(Following is a journal entry from 2008 about conditional love from before I began working with dreams as I do now. Today I would bring in some of the tender and healing language of the dream though I know fellow dreamers will recognize here in Knut’s story where our own misunderstandings, woundings and grief lie…and where lies as well the compassion and kindness we can cultivate for ourselves and others.)
I just heard a news story about Knut, the polar bear, who was abandoned by his mother as a cub. And what a cub! – pure white ball of innocence and beauty.
His well-intentioned zoo and personal handler took great care of him. He attended to his every need, he hand raised him, hand fed him and even slept with him. Knut didn’t know what life meant without his devoted handler. He was beloved of hundreds of thousands of visitors to the zoo. There were Knut stuffed bears, Knut candy, Knut t-shirts; the list goes on and on. Knut mattered.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Knut grew up. The once white coat turned to a mottled brown and grey. Knut became an awkward teenager, gawky and unattractive. Interest in him waned. I mean who wants to visit a homely bear. His handler could no longer risk being injured by the now maturing Knut, so he kept his distance.
However, Knut, so used to human touch and attention didn’t understand. They say he suffered from mental illness as he was no longer given the physical attention he once enjoyed and came to depend upon.
What did these well-intentioned professionals think? Was it a surprise that a polar bear’s nature and instincts as a hunter would emerge? Could they not predict that a bear can’t rationalize and choose to be other than he is as they doted and showered attention upon him, only to strip him of it as it became problematic and dangerous?
Knut mirrors that shadow side of all of us. Initially, in most relationships, be it childhood or adult, others are a delight to get to know, a welcome part of our life, bringing pleasure to us. And we are a delight to them. We enjoy another’s company and personality.
Yet, are we with them because of them or how it makes us feel? Are they with us because of how they feel? Because we feel good about ourselves in their presence? Then, as the relationship matures and other aspects of who we are emerge, with all their flaws and stuck places, the tables turn.
We who once loved and accepted this other person now take a step back. We who were once loved and accepted find others taking a step back. Yuck! We weren’t expecting any of this – this reality. What do you mean you or I have needs and expectations? I can’t be around someone who is not attractive any more or has personal struggles, wounds. Why would we want to be in the presence of homely and broken? Others don’t want to be around us when we reveal our places of struggle and need.
Then we are reminded, once again, that who they truly are doesn’t matter; it never really did. The relationship was conditional and dependent upon how they made us feel or we made them feel. Our lives don’t teach us how to be in relationship with each other….with ourselves…for all of who we are…
Is there a follow up story for Knut. Sadly, yes. A new little cub was born to the zoo and he became the new darling. Has anything been learned about what to do for his mental and emotional health? I don’t know…here he is, in all his precious furry self, lovingly being bottle fed and doted upon.
(On March 19, 2011, at age four, Knut unexpectedly collapsed into his enclosure pool and drowned.)
Mary Jo Heyen is a certified Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with clients in person, phone or Skype. Learn more about her work with dreams at www.maryjoheyen.com.