goal setting, the bear – strength and courage

When I think about goal setting, I’m reminded of a story…about 10 years ago, I had a goal to hike through Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. My first slot canyon in the desert. Slot canyons are both exhilarating and terrifying. Not for the claustrophobic of heart, they are like walking down into a very narrow crack in the Earth – a living Earth. Realizing the Earth is alive is the scary part. As with all living things, one must remember – entities sometimes pulse with unpredictable and ever present change, both inside and out.

One of the the risks of hiking in a slot is that somewhere, miles away and upstream from the canyon, the heavens could open up in a monsoon of rain. It might be days later, when the un-absorbed water finally arrives to circulate within the walls and channels of the crevice, raging, as it furiously fills the gap with a flash flood.

The water is both perfectionist homemaker and fastidious housekeeper. Whirling through the crevice, it arranges and designs the interior walls with it’s turbulent energy, it scrubs the floors immaculate, while removing all of the spots and stains of humanity. Is this frantic and frenzied preparation a necessary requirement for the return of it’s partner – the light? One can only guess.

With no more warning then a dull, roaring crescendo, faintly detected from far, far away, the dusty, dry trail can become monstrously overwhelmed. A swiftly flowing stream turns into a wildly gushing rapid, sweeping up everything in it’s path with with great celerity and no mercy. The ride might be on or in a violent, powerful, crashing, torrent. The evidence is unclear because not many have survived.

Why do people visit Antelope canyon? Because the combination of water, rock and light have created a breathtaking vision of another world. There are no words to describe the beauty of the light as it drifts and beams through the slot onto the sculpted strata of red rock. Antelope Canyon is most visited by photographers for this reason. The rest are adventurous tourists and hikers like myself. Once inside, all danger is forgotten. It’s easy to understand how someone could become so mesmerized with the scenery, you forget to listen because the quiet is so loud. As if the beams of light are competing, calling out to your vision and redirecting the focus, look up, look down, over there – sideways.

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While waiting to enter the canyon, people are told of the unpredictable risk. They tell you “A person will find themselves serenely hiking underground in one moment, and running for their life in the next.” This did not help my anxiety. The warning lecture continued…”The weather up north is cloudy, we need to warn you – slot canyons are beholden to the whims of mother nature – out of nowhere and without much warning, a flood can come through. The water will whisk you and your life away like you are nothing more than a pesky, intrusive bug.” Alright then, maybe I’ll come back tomorrow after I’ve checked the weather more completely. Nope, it’s now or never. Time to do this. I’ve come this far, I’ll push through. The very last thing the docent said was “By the way…don’t forget to look for the bear at the end, and remember, around here, bears are symbols of strength and courage.” Good to know. Go away fear, I want to see the bear.

I needed to continually remind myself – Antelope canyon is a major tourist destination, this means someone is closely monitoring its weather, they don’t want bad publicity or death. The thought reassured me, I was committed to going in. There was no turning back. I had to accept the risk because the benefit far outweighed it. And… Oh, what a benefit. I took some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen on Earth.

Walking through the canyon, passing by other people, I could hear them buzzing about the bear at the end of the slot. How exciting – I couldn’t wait to see the bear. As I moved deeper into the slot, I could feel a nagging hesitancy and a sense of being trapped as I walked further in, but I wanted to see the bear, the symbol of strength and courage. I needed to summon my own strength and courage – to push myself and keep going.

About an hour later I arrived at the end of the slot, fear was replaced with disappointment. The bear was nowhere in sight. Had it left for the day? Gone out for lunch? Did I miss it because of my worry and haste to get to the end?

Standing there, looking around at all the ledges and caverns, I couldn’t figure it out, until behind me a soft said “Look at the exit.” I did, thinking the bear was outside. “No, really look AT the exit, not through it, but at it.” Omigosh, I finally saw it! The bear, big as life, standing there. Strength and courage couldn’t be more gigantic. What a gift – to take this image with me!

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I could end by saying –  we need goals, they help us overcome obstacles when worry and fear keep us from the things we want to do most. Or I could say – life is all  about perspective, and goals get us to open ourselves up to seeing things in a different way. But really, what I want to say is thank you for reading my story. I hope you can find some sort of message for yourself – something that inspires you to get out there and find your “bear”.

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