A little girl was walking in the forest and heard a loud growl. She was suddenly met by a big bear.

“Stop!” she called out, “You’re scaring me.”

She took a deep breath and asked, “Are you my friend?” 

The bear walked towards her, “Look into my eyes, little one, what do you see?”

She hesitantly leaned towards him, gazed into his eyes, and said, “I see kindness.”

“Good. Now, let’s begin. Jump up on my shoulders. I’m going to train you. It’s time for you to thrive.” The bear knelt down and signaled to her, “Up up.”

The little girl awkwardly climbs his legs, bumps him in the nose, pokes his eyes and sticks her foot in his mouth. Alas, she made it to his shoulders. The bear let out a big sigh, both one of endearment and patience.

“There are four important principles I want you to learn today. They will help you not fret and remind you that striving too much will only weaken you.

As the little girl held on to his neck, the bear ran through the forest. She laughed with glee, “This is fun. Faster, faster!” The bear sped up, jumping over fallen trees and sliding down muddied hills. He reached their first destination, a river bed.

LESSON #1: I will teach you to choose nourishment.

The bear led the little girl to the edge of the river. Staring intently into the rapids, he quickly swooped his paw into the cold rushing waters and retrieved a salmon.

He set the salmon on the bank and said to her, “Little One, strength is drawn from nourishment. When you feed your body, your mind, your heart, your soul and your spirit with good food, you will withstand any tumultuous challenge. Do not neglect self-care and you will thrive. Now, hop up,” he continued, “you’re ready for our next lesson.” 

The little girl grabbed his fur as though it was a handrail and walked up his torso as though it were steps. She climbed aboard his broad shoulders, her left hand above her eyes as a visor, and her right finger pointing ahead, “Giddyup, Bear.”

LESSON #2: I will teach you to mark your territory.

They soon arrived at their next location, where they were surrounded by tall redwood trees, sword ferns and countless violets.  

As she descended, the little girl smiled and said, “Oh, I like this.”

The bear walked over to the tallest, biggest redwood tree.

“You like this forest?” he reiterated.

“Oh yes. I think it’s perfect!” she exclaimed.

“Little One,” he paused and turned to her. “This lesson will require you to trust.”

All of a sudden, with eyes closed, he leapt into the air and clawed the redwood that stood before him. As his paws touched down, he exhaled deeply, with eyes still closed and head bowed.

A silence drifted through the trees.

The little girl looked up at the claw marks, they felt like they were a million miles away. She cupped the bear’s face, “You jumped very high!”

They sat under the marked tree, the little girl nestled into his chest.

“This lesson can only be accomplished with eyes closed. It is a leap of faith, Little One. You must find the lands you want to claim and mark them. Believe that this very spot, this place you chose, also chose you. Your boldness will come from confidently knowing you’re in the right place at the right time and for the right reasons. This, Little One, will anchor you in strength.”

Once again, he gestured her to jump up onto his shoulders. She crawled over his belly and stood up on his back, walking towards his ears. She kissed the top of his head, sat down and hugged his neck. Softly she declared, “I’m ready now.”

With a twinkle in his eyes, he smiled and off they ran to their next adventure.

LESSON #3: I will teach you to rest.

Hiding behind his leg, the little girl nervously asked, “Where are we? I can’t see anything.” 

It was dark. Very dark.

“Stay close to me, Little One. Hold my paw as we walk.” The bear moved carefully inside the unlit den.

The lair was warm and the floor was filled with soft leaves and ferns. The bear curled up and whispered, “Cuddle inside my arms. It’s time for a nap.”

“A nap?!?”, appalled by this notion, she resisted, “I don’t want to nap. We’re having an adventure. Besides, I’m not tired. Let’s keep going!”

The bear continued to whisper, “For us to keep running, we must find our rest. We can’t always be moving quickly, if we do, we’re in danger of striving. We run a little and rest a little.”

“But but but… I’m not tired. I promise, I’m not tired. Please, can we keep going?”

“You will only ever know you need rest when you stop. Wait a few more minutes, lay quietly in my arms, and you will begin to feel the body relax, the heart calm down….”

Before he could finish his sentence, the bear heard gentle snoring sounds and a rhythm of deep sleep.

“….and the mind be still.”

LESSON #4: I will teach you to stand firm.

As the little girl awoke from her rest, letting out a big yawn, she walked towards the entrance of the den. Outside, the bear had dug a hole, placed large rocks in a circle and was lighting the kindling he had gathered.  A bag of marshmallows was beside a tree stump, along with a whittled branch.

“Yummy! Thank you, Bear!” The little girl sat down on the stump and began to roast a marshmallow.

Without taking his gaze off the fire, the bear said, “There’s one last lesson I want to share with you, Little One. This lesson will require you to show your boldness.”

The little girl’s marshmallow suddenly caught fire and she quickly blew out the flame. Pulling the blackened white candy from the sticky branch, she responded, “I like burnt marshmallows. And why do I have to be bold?”

“If you strive too hard, it means you’re afraid. Fear will make you shrink back. But to thrive, Little One, requires a measure of courage. Do you know what it looks like to be courageous?”

With a mouthful, the little girl mumbles, “Nnnn..mmmm..no..”

The bear stepped behind the fire, “Little One, watch me now. I will show you what courage looks like.”

He stood on his back legs and he grew taller and taller, towering 8 feet tall. With his front paws stretched, the big bear let out a bellowing roar.

The birds in the trees fluttered away and you could hear the sound of rabbits and critters scurrying off. The little girl covered her ears, his roar was like thunder.

Startled, she shouted up to the bear, “I didn’t know you were THAT tall!”

There he stood, in all his strength and power, “This, Little One, is what courage looks like. No matter how small you may think you are, stand tall. This will require much courage. You must confidently stand firm. Boldly be you, all of you. Never shrink back.”

As the sun began to set, the bear and little girl walked hand in paw back to her home.

“Little One, remember…”

She interrupted, “I choose nourishment. I mark my territory. I rest. I stand firm.”

The bear smiled warmly, “And you will thrive.”

–  Karen Thrall