on not poking the bear

Lately, I’ve been noticing bewildering waves of something within me. Perhaps wave is too strong a word, for it is really not much more than a stirring below the surface. Of course, I suppose such a stirring could cause a wave of sorts, subtle, like the ripple that spreads across the still surface of the lake in the evening, when a fish rises for a fly.

Is it hunger then?

The wave that washes like a momentary nausea and then subsides, as I turn my attention quickly and quietly away from the offensive scent, tells me something is a bit off, not as ‘all is well’ as I self-proclaim. I am human after all. Sorrows at times overwhelm my soul as much as they do yours, though those sorrows never obliterate the deeper awareness within me that life is beautiful, as it is.

I wonder at it when it rises, for I feel so utterly and deeply content that it feels out of place somehow. And that makes me wonder if my contentment is merely a ‘seeming’ one, a surface one, though I think not.

I suppose I might simply be invited to integrate sorrow more fully into my ‘all is well’, not keep it in some separate compartment within me, let it breathe — alongside joy and peace. Let it belong to my wholeness, not be a symptom of something broken.

I don’t know.

Sometimes, on days like today for instance, it is my empathy muscle that hurts and I can easily identify the source of my sorrow. My deep longing for one whom I love to find peace is often disturbed by this dear one’s despair and I need make space for that huge powerless longing for them in me, for I cannot take their pain away. Carrying this empathetic pain around for so very long makes me weary, and at times that weariness weighs heavy, a sorrow I cannot shed. I’d like to tuck it away, put it to bed, trust that all will be well—which my deeper self still holds on to, though if I am honest, at times that thread feels like it is thinning. And maybe it needs to break so that beloved one can walk their own path of becoming whole.

Today’s empathetic response to that one’s pain truly comes from Love , and feels different altogether than an older, conditioned one, whose anxiety was centered more on Fear —fear of being abandoned, unwanted, rejected, seen as unworthy or unlovable. That particular form of empathy was often more about me than the other. Feeling their anger, their disappointment, their frustration, their negativity, their need even, led me to frantically seek ways to ease their pain in order to safeguard myself, in a way. Not a good recipe for a healthy relationship, I took on much more than was healthy for me or for them. But that wound honestly feels well-healed, though at times the scar still itches a bit.

I almost wrote that I have learned to tame that wild beast. However, as quickly as the words came out of my fingertips I realized my error, for that one was not wild at all, rather was a conditioned (habituated) part of me that learned to survive, and dare I say even feed, herself by living in close quarters with those who crossed the boundary of my self to feed me their leftovers. I didn’t learn that I could trust my own instincts, find nourishment that was healthy for me to partake, thrive on my own. So, I suppose, I have gradually freed that wild soul in me, taught her to stop hanging around camps where the banging of pots and shooting of bear spray created such an anxious animal.

Hopefully, this is the way we grow older, after all, with a deepening rootedness in love that sheds the need for external reassurances and can rest in the peace of that deeper love, rather like the hibernating bear, shedding the weight of all that excess baggage put on during the previous seasons of life, when fear of starvation was the driving force. A mature Love like that merely shines upon others, without that hungering need casting its shadow.

And so, I wonder, now. Is that particular unhealthy bear being poked awake? Is that the stirring in me these early winter mornings. I’m not at all sure it is. Sometimes, on days like today, for instance, these feelings of empathy are certainly related to that old mama bear in me. Perhaps an offspring of hers, but one who has learned to forage for food separate from the love that she once drew from others needing her.

But most days when this other bear stirs, nothing particular seems to have stirred her, she rises seemingly unprovoked,, unattached to that thread of empathy that awakened by my sorrow this morning. And She, this seemingly unprovoked one, is the one who makes me curious .

What is she hungry for? Does her hunger stem from something unfulfilled? Does she hunger for something innately hers, something wild?  Or has there been something birthed and nurtured in this dark hidden den within me, something surprising, impatient to come out into the light to play?

I don’t really want to poke that bear awake, if I am honest, but she seems to be poking at me despite my attempts to quiet her with my ‘all is well’. Is there something I’m missing that would bring even deeper satisfaction, growth, contentment, transformation, joy? Does the fact that I’m asking belie my seeming belief that “all is well’?

Or is it, as they say, best to let sleeping bears lie.

Of course, I know the answer. The bear will wake in its own time, after all, without my need to provoke her. Her hunger will wake her, else she would starve in her sleep, and that simply doesn’t happen to a wild creature. One way or the other, her hunger will be fed. I’d rather she not be ravenous and reckless when that happens, so I’ll listen.

Then, I’ll surrender, I suppose, to the inevitable growth in the coming season, in this unending human journey of being and becoming, of birthing and blossoming and dying. Let her rise.

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