Living What We Know

Living What We Know by Michelle Katz

One of my favorite myths comes from Japan.  It is called Tsukina Waguma or the Crescent Moon Bear.

I have been thinking about this story lately, as so much in life is constantly changing, and sometimes I deeply wish for a cure to the troubles I hold, myself, for the people I love, and for the world.

The story is set in a pine forest, where a woman and her husband live.  The husband is sent off to fight in a war for many years, and when he returns, he is a different man, as war would do to any of us.  He would not enter the house.  He slept outside on stones, and stayed in the forest all day, but most of all, he was mean, angry, and hard to live with.  The woman, on the other hand, was so happy to see her husband and tried to do anything to make his return home wonderful: cooking, cleaning, creating, being of service.  Yet, everything she did, was met with anger and harshness. The woman then traveled to a healer for answers, asking for a potion to return things back to the way they were before the war.  The healer agreed to give her a potion, however, she would just need to get one particular ingredient for it to be done.  The healer then instructed her to climb the mountain, find the black bear and bring back a single hair from the crescent moon at its throat.  Then, the healer could give her what she needed and life would be good again.

She went out on her journey, singing to the mountain and the nature that surrounded her as she climbed.  The journey was effortful, with thorns and rock boulders to ascend, there were moments of darkness and moving alongside dark creatures.  The snowy mountain peak made her feet wet and cold, a storm came and blew winds in every direction, into her eyes and blinding her at times. She met them all with grace as she was motivated by love. 

She did not eat the food she brought, she slept in caves covered by leaves, and she prepared herself for the task at hand.  The next morning, searching for the Crescent Moon Bear, she found its trail and followed it to its den.  She watched the bear roar and enter its den, and thought to give it a bowl of food, which she set outside the den and returned to her shelter to hide.  The bear came out and roared loudly, circled the food, and finally came to eat it, returning to its den shortly after.  She repeated this practice for many nights, but every time she stayed a little closer to the bear’s den. 

One night, as the bear smelled the food, he also smelled her.  He roared so loudly the whole world shook, including the woman, down to her bones.  The bear howled, smacked its jaws, hauled itself onto its hind legs, and showed the woman the entirety of its mouth.  The woman, she did not run away.  The bear roared more and more, wailing its arms to grab her, claws coming close.  She was terrified, but she stayed put.  She spoke to the bear, explaining the reason for her journey and what she needed.  The bear, looked into the woman’s frightened face, and the woman, for a moment, felt she could see the whole world in the bear’s eyes.  Peace met them both.

She then requested the hair from the bear’s throat.  The bear thought of the woman feeding him daily and all the ways she had been good to the bear.  The bear gave her permission to one of its hairs, which she plucked quickly, leaving the bear crying out in pain then settling into huffs.  She expressed her gratitude. The bear roared, and she felt a greater understanding of its expression.  She then hurried down the mountain, returning ragged, soil faced, disheveled.  She came to the healer with the single ingredient and he instructed her to get, exclaiming, “I have it, a hair of the crescent moon bear!”

The healer smiled, took the hair, looked at it carefully, acknowledged its authenticity, and suddenly threw the hair into the fire.  It popped, crackled and was consumed by the flame.  The woman cried out in despair, “what have you done?”  The healer then reminded her of every step she took to climb the mountain, all she did to gain the trust of the bear, all she saw and heard and felt in her time up there, then told her to go home, for she already has everything she needs.

This week, I have seen, felt and heard all the ways that doubt strikes us. Personally, I came to meet doubt and fear, particularly in relating to others.  I realize that relationships are always changing, I am always changing, and thus my expectations and the way I meet circumstances also needs to change.  My bear lives in feelings of shame and betrayal.  Anger grows inside me and howls when I feel the depths of hurt I have felt from this. I have no other choice but to listen to these places inside me as a they roar and grab at me fervently.  I then know, I must find my way with this intense experience of Self.  This week, my way to meet betrayal and shame was much like the woman’s in this story, to stay with it and create connection, and to be intentional and honest.  It’s daunting to be so utterly vulnerable and real in this way.  This is a task that asks for every part of us to truly show up.

I went to the mountain as well.  My body feeling sore and achy, I was still determined to climb this mountain. Beginning on a dirt road with many divots and bumps, and then to a narrow path dividing a wild meadow covered in white and yellow spring flowers and surrounded by tall pines, and then into the woods, the darker forest which offered switch backs across a creek over and over again, along logs or rocks, and ascending upward, endless and steep to the peak and mountain lake.  Each section had a threshold crossing, a gate where road met meadow, another gate where meadow met forest, a boulder crossing where forest met alpine lake.  I could not help but think of all the way this mimics relationship.  Each threshold an opportunity to go deeper. As the terrain changes, we must walk differently in each landscape; different pace, cadence, step/level of surefootedness, awareness.  Each part offering its beauty and hardship.  Each part offering us an opportunity to trust ourselves, to cross the creek on rocky terrain and make it safely through again and again, to know that any moment of saying “I can’t” is meant by something deeper inside of us that screams out with so much heart and knowing about our ability to meet any ordeal with courage.

As I learn from this myth, there is no other choice but to meet challenges, especially when we are guided by love or something greater than us. When meeting something so wild and out of control, we come to find our path. Each new territory unveils new meaning, new purpose.  We feed the bear, we watch patiently, we talk compassionately, we see the multitude in all things.  Most of all, may we come to know that there is no magical potion, there is only the hair from the Crescent Moon Bear’s neck, a symbol of our journey and what we come to know about ourselves and the world around us.  We have everything inside of us already, we simply need to go out and practice our knowing. 

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