There was a mysterious bear in the woods that many knew of but none had recently met. He was a character that most were aware of, but one that many feared to approach. He had a strange way about him, he seemed to have some kind of power, or powers, that normal bears did not have.
"That's one weird bear," some of the bears would say.
"He must be dealing with the witches of the next forest," others would say.
"Maybe he's a demon or something," was another idea they had...
This bear would walk along the woods and the trees would speak to him. Flowers would emit a stronger fragrance for him, fruits would drop at his feet if he was hungry, and the insects and fish would even sacrifice themselves for him! Fish would jump out of the water, land next to his big paws, and actually ask to be eaten. "I have had quite enough of this world," they would say to him, "I am soon to die anyway, Nature has said, and so I would be honoured to sustain your body in this world, since you are a great influence on the land."
And so the bear would gratefully sustain himself on the food Nature had provided, treating his meals with the utmost reverence and respect.
No one could understand. This bear didn’t even seem to be asking for anything, and things would just drop at his feet!
The bears would always watch him from a distance, feeling both awe and an underlying fear of this mystical bear. No one from this generation of bears had ever actually approached him. They felt both attracted with their eyes, yet repelled by their bodies.
The bears of this world would always be hanging around in groups. It was very rare that you would see any less than four together at a time. To be alone was unheard of, except in the case of this mysterious bear.
One day, Lazarus, one of the younger bears, had noticed how much better this wise bear seemed to have it. The rest of the bears would sometimes be fighting or struggling to get food, arguing or feeling in conflict with things, and yet this distant bear seemed to have it so easy, and he looked so serene!
Lazarus was in a big group of bears – three large families – and they were in an open clearing in a pocket of the forest, sitting in an expanse of greenery with the forest edge surrounding them like a big horse-shoe, and in front of them was the huge crystal-looking lake which led into the river. The sun had been dancing on the water for hours, but now it seemed to be resting behind the grey clouds that were arriving above the lake.
In the distance, closer to the edge of the forest, Lazarus could see this lone bear sitting by himself in the grass. All the other bears knew he was there as well, and were feeling mildly unsettled.
"I'm going to ask him about himself!" declared the young bear, keenly interested in the secrets of this sacred figure in the distance.
"No!" the rest of the bears affirmed, "No, you aren't to go over there."
"Why?" asked Lazarus, not actually caring much for whatever the response would be.
"Because it’s too dangerous, there are strange stories about that bear," replied his grandfather. "We have heard that only one bear has approached him, many many years ago, and when he returned from the meeting with him, he was no longer a bear. It was like he had completely lost who he was."
"But was he happy or upset?" asked Lazarus, slightly more interested in what his group had to say.
There was a pause. "Never you mind,” said his grandfather, "you just stay well away from that bear. Anyway, what is wrong with our way of life? Is this not good enough for you? We live as bears should live, that bear over there is not a bear anymore. You stay here with us and we will teach you more about our ways and how to live."
A mist began to form over the land.
"No!" rebelled Lazarus, "I'm sorry grandad, but I must go to see him. I am grateful for all you have taught me, how you have cared for me, but I simply must meet that bear over there. Come with me if you like."
"But what if you never return!"
And off Lazarus ran. Now Lazarus was a very fast bear, the fastest of his whole family. No one could ever catch him if he wanted to run off. Still, moved by fear of what might happen to her beloved son, and going against her desire to stay with the group, his mother chased after him, roaring at him to return. But Lazarus was gone, he had disappeared into the mist. Lazarus could hear his mum crying behind him, but he knew her fears were not justified.
He let out a final yell of "Worry not mother, I will be fine!"
His mother continued to run in the direction he had disappeared in, desperate to find Lazarus. The mist suddenly cleared, and she was closer to him than she had thought, but it was too late, Lazarus was already with this other bear, standing right in front of him. She stopped dead in her tracks, as if an invisible wall had been placed before her. A strange peace came over her, as suddenly, she saw that this bear had no malice in him whatsoever, he was emitting a radiant beauty, that was like nothing she had ever seen.
Lazarus had sprinted up to this bear who seemed to have mastered Life, and had stopped directly in front of him. The bear did not even look at Lazarus. He was just sitting there, gently enjoying some blue and red berries. He would whisper as he ate each berry, one by one, "Thank you."
Lazarus had not yet developed the filter for speech that the older bears had. Whatever he felt like saying, he just said it...
"Why are you thanking the berries? They can not hear you...can they?"
At the words "can they?", this mysterious bear detected an openness in the mind of the young bear. Usually the other bears over the centuries would just tell him that the berries could not hear him, that he was being silly, rather than asking in such an innocent, enquiring nature.
The bear’s eyes fixed on this young, open, bright new visitor of his, and he began to speak to him. But the bear's mouth was not moving. Lazarus could just hear the gentle but powerful tone of the bear, answering his question.
