary to others. But a lot of shame can be provoked in others (the bear’s friends) who take our growl to heart (for whatever reason).

This is a difficult issue for the bear because after an “episode”, when what our bear needs most is to retreat into a cave, we find ourselves chasing down our friends to apologize. And we often don’t even know what we are truly apologizing for, except of course, that we upset them.

As I see it, the bear is as easily misunderstood, as its immediate presence can be disconcerting. It’s big. It’s wide. And it’s got teeth. Making it impossible to control the projections people place upon its intent. So when the bear loses a bit of control, a lot seems to be happening.

In more than one book on native spirituality it claims, “If the bear shows up in your life, it may also be time to take care of your own needs for healing, whether it’s at the physical, emotional or spiritual level.” I take that to mean, if my bearish growl abruptly wakes, time needs be taken for reflection and self care… mostly focusing on my own inner process.

It needs be said, that the growl is not automatically anger (as many suspect, or at least conjecture). The growl is but a provocation that can connect to any number of feelings and thoughts. After all, the bear, for all its power, is not necessarily the animal with the highest EQ (emotional awareness).

It’s hard to be a bear and I recommend Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer, to any of you bears further interested in your latent power to heal.

In the meantime, all I can say is, “we are who we are” and if you happen to be a bit of a bear, then God grant you the grace to see your strength, unearth your power, and with but minimal guilt, manage your effect on others.

Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the regional Ministry of South Huron.
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