Meeting the Mother Bear
From 100 feet away, I could see a grimacing 45 year old man with blue trousers set off by a vertically running red stripe, wearing a camel, cream colored shirt marked on the shoulder by a symbol containing three triangle tops sitting atop a half circle. Marine recruiter, Staff Sergeant Michaelson, walked towards my front door with his assistant, and my mother said in a commanding voice, “Go to your room, now.” My protests were met with sternness and rigidity. I was a tough 17 year old, but I respected my mother, so I climbed to the top of the stairs, and positioned myself out of view.
As Sergeant Michaelson approached the door, my mother let him know that he was not welcome inside her house. She knew he was there to get me to sign a contract we agreed to shelve until I had completed Military College. He persisted, and began to pull the screen door open, when my mother said, “If you do not leave, I will call the police. The only way you are getting my son is if you pry him from my cold, dead hands.” He mumbled something, and left.
For 17 years, I had the loving, nurturing, hard working, creative, problem-solving mom one might liken to the mom in Dumbo: a female elephant that folds her son’s large ears, and wraps him up in her trunk, gently rocking him for comfort. This was a new mom: a sharp toothed, claw bearing mother bear, who scared away a seasoned man of war. Still now, when parents ask me if there is anything I could give their child (intelligence, athletic ability, the capacity to focus, more money, more academic opportunities, or more attractive physical features), I tell them this story, and urge them to actively demonstrate to their child that he/she has their parents unconditional love. I make it clear that once your child feels that you love them enough to blindly protect them, they will have the kind of resilience that not supplemental studying nor money nor native intelligence nor innate physical attractiveness can garner.
Unconditional love and the will to act on unconditional love will always be the two most powerful forces in the universe. Think about the reasoning behind pursuing great accomplishments and wealth. Is it not to be able to provide for others, and receive validation? Unconditional love is the greatest source of provision and validation. Don’t believe me? Think about how great it is to receive validation or resources, and then imagine how it feels to lose them. Now imagine how it feels to lose unconditional resources. If you are not now, once this sinks in, you are going to be lining up to turn your validation and temporary resources in for unconditional love.
Self-Compassion and the Mother Bear
So, what does this mean in terms of self-compassion? It means that you need to move towards unconditional love of yourself. Let me give you an example. In my third year of graduate school, I slept little, spent a great deal of my time in the hospital, and my skin was in such disarray that I thought I was going through a second puberty. One of my mentors encouraged me to practice self-compassion. I did, and as long as I was repeating the self-compassion phrases or actively engaged in self-compassion meditation, I was benefiting from the effects. This would last until I had to look into the mirror. My heart would sink. My stomach would bind, and I would cringe over how ugly I looked, and how terribly I felt.
Then, one day somebody told me something that changed my life. They said, “You know. You look just like your mother.” My mother is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Of the many things in life of which I am unsure, neither of those facts is in question. My experience was instantly changed. When I returned to the mirror, I could only see my mother, and her biological etchings that had stuck to me. I was no longer ugly. Like my mother, I was beautiful inside and out.
Many days have passed since then, but my experience in the mirror has remained unchanged. It is not a matter of vanity, but rather wanting to not be damaged by the world no matter how challenging the obstacles, and this connection to my mother ensured that I did not need to fear this damage anymore.
If you have not already gathered the ingredients for unconditional self-love from this story, here they are. For most of us, we are biologically connected to people whom we love unconditionally, who also love us unconditionally: parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces. If you can see the parts of them in you, you can transfer your unconditional love for them to yourself. Or put more aptly, because you have unconditional love for them, and they are an integral part of your genetic makeup, you naturally have unconditional love for yourself. They are apart of you that cannot be removed. They live in your tendencies, in your character, in your beliefs, values, and goals. They live in you language and habits of communication.
My mother and grandmother are so gracious that when I am struggling with a quality that we share, they actually apologize, but I always beg them not to. The reason being is that no matter how challenging the trait, it is a reminder that I am inextricably connected to two people that I love and am grateful to have in my life beyond the feeble human capacity to articulate such things. Where I can locate them, I live in love, and where I live in love, I am whole and resilient against all matters of superficiality (which are most things compared to love).
Putting It All Together
Think deeply on the people for whom you share unconditional love. Trace the connection between their qualities and your own. Awaken your inner mother bear, and profoundly trust her with your safety. If you are a man reading this and hoping not to be connected to what you consider a female spirit animal, think about what a lion does to establish his dominance and what a mother bear does to protect her cubs. The lion fights for pride. The mother bear fights for survival. In a fight between pride and survival, survival wins every time. Pride fears death. Those fighting for survival of others have already looked death in the face, and told him to keep walking.
Give yourself permission to feel lovable and loved even when you feel the most vulnerable and downtrodden. It is here that the courage of your inner self will show itself, and like the mother bear, will not only best threats to the self. It will transcend them. May you be safe. May you be peaceful. May you be kind to yourself. May you let that mother bear arise when you are in need of safety and well being, and may you honor her for loving you without reservation or prerequisite.
Though I do not wish you great suffering, sometimes it is only in these moments that we truly realize that the best of us can neither by hindered nor removed. The essential parts of you passed down or those which you transmit to others are irrevocably baked into the loving connection you have with those closest to you. Find solace and peace in that, and use every opportunity that shines a light on one of these parts to bring unconditional love and acceptance into your life. What else are you gonna do? Suffer all the time? Boring! Especially if you want to live a full life of meaning and adventure, let the love in, and thank yourself for it later.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 66. In the Books.