What Bears Can Teach You

by Susie Amundson

If only I had gotten to the raspberry patch first, I might have had some hand.

It’s berry-picking time in Alaska. That means — all systems go. So last week, as I was getting ready for a recon to our patch, a big black furry head cropped up in the middle of it.

I was hoping it was Martty in a fur suit. But my dear husband was cooking dinner.

It stopped me cold. (No, not Martty cooking.) But the bear. Just a month earlier we had seen four, let me repeat FOUR, discrete black bears in 30 minutes near the patch.

Now we never put the patch in the lower meadow. It was much closer to the house. But about 6 years ago, the local porcupines chewed up our thorny patch. And yes, deposited it down there. (No biology lesson needed.)

And so there it grows.

Sure I hear you — it’s only a black bear. Or the Brady Bunch of Black Bears. But as most Alaskans know this has been the summer of the black bear. As in a few too many maulings by those critters.

And so I stopped cold. Feeling the cringe in my body. Charged up energy swirling in my chest. Shoulders tingling. A stuck spot in my throat. Dead legs. My lived experience.

My neurobiology at work.

That neurophysiological shift. It’s begging to be heard. No reason to ignore when it’s immediate, strong, long lasting, and yes noticeable. It’s got a message.

You undoubtedly have neurophysiological shifts many times during your day, too. But more often than not we don’t notice them when they are mini threats. A rude comment or gesture is made to us. We send the wrong email to the wrong person. Our work crew is being uncooperative. We didn’t get the promotion we thought we deserved. A family member is adjusting our calendar — again. We start imagining what-ifs.

Usually, we don’t notice those shifts.

And what do we do? Play head games. Or launch into automatic reactions. Most of which are self-defeating to our health and well being in the long run.

Mind games sound like this. Designing a story that puts your colleague in a bad light. Creating cretin stories about yourself. Pulling out the poor-me card on your spouse. Whirling in the apology loop at a meeting. Running a 10k when your body is broken down. Being “nice” and indirect so no one is uncomfortable about a hot topic. Bypassing the shift and putting the onus on Buddha or God or Allah.

Research tells us this pattern of mind games developed as coping tactics in our early years of life. To build relationships, to be taken care of, to have close connections, you unplugged from your neurophysiological states, your emotions, what rang true for you. You cleaved body and mind.

And voila, your early coping tactics transformed into your “unique” adult personality.

But what if you don’t go into the head game space? What if when you feel your emotional state shift, you just show up for it. Move your mind into your body. Stay there. Get curious like a scientist – and observe. Breathe intentionally, easy in and steady out. Listen quietly. Stay there even if it gets uncomfortable and see what happens. Without anything else — a whirling storyline, a comment, revisiting a past event, or planning a future one.

Just showing up for your lived experience.

One of my clients recently shared that when she stayed with her felt-sense of anxiety and fear about her upcoming schedule, they actually exacerbated at first. Ewwww. But the longer she stayed there as a curious scientist, breathing steadily in and out, they started receding, moving. And eventually, lost their power.

Oh, they cropped up again and then she was able to put them in her microscope again with a curious, observant eye. And each time, when those feeling states got experienced, heard, and saw, they dissipated within her.

They lost their power. They lost their force. She could hold them as friends. And in doing so, she could think more clearly, make decisions that rang more true for her, see the quirkiness of her dilemma, gain more perspective, and know a bit more ease and joy in her life.

This is the message for all of us. To listen to our bodies. To show up for our neurophysiological states. To be present. To tap our wholeness.

That said, I’ve paid pretty close attention to my body recently. And I’m thinking this year, the Brady Bunch can enjoy those raspberries at the bottom of our meadow. As for me, I’m headed down the road to Mossy’s U-Pick Raspberries on Seaside Farm. I think I can taste the yumminess already!

May you enjoy your last days of summer and their glow.

Susie