Celebration of the spirit of BEAR

   Bear is a symbol of a personality balanced between the active and the nurturing personalities.  We all know that bears are strong, can be ferocious, and are to be feared. The grizzlies and polar bears are the most famous for these characteristics. Bears are generally composed, calm, but at a ready to react swiftly. They’re not aggressive unless they’re given a reason. They are unpredictable because they stand strongly within themselves.  The Bear’s characteristics of strength and courage are respected everywhere.
   We also all know the image of the mother and cub – the tender and long nurturing of the young from winter’s hibernation through two years of childhood where the mother teaches the young all it needs to know and ferociously defends it against all threats to its life.  When male bears meet they go through careful gestures like boxing to establish who is the strongest, who has the rights to the best fishing areas, but even a large male will avoid a smaller mothering female because of the ferociousness of these mothers.
   In summer, Bear is outgoing:   adventurous, curious, playful, assertively searching out every edible resource as it relentlessly prepares for winter.  Bears climb trees;  they can walk on their hind feet;   they run amazingly swiftly (up to 35 miles an hour!)  Bears swim; they even have a swim style called snorkeling where they pull along mostly underwater except for their ears, watching for fish.  . 
Living in synch with the seasons, autumn comes and Bear eventually looks for a place to rest with winter.  Bears do not completely hibernate; they go into what’s called a torpor, sleeping most of the time but wake- able if disturbed. Winter in most places is longer than summer; some bears sleep up to seven months of the year!   This requires an enormous amount of eating all through summer and fall.  Bears eat anything:  Meat, fish, berries, honey, nuts, fruits, and anything edible.  
Like all animals except humans, bears mate only when the female is in estrus, about two or three weeks out of the year.  Newborn cubs may have different fathers.  Mothers give birth in the winter torpor and the cubs are unusually small and unformed, but nursing through the winter sleep they grow big enough to handle spring with the energy and curiosity of all young.  The torpor of winter is shaken off slowly as the ground awakens and the bears slowly wake up.
   For most bears winter is the longest season and so cooperation with the spirit of winter is a prime symbol of bear for us humans.  Simply put, they stand for the value of sleep in wintertime!   Winter is a season of receptiveness and allowing.  They spend much of their lives in the activity of sleep – that is,  “dreaming”.  Not knowing the telepathic language of bears, we don’t know the contents of the dreams of bears, but we do know some about the function of dreams for us.  In human dreams we seem to digest the experiences of our active times; we seem to plan future activities;  some of us seem to travel out of our bodies while our bodies are  in our nightly torpor.  Even Bible stories record how humans can be visited in dreams by angels and messengers, warned of danger, given insights about upcoming plagues or interpersonal squabbles.  We don’t always remember what we’ve dreamed but we often awaken with insights and inspirations.  Sleep is a creative and problem-solving activity, where we seem connected to resources larger than our rational minds.  Some theories say we are all connected by a deep river in the unconscious, where we make plans together!
    For us, Bear is a symbol of being closely connected to earth.  Birds are of the air, fish are of the water, some animals live off the earth in trees, some stay awake all winter.  Bear is definitely connected deeply with Earth and does not fight against the seasons. Bear is usually connected with the heart chakra, the middle place uniting the lower and higher, the earth and the spiritual.  Also, Bear is the animal of the goddess Artemis, or Diana, goddess of childbirth. 
    Bears have also always been a symbol of death and rebirth, because of their deep sinking into the unconscious during winter and then arising again into our world active and renewed.
    Bear is a symbol of creativity growing out of the quiet receptiveness of winter.  Newness comes to us not from our rational planning, which hashes over things we already know, but out of the deep receptiveness of sleep.  By shutting down our rational effort and the chattering monkey of our minds, we can allow inspirations to emerge through us.  Whatever purpose we were born with may rise again more clearly by relaxing in sleep.
    As humans, we won’t slip down into the long deep sleep of Bear, but we feel a similar pull in winter to rest more, to be quieter, to contemplate and meditate, to read and reflect.  Seeds of inspiration come to us in winter and we may slowly find new projects emerging within us.   
Spirit of Bear, be with us here as we consider your example.
We appreciate your presence with us on this earth.
We appreciate your great and beautiful spirit.
We ask your forgiveness for any humans who treat you without respect. 
As we now deal with this winter of the year,
 guide us as we try to learn from you.   Especially,  how to flow with the gifts of this season.
 Help us settle into good habits.     May we receive inspiration and renewal,
 and emerge creative and refreshed with the spring.
Being guided by Bear we would not fight the natural gifts of winter.  In our own human ways, we can continue active,  while allowing ourselves more rest, sleep, and work of the spirit.  Let us now take a look at our life situations and how we can incorporate obeying the call of the season, as bear does.  I invite you to close your eyes          and think about your attitude to sleep and rest in this winter time.  Do you push against this impulse too much, resenting the need for more sleep, apologizing for it?  Do you overplan activities for the wintertime?
Scientists tell us that we ALL dream several times a night; that we MUST dream to stay mentally healthy.  Remembering our dreams or benefitting from their inspiration takes practice.  Consider altering your habits   to wake up slowly and gently,  allowing images from the night   to linger in your consciousness.
  Arising slowly,  we might write down glimpses from the night   or inspirations coming to us as regarding our day.  Journalingis a helpful spiritual practice for catching intuitions and inspirations.
   Might we add more inspiring reading into our winter schedule?    Perhaps some regular time for meditation, to practice quieting our monkey mind so that  intuitions,  inspiration,  higher guidance can come to us?
Quiet sharings with friends are another human activity in winter that helps us get in touch with our truer selves and to get insights into the challenges of our lives.  Can we make time for open-ended relaxed chatting with good friends?
Can we treat our bodies more gently in winter, keeping them going with appropriate carefulness, not over-pushing but attending to what our bodies need?   Good nutrition, gentle exercise?
Think now of what practices or changes you might put into your winter days to learn from the healthy example of Bear.


