There was a point last week when everything changed. Golden autumn gave way to darkening autumn. Winter is at our heels. I imagine that for weeks now, bears have been slowing down their activity, having grown large with the inner resources they will need to sustain themselves through the winter. At some unknown signal, perhaps that same thing we felt last week, they each enter their solitary cave and begin hibernation.
Bear lives in the West of the Medicine Wheel. This is the place of intuition, emotion, dreams, the energy of adolescence, and feminine energy. Pregnancy can be a time when the West is very active. It can be a time of vivid dreams. Intuition can be especially strong. Emotions well up in powerful waves.
Although intuition may be strong in pregnancy, it may easily be drowned out by the voices of others. Pregnancy is a vulnerable time due to the rapid changes, uncertainties, and new responsibilities. It is natural to want to depend on the advice of experts and those that have tread this path before. But having access to an abundance of contradictory facts and opinions gets us no closer to the answers we seek. For someone that’s trying hard to “get it right”, this can be overwhelming and set the stage for a sense of failure. Another natural tendency is to seek out only that information which supports what is already believed to be true. Again, rather than give us the deeper truths we need, this approach blinds us to the full range of possibilities and can in fact contribute to emotional birth trauma.
Bear embodies the power of Knowing. Bear is her own authority, seeks her own counsel. How do you find out what you need to know to give birth and become a parent? Where do you find the sweet honey of your own truth? What does it mean to find the answers within? Let’s learn from Bear by tracking her journey into her cave.
David Carson (Medicine Cards) uses rich imagery to illustrate the meaning of the bear cave. He calls it the Place of Rites of Passage, the Dream Lodge, the Womb, the Great Void “where solutions and answers live in harmony with our questions.” He uses the Hindu concept of the Cave of Brahma to describe Bear’s journey: In India, the very center of the four lobes of the brain (the third ventricle) is known as Brahma’s Cave. Imagining the Medicine Wheel superimposed over your head, the West would be over your right ear, the intuitive side of your brain. As winter approaches, Bear leaves the West and walks the inward path of silence, slowing down with each step she takes, toward the cave of Brahma… where she dreams. I liken this journey to that of the labyrinth. Tracing the inward path calms the mind and prepares the seeker to sit in the center and hear the answers she carries within. Tracing a labyrinth is an ancient way of finding answers to problems that the thinking mind could not solve. It is a type of meditation, which allows brain waves to slow down and change from Beta (thinking, analyzing) to Alpha (relaxed mind) to Theta. When Theta waves are activated in your brain, intuition becomes stronger, it becomes easier to see a situation in its entirety, and complex problem-solving can take place.
Tracing or walking a labyrinth is one way to enter your Bear Cave. Other types of meditation and visualization can accomplish the same thing. Creating art while focusing on the process, rather than the product, will also lead you down the inward path, toward your inner Knowing and personal Authority.
While they are powerful tools, entering the Bear Cave doesn’t have to entail these special activities. It can be as simple as acknowledging to yourself and others that your pregnancy and postpartum period is a significant time, a time during which it is natural to hibernate. It’s probably not practical to give up all of your outside responsibilities for months on end, like bears do, just because you are pregnant, although this sometimes does become necessary. But Bear teaches us to pull back from activities that drain our energy, that do not nourish us. This is a time to re-evaluate what you give your energy to. Ask yourself, “Is this absolutely necessary? How do I know this? Is this still a priority for me? What would happen if I stopped? Who am I without this? Who am I becoming? What nourishes me? How do I know this?” Also, give yourself permission to take naps. Take breaks to focus on your breathing. Notice if you are holding tension somewhere in your body. What can you release?
Mother bears teach us the importance of timing and of listening to the body’s signals. Female bears enter hibernation carrying fertilized eggs. Although she may have been carrying these eggs for months, they are not implanted until the conditions are right, ensuring that the cubs are well-nourished and born at the proper time. The mother bear wakes up briefly to give birth to her cubs, then returns to snoozing while she snuggles and nurses her babies for the next three months. Only at some inner signal does the new family emerge to embrace the newness and activity of springtime and the outside world. This is a powerful reminder that a mother is still in her Bear Cave for months after her birth. This is the fourth trimester. How will you know when it is time for you and your baby to leave your Bear Cave? What will your inner signals be? Will it be hard for you to wait? Or will you need some help rousing yourself? These are important questions to consider as you anticipate, or try to make sense of, your new life with baby.
You have entered your Bear Cave carrying dreams and goals for yourself as a mother, your birth, your baby, your new family, and this next stage of your life. Introspection is necessary to bring these dreams to fruition. Introspection and time. This is what Bear teaches us. Allow these seeds to dwell in the darkness, within the protective walls of your Dream Lodge, until a signal moves you to bring them outside, to the light, where they can blossom and grow into their true shape. While in the Dream Lodge, these seeds contain infinite possibilities. A season in the Bear Cave will give nourishment, strength, and wisdom to your dreams so that when they emerge in spring they are ready to take off running.
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.