Yesterday I drove further back into the hills to help a friend hang some sheetrock in the work in progress that is his home. On the way back that evening I saw what I took to be a bear sitting next to and facing the road, but something in its appearance was not quite right. When I got within a few yards it turned and lethargically made for the trees. It stopped, looked at me with fear and managed a few more steps, stopped and looked again. It was probably the most pathetic creature I have ever seen. It had lost most all its hair. It was skin-and-bones. Its hipbones protruded grotesquely. I could not identify its hairless head with any creature I knew; I was no longer sure what kind of creature it was. I went through a mental checklist and once again decided on 'bear' — what else could it be?
If it was a bear, it was a zombie bear, and I confess that I looked around fearfully to see if it didn't have zombie companions even then sneaking up on my blind side. I sped off, mouth agape and sure I had just seen a 'bad omen', a portent of a fearful future, "bad medicine".
I've been living on a ranch in the foothills of the Sierras in California for nearly two years now and have been amazed at how so many of those who have lived in the area for a long time have such a different sensibility than what one generally finds elsewhere. Many have shamanistic interpretations of the world and, following the way of the Native Americans, believe that the animals one sees are messages about one's self and one's fate. Many times I have been told to take note of the wildlife I see. That day I saw a zombie bear. What god-awful message did it convey?
I awoke that morning to see wild turkeys outside my bedroom window, surely a good omen. Was there enough good medicine to counter the bad? But the truth is I don't really buy into this worldview; I don't imagine the world as actively involved in my life, sending me messages, good or bad. The messages I receive are participatory; things provide an opportunity for me to participate in their reality so as to better understand and integrate into my own. Thus the zombie bear was an occasion for me to understand how life is not other than the collision of galaxies, the implosion of suns, the impact of asteroids. Shit happens. If there is purpose and caring in the universe, it is beyond my cognitive grasp. Feeling at home here requires surrender in trust. Fortunately, trust is a fundamental and spontaneous condition of existence; it need not be manufactured, but only discovered and nourished.
I sent and send compassion to this zombie bear, wishing it a speedy and painless death.
And this morning I will burn some sage and let its cleansing smoke let me let it cleanse me of fear so that I might say yes to the zombie bear.
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