           –  Make dream bundles, requesting special dreams
           – Pass plate of Bear food (berries, nuts, honey, jerky, etc), then leave food for Bear
           Release the elements


May Day

   I think of my Mother on May Day.  May 1st is celebrated  in a variety of ways that I know of:  the common worker is honored in communist countries; pagan traditions celebrate Beltane, the time for mating; and spring is celebrated in northern countries.  My Mom grew up with some tradition that she seemed shy about pushing on us but it obviously warmed her heart.  She would say with a hesitant but happy smile “It’s May Day!”  And then something about flowers and baskets that faded off, as if she felt alone in this dear little tradition that society no longer keeps.  I always wondered what the whole picture was but never pursued it.
    There were many things my mom would mention about herself – her childhood, the dreams and experiences of her life – but I was full of myself as young people are, and failed to show interest in her thoughts.  She, being shy, never pushed herself on others.  How I wish now that I’d taken time to chat with her and know her!  I can only remember her little comments and try to fill them in with imagination.
  I’ve learned somewhere that on May Day there was often a custom that children made either paper or real baskets and filled them with flowers from the woods, then brought them to parents, teachers, neighbors, perhaps left them hanging on their door knobs.  Mom so loved the wild flowers in the spring woods of Michigan:  the dogwood trees, the little pink and white Spring Beauties, the violets, the snowdrops, and the gorgeous white trilliums.  Wherever you are, Mom, I hope you’re always surrounded by beauty and know that your life is still appreciated.

