Face to Face
After the childhood dreams of flying with the white bear were forgotten, stored away in the closet of my psyche, I no longer dreamed of bears. Then, on the eve of my fortieth birthday, I asked for a dream that would show me the direction of this new decade in my life. That night, an answer from the dreamworld:
I leave my house and turn left to walk down the street. It is late at night and everyone is asleep, all the houses dark and quiet. I feel a little thrill at being out alone. The moon shines bright, and I can easily see where I am going. Passing the last house on the corner, I stand at the end of the street, at the far edge of the neighborhood.
Sensing a presence, I turn left. A black bear stands upright at the edge of the forest, watching me. We remain still, frozen in the moment, looking at each other. I am alarmed, yet fascinated too. If he approaches, will I run? If I stand my ground, will he leave? What does he want?
I felt disappointment on waking. None of my questions were answered. Not knowing what would happen with the bear was like leaving a good mystery just as the secret is about to be revealed. Beyond the disappointment, however, I felt something unsettling.
I had asked for a dream but wasn’t truly happy with what came. Let’s be honest. I wanted a big, fancy, red-ribboned, ego-aggrandizing present of a dream for my birthday. Instead, I got a black bear who stared at me. It is a good reminder: if you’re going to ask questions of your dreams, be sure you are willing to accept the answers.
So, what do we do with a dream that makes us uncomfortable? If we expect to develop a relationship with our dreaming world, the answer is clear: we engage it, pursue it, keep digging.
Although I knew this intellectually, I felt uneasy. On the surface, the dream seemed small and uneventful. I could summarize it in one sentence: I walk down the street in the middle of the night, see a bear at the edge of the forest, and we stare at each other. My impatience with the dream--and ongoing desire to diminish it--suggested it probably held much more than I wanted to know.
What Does it Mean?
If you’re unsure what a dream may be telling you, consider drawing it. This is an easy way to gain a different perspective. Following this advice, I sketched our driveway and street and the path I followed to the end of the block. At that time there was a forest at the end of the neighborhood. I marked the bear’s presence at the edge of the forest with an X and put another X where my dream-self stood, at the edge of the houses. Then I laughed. It was all so clear: our meeting occurred at the border of our respective neighborhoods. The bear came out of the forest, the dreamer came out of her house, and there they met in the liminal no-bear-nor-woman’s land in between. The dream revealed a meeting of two worlds!
The only direction mentioned in the dream is left. A turn to the left makes me think about the right and left sides of the body, which are controlled by the opposite sides of the brain. To be left-brained is to be rational, logical, analytical; for most people this corresponds to the right side of the body. To be right-brained is to use intuition, instinct, and holistic views; this corresponds to the left side of the body. A left turn of the body may indicate a turn to one’s instincts, to intuition, to the unconscious, or perhaps to the creative associations of the dream world. When the dreamer turns to her left, she faces the bear. And there he stands: Animal teacher? Guardian of the forest? Dark-furred representative of the wild nature of the psyche?
As a symbolic animal guide, Bear’s teaching is vast. It can include introspection, discernment, healing, transformation, solitude, wisdom, visionary dreams, the ability to mediate between living and dead, and awakening the unconscious. How do we know which aspect of Bear is appearing to us? How do we find the particular brand of medicine our dream animal is offering?
In this dream, the bear is alert and observant, watching the dreamer as she approaches. (A subtle reminder, perhaps, that the Unconscious is already many steps ahead of us.) The connection between bear and human is old and deep. In some cultures bears were so revered they were considered gods. Bears stand upright to gain a better view of the surrounding terrain and what lies ahead. In the dream, the bear’s posture may indicate a look to the future, especially as it reflects the dreamer’s invoked question: “What lies ahead for me?”
Although these are very basic overviews, even this initial dip into the pool of symbolism can shift the gist of a one-sentence dream from: I walk down the street, see a bear at the edge of the forest, and we stare at each other, to: At the entrance to my Unconscious, Bear the Guardian stands and watches me. Or: Standing at the edge of what is known, I face the unknown forest of the psyche and glimpse the ancient power of Bear.
Sometimes just a peek below the surface of a dream can change everything. It’s good to meet a black bear at the entrance to your future, I decided. And yet something about the dream still niggled at me. When I closed my eyes, I could see the bear standing upright, looking my way. I was waiting to see what Bear would do, but deeper contemplation offered another idea: perhaps Bear was watching to see what I would do. And this caused me to consider: What does Bear want with me?