And then he sensed a presence. He peered wide-eyed into the black night but could see nothing. Then lightning flashed again with a sharp crack, closer this time. In that instant, Cole saw it, ghostlike. Barely fifty feet away, the giant Spirit Bear stood motionless in the rain. (9.12)
When Cole first shows up on the island, he doesn't believe that this mystical Spirit Bear is real. But the bear soon appears to him when he's all alone—just when he needs a push to change and reexamine his life.
Now Cole felt himself slipping fast. he had struggled too long to hold on, his energy bleeding away. Now it was his turn to die. This thought made Cole sad, but he accepted it. He felt content. Before the end of his life he had seen beauty. He had trusted and been trusted. (12.25)
It's only when Cole nears death that he starts to realize the beauty in the world and how it can be found even in the direst circumstances. He just has to look harder to find it.
"All around us there are powers. There are animals like the whale, the bear, the wolf, and the eagle. There are powers like the sun and moon and seasons. And there are the powers inside of us like happiness and anger. We can feel all of these and dance to them. They all have much to teach us. Today, we saw the whale, so tonight, we'll dance the whale dance. Each of us will tell what we learned from watching the whale." (18.30)
Edwin and Garvey aren't just forcing Cole to dance so that he'll feel silly and self-conscious. They want him to learn by embodying the animals around him, to take lessons from these animals lives.
The next morning Cole awoke early and went for a soak. Afterward, as he carried the rock, he had to admit it felt good to return to the pond. He watched for the Spirit Bear, but saw nothing. Since returning to the island, he had caught only one fleeting glimpse. (21.21)
Now that Cole is taking his second chance on the island seriously, he does everything Edwin tells him to do with the hope that his spiritual transformation will bring about the reappearance of Spirit Bear.
After a long dance, Cole finally sat on a stump near the fire to catch his breath. His thoughts still moved high above the trees. He wished that somehow he could always stay part eagle in his mind. How could he remember to stay strong and proud, seeing everything in his life differently from a distance? (21.20)
At first Cole doesn't see the point of the dances, but when he tries out the eagle dance he really does learn something about himself and how he should live his life. Maybe there's something to all these dances and totems after all…
"Patience, gentleness, strength, honesty," Edwin said. He looked up in to the trees. "Animals can teach us more about ourselves than any teacher." (2.22-23)
Cole doesn't believe in anyone or anything, but Edwin knows that spending some time on the island will change things for the boy. If Cole watches and observes the animals and plants around him, he'll learn some deep lessons.
At times, he imagined reaching up and touching the Spirit Bear. But he feared what would happen when he returned to Minneapolis and there was no ancestor rock, no soaking pond, and no totem. Would he still be able to find the Spirit Bear? (24.23)
Things are going well for Cole while he's in this particular setting, surrounded by animals, nature, and all these activities that give him peace. But what will happen to him when he returns home? Will he still be able to rein in his anger?
"Peter needs to soak in the pond and carry the ancestor rock. He needs to learn how to be invisible and to dance and to carve his totem. He needs to see the Spirit Bear." (25.5)
Being on the island and engaging in all of these spiritual activities has helped Cole so much that he wants the same thing for Peter. Even though he knows Peter doesn't want anything to do with him, Cole still wants to help him.
"But I saw one," Peter insisted. "Will anyone believe us?"
"It doesn't matter what other people think or believe," Cole said. "It's what you believe. That's what's important." (28.58-59)
Spirit Bear only appears to people when they are alone—or in Peter and Cole's case, when they are together. Others might not believe them when they recount this story, but it doesn't matter. What really matters is that they know what they saw.
To be invisible he had to clear his mind. That was the secret. Cole stared up into the darkness. In the cold pond, his mind became almost trancelike. The fish and the beaver had come close until he thought of hurting them. The day he touched the Spirit Bear he had been near death and had completely given up trying to be in control. (23.1)
Cole realizes after some time that he has to completely clear his mind in order to let the animals feel comfortable enough to approach him. He has to stop thinking so hard all the time.