A Day in old Japan

                                         A Day in old Japan
     Here in the Anderson Gardens, in the middle of run-down central Rockford Illinois, we seem to have time-and-space traveled into a completely different culture.  We’re back in the Shinto origins of Japan, to those times when Nature was worshiped.  Centuries must have passed for the Japanese people to become aware of the details that make this garden a temple.  Giant rocks are placed everywhere, but not haphazardly.  Many are cut flat or chiseled slightly to keep their large power in balance with the plants around them.  Trees are both pruned and nurtured.  The ordinary yews are thriving.  Each tree, bush, rock stands out in its beauty and at the same time blends in, fits with the larger picture.  Here each individuality contributes to the beauty of the whole.  For a moment my mind searches for identification tags on trees and plants, but there are none.  The mind becomes quiet here, the body aware. 
     Beside the pond, a viewing platform with covered wooden benches serves the visitor to experience other landscapes:  the small island with its short bridge, the stone pagoda, the dwarf tree that drapes over the tiny island.  The only movement is of the golden, flecked koi swimming quietly here and there at their leisurely pace, flowing from their own impulses unknown to us.  At times one only sees the ripples and traces of their movements.  The summer insects sing in the background, not asking our attention but offering their steady vibration to calm the visitor.  We are invited to be not to look at.
     At a different place by the water, a bench looks two ways:  a stream flows swiftly past us down around a fairly steep hill, while a pagoda serenely watches from above among the trees. Here I experience both the sound and smell of fresh flowing water, though I have to tell myself to smell.  Strange:  I generally breathe without smelling.
     Now: the wind must have changed; I’m aware of a new smell.  The scent of pine has turned to something richer, like “pond.”  Turtles stretch out on rocks in the warm sun, reminding us to feel our skin and the sun’s warmth, to stop all movement and enjoy our own being.  But this relaxing moment   is interrupted by the screech of a tire, bringing awareness of how fragile is this time travel to old Japan.
    In the Tea Room, a small, open-sided building, the floor is covered with bamboo mats. A few utensils and one very small reed arrangement sit waiting on the floor by a slender scroll.  We are surrounded by the sound of water moving down the creek, around the shaded house.  Without words, the room tells us to “Purify before entering.”  Purity, respect, honor, are the feelings this place offers.  What does purity mean?  That the water of the nearby large waterfall could wash away all negativity.  Let every complaint be transformed.  Let every wound blossom into a flower or fruit.    Here only the Present Moment remains.  Ego not hurt by anything has openness to receive Now.  Here all is only beauty and peace, wholeness and presence.  When all harsh judgments are taken away, our natural state is happiness.
     In the Guest House, there is almost nothing.  Like the Tea Room, the floor is covered with mats.  A low table and six legless, cushioned chairs wait for some peaceful gathering. This setting brings the full attention of those present to each other and the current moment, yet surrounds them with open connection to Nature outdoors. The sliding brown paper walls have no design.  I think of my walls at home, cluttered with inspiration and various displays of disparate beauty.  What is “inspiration” except leaning toward the future, trying to be more than one truly is now? What are many displays of beauty placed side by side with which we fill our walls, not allowing the full experience of anything?   Inspiration and Manyness do not bring us into being present in the moment, or with each other, or calm with ourselves.
      At the Main Gate where we arrive at the end of our stroll, stands a life-size statue of a simple wise person, wearing a long robe and squat hat, hands folded and a sweet smile on his face.  The little man seems to say in his human way that happiness is our basic nature and that the truly wise person ishappy.  Joy unfolds like a sprout from within, always growing there in the depths and floating up to sight when the impediments are removed and all negativity is transformed into fruit and flower. One feels one’s being in these grounds. Visiting briefly in old Japan gifts my spirit with contentment.

