The ‘Bear’ Truth

A number of years ago, Tarn and I were exploring the San Juan Mountains, a part of the Rockies in southwestern Colorado. We took the jeep road to Ophir Pass (11,789’) and stopped to hike over a ridge to Crystal Lake, a place of childhood memories for Tarn (coincidently, “tarn” is a geological term for a high mountain lake like this one). The trail is very steep and mostly scree which, combined with the elevation, made for a ‘breathtaking’ adventure. We clambered up and over the rocky high point and gazed down upon the sky blue of the aptly named pool.

As we descended toward the lake, we noticed a large mass partially submerged at the water’s edge. It was brown and furry, appearing like a fuzzy mound of dark earth covered in flies. The odor of death was unmistakeable. We realized it was the hulking body of a huge black bear that had apparently met its demise during the winter or early spring. Frigid mountain air and late snow conditions kept the mammal from decomposing—but the gnawing of scavengers had left their mark. A bit of bone emerged here and there with signs of teeth etched into the surface.

The contrast of a pristine crystal-clear lake hosting the death of a wild creature touched me, and I fell into a deep reflection about life and death. But soon my meditation was broken by the snap-flap of wind-blown flags. A string of Tibetan prayer flags, strung between two rock outcroppings near the end the lake, danced in the mountain breeze. What the…? Did someone erect the flags as a blessing for the bear? Or were they here before, signaling an good place to die?

I always wonder about such auspicious arisings. What are the chances a practitioner of the tradition that gives meaning to these flags would randomly stumble upon them? One hundred percent, of course. This is the bear truth of all synchronicity. It strips us bare of contrivance and sends us tumbling into the essential wonder of life where all possibilities exist in any given moment. And what we see is always how we see—inseparable from the light of naked, uncontrived, awareness.

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