PART EIGHT: Black Bear & “Soft Paw” Medicine
It was the last day of the retreat, and Moon Dancer and I had the day to ourselves to review the work we had done. Early that morning, soon after the others had left, I had realized, during a conversation with her, that I had not attended to all of my own issues during the retreat, being focused on the other’s needs, and was feeling very uncomfortable about a particular issue having to do with the recent loss of a very important relationship.
Black Bear has been one of my medicines for some time now, in addition to my primary Grizzly medicine. While Black Bear had appeared to me in dreams and journeys many times, I had not as yet learned a great deal about its medicine ways.
The first sign that this was about to change was the huge pile of very fresh black bear scat Moon Dancer and I came upon during our mid-morning walk on our last day at the farm. (We didn’t think to photograph it, not knowing what was about to happen, but the photo above, which I downloaded from Google images, looks very much like the scat we saw in the middle of the farm road not far from the house.) Neither of us were certain that it was bear scat at the time, because of its fresh, grassy appearance, but I suspected it might be, given its size, and the wide range of colors and shapes bear scat can take.
An hour or so later, after a lunch of leftovers, Moon Dancer took another walk, this time up to the top of the slate quarry on the property. On her way back down, she came upon a huge, very fresh bear paw print, although the claws were not part of it. A bit shaken, she quickly took a photo of it, and returned to the farm to show me. Bear was coming closer. Knowing Bear medicine can heal heartache, I asked Moon Dancer to look into my issue in a journey. The guidance she was given for me had to do with one of the many differences between Black Bear and Grizzly medicines.
Having worked with Grizzly medicine for over two decades, it seems that I’m all too comfortable with its aggressive nature, and while I try to mitigate that, I don’t always succeed in doing so. In her journey, Moon Dancer was shown an image of a Grizzly bear leading with its long claws, juxtaposed against the Black Bear paw print in which no claw marks were evident. “This [paw print without claws showing] represents Black Bear ‘soft paw’ medicine,” she was told, “and Scarlet needs to learn how to use it. While Blacks can also be aggressive at times, it’s their basic nature to be somewhat shy and retiring, and to avoid conflict. In shamanic work Black Bears can do healing with a ‘soft touch’ in which they do not always use their claws. The teaching is to frequently touch the hearts of loved ones with the ‘soft paw’ of Black Bear medicine rather than with the ‘sharp paw’ of Grizzly medicine.”
Just then, Moon Dancer’s phone rang. She arose and went outside onto the slate patio to take the call. Suddenly she beckoned for me, and I went to join her. A huge black bear was lumbering through the yard, moving north to south. (In feminist shamanic practice, the North-South axis within the Medicine Wheel Mandala is symbolic of one’s walk through physical life, which was the source of my distress.) She was able to get a photo of the bear as it crossed the farmhouse lawn, before it disappeared off into the forest beyond the farmyard. That bear definitely got our attention that day, as though to emphasize the importance of paying attention to the teaching we had just received.
Mastering the ability to control which kind of Bear medicine I’ll express when interacting with loved ones (and others who may be sensitive to my Grizzly ways), will be a major piece of shamanic work for me, but one that will doubtless bring positive changes in my relationships with loved ones and with people in general.
This was a perfect conclusion to our weekend of intense shamanic work. One knows one has gone deep shamanically when the natural world and its inhabitants begin expressing what one has encountered in the shamanic realm. And…what better way could there have been to end the retreat than with a teaching for the teacher!
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