"Yes, they can hear my gratitude,” said the bear. "We bears have become arrogant, so arrogant that we believe if we can not see the ears of something, then it can not hear us. You do not need eyes or ears to recognise truth. And the truth is always here."
This did not make much sense to Lazarus, but he sat down to converse more with this bear, whom it seemed quite natural listen to. It was almost as if this bear was speaking to him from the inside.
"How is it that we seem to struggle so much more than you?" asked Lazarus. "We can spend ages looking for fish, but yesterday I saw you walking past the river, yawn, and a fish jumped right in your mouth!"
The bear smiled, "And how grateful I was," he said, now using his mouth to speak out his words.
The peaceful bear closed his eyes for a while, and Lazarus was about to burst from the anticipation of whether he could know this bear's secrets, when the bear opened his eyes up again, and it began to rain.
"Ah, shall we move into the forest?" asked Lazarus hastily, patterning what his mother would always say.
"Why?" asked the bear, giving thanks to the water falling from the sky.
"Well...so we don’t get so wet."
"Ok, we can move," said the bear, "but first give thanks to the rain. It is watering the trees, refreshing our bodies, and providing for Life all around us."
Lazarus had never thought about it like that before. He had always been told that the rain was just a nuisance, something to avoid...he could remember when his mother...
"No need to think any more," explained the bear, "please join me, let us say thank you."
"Thank you," Lazarus said hesitantly. "Thank you to who?" he thought. "Am I thanking all the rain? Or each drop? Can the rain even hear me? What if..."
"Please," said the bear, "there really is no need to think about this. Just say thank you, without thinking about it any more."
"Thank you," Lazarus said, remembering his own innocence. Suddenly he felt so warm, the rain was not disturbing him, and he was grateful that it was watering his home.
He even began to marvel at this phenomenon. There was so much rain! So many drops falling from the sky! It was strangely beautiful, and he could not believe how much there was! Although this rain was no different to the rain he had experienced before, it was as if he had never really seen it.
Neither bear moved. They just enjoyed the rain. Lazarus’s mum was looking on in disbelief, at how she had never really seen the rain before, either.
After a while the rain slowed down, and the sun gently emerged from the cover of clouds.
"Thank you," Lazarus said, without even thinking. He knew the sun was not separate from him, he had always known, and could not believe how effortlessly kind and powerful the sun was.
The wise bear smiled, in gratitude of his new fresh-faced visitor.
The two bears were dried by the sun, and Lazarus felt as if he was running out of questions. He felt quite content to just be there. He could feel some kind of connection with everything around him. The grass, the trees, the birds, his new friend, but he could feel it without even thinking about it. He noticed that the more he thought about it, the less he could actually experience it. It felt like love, it felt like care, and it felt very safe.
"What you feel is Nature itself," explained the wise bear. "You are not apart from it. It is always caring for you, always providing for you, and nothing else is apart from it. If you act as if it is not there, if you try to be apart from it, you deceive yourself, and you feel you don’t have enough. And so nothing flows. After you cut your self off, everything seems to cut itself off from you. If you want to be an independent bear, then everything else will feel independent from you; you will feel you have to struggle to take care of yourself. But if you admit that you are not separate from Nature, if you welcome Nature, stop fighting against it, stop trying to escape it, then she will welcome you with open arms. Her arms are always open, but often we turn away, and try to go it alone."
"Some other bears say you are not a bear anymore," said Lazarus.
"And they are right," said the wise bear. "I look like a bear, I sound like a bear, but this bear is only Nature's costume. I am Nature itself, dressed as a bear. Once this bear has died, Nature will remain. I am Nature, taking care of the bear."
Lazarus sat there in silent wonder. He was Nature as well! He could feel it!
"You see your reflection in the water, and others tell you that you are a bear,” continued the wise one. "You believe them. You take yourself to be a bear, and you imagine that you are bear living in the body of a bear. But this identity is an illusion, you have been given it, it has been built by the other bears and by yourself, until you feel like you are a bear, separate from all other things."
Lazarus felt so peaceful. The worries his family had told him about seemed to be disappearing, until he was no longer Lazarus anymore. The body of the bear remained, Life remained, Nature remained, but Lazarus had disappeared. Lazarus was no more, Lazarus had never existed, just Nature remained, alive and intelligent.
Lazarus's mother, by now, was lying on the grass, in a gentle ecstasy at how mistaken she had been about everything she thought she knew. She had been so afraid, and for what?! All of her many fears had only made her feel afraid, and nothing more. She could see Lazarus in the distance, as his encounter with the wise bear was drawing to a close.
"Thank you, see you again," said Lazarus, feeling it was time to leave.
"Indeed," replied the bear, and as his heart gave thanks for what had just taken place, it completely departed from his mind.
Lazarus approached his mother. They didn’t have to say anything. They smiled at each other, were grateful for each other, and made their way back to the group, now free from everything that the group had ever told them.