A week or so ago, my brother Dave texted a photo of a bear edging along the deck railing of his house in Colorado. Even in an area where bears are common, the presence of a 200-pound animal with powerful teeth and claws a few feet from the sliding glass doors is enough to trigger the flight or fight response.
In this case, the bear posed no threat — it was trolling for seed fallen from a bird feeder — but it’s interesting how life offers a reality check, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
A potted plant, for example.
When I get up in the morning, I open the blinds on all the windows in my 1924 bungalow. I want as much light in the house as I can get, but as the weather has gotten warmer — high today is predicted for 90 degrees — I now angle the blinds to admit as much light as possible while also blocking direct sunlight.
But in the living room, I make an exception.
For years I have had a potted plant in the living room — a lily of some sort — and other than watering it occasionally, I’ve done nothing to encourage it.
And for years it eeked along, never flowering, just surviving.
But about a year ago, I moved it directly under the living room window, and it has come alive. When I raise the blinds, brilliant sunlight splashes into the room onto extravagant and outstretched green leaves. And every time I am struck by how expansive and exuberant the plant seems.
It has become a daily reality check, and a challenge. The plant is doing great, but how am I doing?
Or, to stay with the analogy, have I raised the blinds on my own life?
Answer: not completely.
As an imperfect being with a highly elevated sense of my own failings, I know that I have spent my life holding back.
Years ago, I did a weekend men’s retreat with Dan Millman, author of “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” At the end of it, we broke a board with our hands, after first writing on it what we wanted to break through.
I wrote, “Holding back.”
I broke the board, but not the habit, and it was too many years later before I finally found a process that leads to the recovery of my authentic self. A process, I should add, that’s still in progress.
The morning ritual with the blinds reminds me that I’ve got limited time left on the planet and way too much left in the tank. Doubts and fears haven’t disappeared by any means, but I’ve had my time in the dark. I’ve got to open the blinds every day.
Or, bringing it back to bears — real and metaphorical — Werner Herzog put it this way recently to Carlos Watson: “Get used to the bear behind you.”