Dreamt I was walking a path in the woods with a good friend – a woman. A bear cub crossed our path walking into the woods on our right, beside us, unafraid. The cub was pure white. We stopped at watched with mouths hanging open at this wonder. We wanted to follow it but knew that the mother would be near by and so we left it alone.
Walking on, sure enough, we came upon the mother walking down the path towards us. She also was pure white. Not afraid of her – for some reason – but out of respect we moved off the path into the woods on our left to let her pass. She walked slowly past us towards her cub.
This dream was weeks ago. In many ways I am still standing in the woods, to the side of the path, in awe and wonder.
I’m about to take a medical sick leave from my church work. I know I’m burned out because no one is arguing with me about whether that’s a good idea or not. They tell me things like – your pain is very evident. I tell them it’ll be three months. They say “it might take longer”. Others wonder at how I seem to be coping so well? It’s all very confusing.
In some ways, I’ve known this was coming for about 25years. One of my all-time heroes, Carl Jung, modeled the journey I’m about to take. I read about it in my twenties when I was going through a similar kind of major life transition from manboy to husband and career man. Jung instructs that these things can’t be rushed and come only when we are ready for them.
Call it what you like – emotional meltdown, nervous breakdown, mid-life crisis, or psychic re-imagining of self - it’s very real. Our modern pop-culture characterizes it as a selfish stage that men go through when their fear of death looms large – buying sports care and pursuing libido’s last urges. The 1999 movie American Beauty starring Kevin Spacey as a man infatuated with a teenage girl, and turns to smoking pot as a means of pursuing self-liberation, is an iconic American statement of the disconnect between a man’s work and his purpose that wears thin at this stage of life. Spacey won the Academy Award for best actor.
Our medical culture labels this condition as a mental illness. Pills are prescribed to help men with the anxiety of this perfectly natural dislocation. I’ve got a couple of prescriptions meant to help my neural network get numb so I can just keep on working like the good productive citizen I am. When I read the long list of potential risks and hazards associated with these prescribed drugs – I put them on the shelf. For the first couple of decades of my life I was told that doing drugs was bad and I’d get kicked out of school if I showed up high. Now I’m given drugs to keep working. I’m confused.
Luckily, I have a very wise Spiritual Director. She’s worked with many people who’ve decided to kick their prescriptions and face the pain and confusion head on. She’s also worked with people, like me, who’ve chosen to turn to ancient wisdom and earth rituals for the answers and healing they seek.
Throughout time, peoples all over this globe have honoured these life transitions and dislocations as key opportunities in each person’s life – a chance not only for spiritual growth – but for transformation.
Our whole modern culture has become dislocated from these ancient rituals. Just as we’ve created artificial environments to protect us from the ravages of nature – we’ve also distanced ourselves from the healing and wisdom it offers.
Pockets of people discouraged and left empty by religious rituals practiced in safe sanctuaries controlled by highly trained gorillas in robes – are searching for something raw and real and fearsome.
It is terrifying to face our demons. Not facing them produces all kinds of strange side effects – anxiety, anger, raging hormones, spending sprees, and other associated adolescent behaviours.
A year ago I wrote about a trip into the charismatic evangelical world of healing. In many ways these Christian practices offer a primal experience of passionate yearning for freedom and release from hurts, sins, and crippling psychic conditions. It fascinates me – but it’s not for me. The morally righteous box these practices operate within is far too confining for an alleycat like me.
No, I’ve stepped off the path and the white bear is walking by. My heart is beating within that white bear’s chest. It’s steps back to it’s cub are mine.
Telling my dream to friends, many of them told me of the white Spirit Bears that live on an island off B.C.’s northern coast. I googled it and was putting together an excursion that was gonna cost me big time – when I paid a visit to my Spiritual Director. A big smile grew on her face as I told the dream.
She told me that just the week before she’d had an unusual encounter with an Algonquin Indian who was establishing what he called "a bridge to authenticity" right on my doorstep in the Haliburton Highlands.
Can you guess what this man’s name is?
That’s right – you guessed it – White Bear.
I spent the day yesterday walking the hills and woods with him discussing the journey I was about to take – the journey I was already on – off the path. We talked a lot. But mostly it was the earth that spoke to me. In the stones we found along the way. In the trees – whole and broken and abundant. In the great rock ridge shoulders of the mother who loves and cares and calls us deeper into who we truly are – a fearsome journey – taken one baby step at a time.