So, how to work with a bear in a dream – with a real example? Let’s look at one of my own.
With a group of people, I go on a trip to Bear Island. We are warned not to disturb the bears but are also told no one knows where they are on the island. They are very elusive. When we dock and start to walk on the island, the other people are nervous about the bears. I suddenly know where the bears are – and start running toward the other side of the island where they are. I am running really fast, leaving the others behind. Running and then suddenly I am on all fours and I am a bear running to where the other bears are.
Okay – so I include a dream with a bear that has a twist, which is the moment the dreamer shape-shifts into becoming a bear. So, it is not just an encounter with a bear, but a becoming. In this type of dream, the dreamer transforming into the bear, the line of inquiry around what bear means for the dreamer carries even more weight. Because she becomes it.
Which raises the question – what is she becoming?
[Note: Just to be clear – this exploration of what this particular bear dream means for me comes from a particular moment in my particular work. This is not a universal way of looking at bear dreams!]
I had this dream many years ago, when the only encounters I had had with bears in my waking life was either seeing their butts as they ran away or, on one memorable occasion, a bear cub rolling out of the woods onto a dirt road where I was jogging. [After one long look at each other, the cub ran back into the woods and I hightailed it out of there!] So, my own experiences with bears in the wild were rare then.
What bear holds for me, outside of experiences, is many things. I think of them as both solitary and communal. I also think of them as both fierce and tender. I think of the fierceness of mother bears [which is why I hightailed it away from that baby cub]. I think of their playfulness and also their love of things like honeycomb and fruit. I think of bears who diligently hunt salmon in spring rivers.
Bear also holds the space of dreaming for me – of living in both worlds. The waking world and the dreaming realm, as they slumber in their hibernation.
All of this is part of the dream for me, the dreamer.
In the moment I run toward the bears, I am entirely in my intuition, my primal knowing. There is no question in me, there is no doubt.
I do not think bears doubt themselves when they know something.
So, part of what I was learning to embody was that trust, that in-the-body knowing. Following it without doubt. Something I continue to work on.
Part of what I was learning to embody, too, was being one who is like a bear – living in both the waking world and dreaming world. Which is true, in many ways. My work, my every day, is steeped in dreaming. When I am not working with my amazing dreamers, I think a great deal about dreaming. I read about the history of dreaming in western culture, I seek out poems that are dream based, I am editor of an online literary and arts journal that is grounded in dreams and the dream-like state, I write about dreams [like here!]. And dreams inform my own poetry and other creative writing projects.
Bears are liminal beings for me. As a woman of dreams and of poetry, I think of both those places as liminal in this world.
Running to my bear family, running and becoming bear, then, for me is about embodying all of this.
And embody is key.
For as a survivor of sexual trauma [which is also a liminal experience], being of the body and even being embodied at all, at times, has been one of my challenges. To come back to the body after the necessary leaving of it to survive.
The becoming of bear then, is not just about embracing all the traits of bear that I love – tender and fierce, dreamer and being of the world, playful and lumbering, fast and slow, solitary and communal. The becoming of bear, for me, in this dream, was very much about the return to my “animal” body, the return to the place where instinct is not language or thought, but the whole body.