Poems for Real Spring

POEMS FOR REAL SPRING,   from the “I Would Like to Be” series
    Spring Beauty,
most delicate of all spring flowers,
early to appear,
how lovely to be her!
Small and sweet and dear,
my white five-petalled face with pink mint stripes
will smile up like a shy girl-child
at the awesome world around.
Simple, friendly,
I will open to the sun.
My thin stem will dance with the smallest breeze.
Never alone, I’ll live in a world of gentle friends
like me,
all of us playing
in the sweet spring sun and wind and rain.
O beauty protected,
O tenderness extreme,
I will speak to all the world
of the great sensitivity
of The Source of All Life.
       White Anemone
I would love to be a white Anemone,
Daughter of the Wind.
Thin and graceful, dancing open,
never shy.
Taller than my little sisters,
leaves much greener, fuller,
bigger face,
my sunny yellow center begging to be pollinated:
“I am ready,
I am beautiful!
O come to me now, Life,”
I’ll say with guileless joy.
Free maiden of the forest,
I want to be seen,
not hidden.
I know my beauty,
O tell me how beautiful I am!
Notice me,
my white loveliness up from the rich green floor.
Notice my readiness,
my aliveness.
Love me now in the springtime of my life.
Daring raider from the sky,
I’d really like to be a fly.
I’d affirm the worth of all decay –
feces, refuse, garbage.
Rebel, pest,
I’d freely choose,
what others hate.
I’d rescue rot,
deconstructing rigid forms,
forcing change.
But here’s the rub:
the pristine, pure,
build fears and walls against invasion
of their sheltered world.
I will risk my life
to keep the world fecund.
Decay must come – the breaking down
of all that’s done and useless:
I’d aid decay
to keep new life agrowing.
I’ll even carry death when needed.
the change that all of earth accepts
but humans
who close their eyes to their return.
I’ll keep the great wheel moving…
I, the fly, will live a daring life.
Champion of the rejected,
Force for change,
I, the Hero,
Such fun to be a little skunk!
Wherever I’d meander
all would let me pass.
Though small and shy and quiet,
what power I’d have!
It’s fun to see how silly people handle fear.
I’d give them all a chance to practice calm:
control in their panic,
attitude of care.
Friendly in my spirit,
I’d sense the open heart
through eyes and nose,
then pause and greet each neighbor,
passing on.
Curious and careful
I’d wander here and there
through woods and towns,
knowing I’m respected,
and safe,
in clever self-defense.
Perhaps I’d learn to be more free
as a brilliant Trillium.
Tallest flower of spring,
beautiful in balance,
unafraid to be
who I am.
Bold among the delicate,
I would not hide my light.
I’d hold my three white petals
above my three green leaves –
centered, rooted, unafraid,
shining bright above the dusky forest floor,
a lighthouse to the world.
I’d say
Stay poised,
while reaching up and out.
Integrity, Yes! There’s joy in honesty.
Be simple! Brilliant, shining clear.
True beauty shines from inside out.”
I would not know humility
or pride.
I’d simply be
exactly as I am.
A bold and quiet Quaker
I would speak my truth
with respect for self and others.
I would love to be a Trillium –
peaceful with myself,

“Early Spring”


The “I Would Like to Be” Read-Aloud Poems 
four of twenty poems
“Early Spring”


                    The Frog


It would do me good to be a frog


sitting still


and still


and still.






that Life will bring by a fly


or a mosquito,


that what I need to live, Life will offer.


I’ll sit alert


and confident;


I’ll practice trusting


in Whatever created me.


I’ll take time


to feel the warm sunlight,


the softness of water,


to hear the sounds of Life:


the hum of dragonflies,


waves lapping on the shore,


wind rustling through reeds,


a splashing fish.


I’ll sit so quiet and alert


That I won’t miss a single moment


of my beautiful life.


I want to be a frog


learning to be quiet


and alert


and trusting.

          Skunk Cabbage

What fun to be a skunk cabbage!


Smells are one of Life’s delights.


Out in the bog


I could be a big, big leaf


unfolding from the smallest center,


reeking through with greenness,


ever bigger,






Life makes many dainty whispers through the woods;


but bursting through decay,


I’d boldly say that winter’s done!


I’d call to all the hibernating woods:


“Wake up! Wake up, you sleeping ones.


Come alive and feel and smell and play again.”


As a skunk cabbage


I’d chase away the doldrums


and wake the woods from trance.






Oh, I want to be a buttercup! A buttercup! A buttercup!


O warm richness!


O passionate color!


O enthusiasm for Life!


I’ll plant myself by a watery place


and laugh for joy.


I’ll glory in the singing birds,


the humming bees, the busy pesky flies,


the dancing breeze.


And the sun’s salvation,


“Relish in the warmth of sun!”


my shining saffron face will sing.


“And don’t forget enthusiasm, passion.


Dance, swim, listen, sing, love,


feel and sense.


Celebrate like me,”


I’ll laugh, the cheerful buttercup!


                        Jack-In-The Pulpit


It would be an honor to be a jack-in-the-pulpit,


oracle of the woods.


With my tri-leaf behind,


erect, serene,


I’ll wait.


From rich roots


through my straight stem


into my waiting cup


will flow wisdom from the Earth-Mother.


Whoever has the calm to sit before me,


to ask a question,




to them I’ll speak,


and tell the truth.


Truth is solid ground,




Standing straight and quiet I will speak.


Who sits up straight and calm and opens their own cup


will hear my thoughts.


We’ll nod to each respectfully,


and they’ll pass on,


while I will wait


to be again an oracle for Wisdom.