On my morning bike ride, I noticed people walking toward me with a few dogs on leashes. In their exuberant explorations, the dogs were romping around roadside to roadside. As we neared each other, we began navigating the crossing of our paths. The women corralled their dogs to one side of the dirt road. I passed by along the other edge where the sagebrush grows.

“I love your dog pack,” I called out, so delighted to see humans and four-leggeds enjoying their adventure. Our brief exchange, our shared smiles and the dogs’ wagging tails, filled me with appreciation as I pedaled back home. My spirit was rejuvenated by such a simple moment which felt all the more sweet in our masked-gloved-quarantined world.

Bear Medicine lives with gratitude with every breath and every step, a wide-open welcoming of the gifts. In our changing world, Bear Medicine is being called to awaken. This is not about pretending to be grateful or saying empty words. Bear Medicine is a guide for searching for and finding, acknowledging and feeling, the gifts being shared even in challenging circumstances.

A few years ago, I held ceremony before undergoing a medical procedure. I wanted to be open to the potential healing gifts and soothe my fears. There were benefits from the procedure as well as complications, eventually another surgery. I discovered that feeling grateful, in the midst of challenges, entails a deep inner quest. Gratitude is intertwined with receptivity, acknowledging and honoring what is. Gratitude flourishes in the spaciousness beyond judgments and expectations, untethering us from the heavy weights of better-thans and less-thans, of supposed-tos and shoulds.

Gratefulness doesn’t go underground until we get everything that is on our wish lists. Gratitude looks beneath and behind, above and below, inside and far beyond, sensing, finding, welcoming the gifts. Not all gifts come with pretty wrappings and bows. These understandings came home to me when I was with my dad in his dying. Even with the grief and loss, I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be there. The preciousness of life, the cherishing of experiences, the respect for personal choices, were amplified. I learned how it felt to be so clear about my purpose, knowing why I was there and what I wanted to contribute. Witnessing the passage through death, touching the great mystery, is a gift beyond words.

Gratitude itself is a gift to be received. The receiving and giving of gratitude, the giving and receiving of gifts, are intricately interwoven. There’s a harmonizing effect in the exchange of appreciation that circles around, with equity and acknowledgement of everyone and everything involved. The beginning of the cycle of sharing can be difficult to pinpoint. The ending is not clearly defined. Genuine gratitude, like genuine love, flows and unfolds, weaving connections within us and between us, free of the bounds of physical time and space, rippling on and on and on.