I saw two members of my workshop group in the restaurant, already seated at a large window table, as I descended to the hotel restaurant to graze at the breakfast buffet. They smiled and waved to me to join them, but I had some coffee and a boiled egg at another table before I carried the rest of my breakfast over to theirs.
"i wanted to give you some time to wake up before I put yu to work," I explained. "If you want me to sit with you, you'll have to pay the price. That means telling me a dream, or a fresh story.
"I don't remember any dreams," the woman began to apologize.
"You don't have to tell me a dream. You do need to tell me a story. Remember your assignment last night." As I often do, I had given members of my workshop a homeplay assignment: to bring a story or image that could provide the portal for a shamanic journey.
"While you are thinking about it, " I went on, let me tell you a story about how stories are made. It involves the English writer Graham Greene, a consummate storyteller. His ability to write and entertain grew from a wound. When he was still in high school, he had a complete pyschological breakdown and his father - the principal of his expensive boarding school - rushed him to London to live with one of the first shrinks to practice there, back in 1920. Greene lived with this psychoanalyst for three months. He was given the assignment to bring a dream to the shrink every day in his office at eleven o'clock. Some days, Graham did not remember a dream. So he would make up a story in place of the forgotten dream. In this way, he got into the habit of creative invention. So, what is your story now?"
I could see that all of this touched her where she lived. She had told us at the start of the workshop that she had a serious thyroid condition and had come in hopes of healing for that wound.
She began to weave together things she had seen and experienced in our drumming journeys, and things that others had shared with the group, including my personal story of being received into the embrace of the Bear after finding the courage to brave up to a greater power. And of how, in my work with the Bear spirit, I have come to recognize that the primary form, for me, is that of Great Mother Bear.
"Mother Bear has her paws on my throat," she started her tale. "I feel heat and pressure. It's painful, bit I know she is healing my thyroid. When she moved her paws away, she wants me to speak my truth and sing from my heart. I do this, speaking of my desire to lead a creative life. Then she wraps me in a huge embrace, and I know I have been healed."
She quivered with excitement, and joy.
"I have seen the Bear heal, exactly like this," I gave her immediate validation and confirmation. Sometimes Bear will open the wounded part. Always she will fold you in a great bear hug, in that healing embrace."
She agreed to honor the Bear instantly by loading up another breakfast plate. And when we opened the workshop, and I asked our dreamers to draw a rapid-fire image from whatever was with them after the first short drumming session, I sketched a bear doctor healing the thyroid, while Great Mother Bear enfolded both doctor and patient in her vast and generous embrace.
That evening, I went to Zum Bären, near the river in the Höchst district, to feed and honor my own Bear energies. Don't expect to count calories if you are dancing with the Bear!
I am thinking about the story magic at the breakfast table. This is an example of the practice of imagination in everyday life. And a reminder that real shamans change the body and the world by telling better stories about them.
The bottom line:
You don't have a dream to share at the breakfast table? Then make up a story!
You need healing? Then maybe you'll make up a story of the Medicine Bear.
The Bear will come, if your story is good enough for your body to believe it. I guarantee it.