Animal of the Season: The Bear as Activist

Awhile ago, in the lead up to an interview for what I thought (at the time) was my “dream job,” I became fascinated with the Lioness.  Watching “Born Free,” reading George Adamson’s autobiography, “My Pride and Joy,” and observing her at the zoo, I was enthralled by her confidence.  One night, on the 5rhythms dance floor, I expressed what it would be like to embody her strength and power.  By somehow physically “becoming” the lioness, I was able to approach my interview with a newfound sense of presence and power.  Since that experience, I continue to find inspiration in the animal world, using different creatures to help explore new or hidden aspects of my personality.  This season, I have been focusing on the Bear.  So what do we know about the Bear, and how might embodying her spirit, shape our activism in this season of political struggle?

Bears are large, heavy creatures

Bears are the largest members of the Carnivora species order, with record Brown and Polar Bears weighing in excess of 750kg.  Their size protects them from predators, whilst enabling them to store sufficient fat reserves for survival throughout the winter.

Having studied the Alexander Technique over the past decade, I love conducting playful “experiments” with my imagination and body.  For instance, I sometimes imagine myself as a tall, thin, blonde Swedish model (instead of a petite, South Asian woman) whilst on the London Underground, and see what affect that has on my journey.  My imagination affects my mind which, in turn, affects the way I use my own body and the response of others to me.

With the Bear, I try to imagine myself getting larger, heavier and sinking more deeply into the Earth.  During these times of resistance, as we walk together protesting the actions of our political leaders, embodying the spirit of the Bear can help us to stay rooted and resolute come what may.

Bears are resourceful and sustain themselves for the long haul

Whilst bears are denning, their heart rate and metabolism slow right down, such that they can live off their fat reserves.  Throughout long winters, they maintain their body weight and strength by shivering several times a day, warming internal organs and accelerating their heart rate.  They recycle both water and metabolic waste (urea), sustaining themselves over a prolonged period, without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating.

Reading the news, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the direction our leaders are taking us, with Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, the steady dismantling of the National Health Service’ free, comprehensive and universal care and the Department for Work and Pension’s inhumane benefit sanctions, to name but a few.  There are so many letters I want to write and protests I want to go on.  The Bear teaches us, however, to pace ourselves, such that we can take positive action over the long haul.  As Congressman John Lewis remarked on On Being this week:

“You don’t change the world, the society, in a few days. And it’s better. It is better to be a pilot light than to be a firecracker…because if you’re a pilot light, you’re going to be around. A firecracker coming along in you, just go off. You’re here one moment, and you’re gone in the next moment,” (Congressman John Lewis).

Bears take time to rest

Bear’s are active for roughly 12 hours a day, particularly in the early mornings and evenings.  In between these peak times, they intersperse their foraging with short bouts of rest.

Our society tends to focus on doing, at the expense of being.  But we need to rest, in order to restore ourselves and refuel our energy.  Otherwise, we just burn out.  In her book, “Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life,” Phileena Heuertz recounts her time working with Mother Teresa.  In between service, each sister followed a strict schedule of regular rest – one day a week, one week a month, one month per year, one year in every six.   “Mother knew better than any of us that our labor on behalf of the poor is never done. But she also understood the value of solitude, silence and stillness,” (Heuertz).

Contemplation and activism, being and doing, are two sides of the same coin.  A contemplative life, without action, risks becoming insular, irrelevant, out of touch with reality and ultimately irresponsible. Conversely, a life characterized solely by activism can become dry, cynical, angry, frustrated. You move from one problem to another, reacting not acting. Believing all the problems of the world are upon your shoulders, you become controlling and risk acting from the false self: ones unconscious motivations to be loved, to feel needed and powerful.  In such a state of being, our good intentions can end up doing more harm than good.  But thankfully all the world’s problems are not on our shoulders.  At the very least. we are part of a community of activists.  For myself, I trust that we are co-creators alongside the Divine.   Thus, the Bear reminds us to be, to rest, to intersperse our activism with contemplation, and in so doing, make a more positive impact.

The mythological Bear cannot be killed

Ancient people believed that the Bear controlled the sun, and was responsible for the change in seasons.

“The bear that seemingly died in the fall, burying itself underground when darkness and the cold of winter covered the earth, returned from the underworld in spring bringing the sun and longer days as he once again began to roam the earth,” (Bielder).

At an archetypal level, the Bear then is a mediator – like Persephone – between the Underworld (the unconscious) and our conscious world, between death and life.  Between “structure” and “anti-structure.”  The eternal cycle.

As activists, the Bear reminds us that “this time shall pass.”  That things will change overtime, encouraging us to keep on keeping on.

The Little Bear helps us navigate through chaos

Finally, there are two constellations in the sky named the “Great Bear,” and the “Little Bear.”  The story goes that the nymph Callisto became pregnant as a result of her liaison with the God, Zeus.  Furious, the Goddess turned Callisto into a Bear.  The Bear gave birth to a son, Arcus, who grew up in human form.  One day, Arcus happened upon a bear whilst hunting in the woods.  As he took aim at his mother, Zeus rescued Callisto, sending her to the sky.  She was the “Great Bear,” and her son, Arcus, became the “Little Bear.”

The Greek word “arktos” means bear, and is the origin of the word “arctic,” the northern most region.  Within the “Little Bear,” there is a star name Polaris (or the Pole star) that points towards the north.  This star was used for centuries to aid navigation, and, being within the bear constellations, is the origin of the phrase, “to take a bearing.”

The Bear reminds us to keep our focus on our True North.  No matter what chaos is happening on the ground, we can look up to see the Pole star guiding us forward.  She reminds us not to get caught up in noise and chaos, but to stay true to our values.  She reminds us to hope.

 

Artworks and Bibliography

Bieder (2005) “Bear,” Reaktion Books Ltd, London.

Brunner (2007) “Bears – a brief history,” Yale University, Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH, Berlin.

Carr-Gomm (1994) “The Druid Animal Oracle Deck,” illustrated by Will Worthington, Connections Book Publishing Ltd, London.

Heuertz (2010) “Pilgrimage of a Soul:  Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life,” Intervarsity Press.

Ryan, M and Matthews, J (2011) “The Wildwood Tarot: wherein wisdom resides,” with card illustrations by Will Worthington, Sterling Publishing Co Inc, Toronto.

Wilson, D & Mittermeier, R eds (2009) “Handbook of Mammals of the World,” Vol. 1. Carnivores.  Lynx Editions, Barcelona.

 

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