Last week, my friend Greg and I drove the fabled Alaskan Highway. It took us six days to drive from Portland, Oregon, to Anchorage, Alaska.
We had prepared well -- mapping our route, planning our overnight stays, bringing all the things we thought we might need in any contingency. Blankets, water, flashlights, bug spray.
Arugula. (Yes, arugula for this greens-obsessed eater afraid she wouldn't get her daily dose of leafy dark leaves.)
We had both heard tales of long stretches through empty mountain passes, changeable weather, running out of gas or blowing out tires. animals blocking the roads.
What we found were blue skies, endlessly gorgeous views, friendly encounters with people from all over the world, and easy access to anything we might have ever needed. The most dangerous animals we encountered were squadrons of dive-bombing mosquitoes on our first night in Canada. The most perilous road conditions were potholes that could swallow small vehicles. The rest was simply purely glorious in every way.
Yes, we did see wild animals. Plenty of them. But they were as respectful of us as we tried to be of them. One bear did come over and try to take a chunk out of our tire. But not with any real malice. Simply a statement of fact: If you're going to interrupt my dinner, then I'm going to see if this tire jerky is any good.
We got the message and left him to his repast -- but out of politeness, not fear.
I am continually struck by how often we fall prey to our fears, to the possible worst-case scenarios, to the never-ending litany of what if's that bombard us daily.
On my last night of our trip, I was awoken at 2AM and could not go back to sleep worrying about everything that had fallen through the cracks while I was out of cell phone range, all the people who might be mad at me, the bills I had not or would not be able to pay. I couldn't quiet my mind, no matter how hard I tried.
Then I remembered my first trip to Alaska exactly ten years earlier. Similarly, we had spent about six days out of cell phone range on what felt like a spectacular spiritual retreat into nature. When we emerged, we pulled into Sitka Harbor and I was blasted by another machine-gun round of fears.
As I tried to quiet my pounding heart, I heard these words come through loud and clear: "Remember. Fear is just a habit. And habits can always be broken."
I have never forgotten that. That simple truth has helped me so many times when I have needed it. And it helped me that night ten years later.
Although I was never fully able to quiet my mind, I was able to remember that all the night-sweating fears I felt were a habit of thought not a reality of being. And so, as they did their tarantella on my thoughts, I recognized them as what they were -- an old habit that I was gradually breaking.
In the end, that finally calmed me enough to grab a few hours of sleep and start my day in hope.
As a little girl, I loved animals more than anything in the world. I still do.
My favorite parts of driving the Alaskan Highway were the spectacular 180-degree mountain views, the incredibly pristine massive mountain lakes, and the animals -- the moose, caribou, stone sheep, snowshoe hares, ptarmigan, and particularly the bears.
That came as a surprise. I thought I would be all about the moose. But it was the bears that really sung to my soul. In retrospect I think it was because the black bears we saw seemed so gentle -- like herbivore teddy bears just taking their meals by the side of the road for our viewing pleasure. Until, that is, we scared them. Yes, we scared them.
Those bears were rightfully wary of we humans, with our metal objects that kill them purposely or accidentally. While we humans are scared of them because of their sharp objects that can kills us as well. Yet here we were, sharing the same stretch of road, finding a way to co-exist with one another.
What a lesson that proved to me!
Fear has a way of twisting our souls into knots -- making us afraid of what we have no need to be scared of in ways that aren't even true.
Fear has a way of wheedling us into making choices that don't come from the truth of our souls.
Fear sweet and nasty talks us into letting it rule so much of our lives, making it feel far more powerful than it is.
Fear makes us feel afraid of fear even as it convinces us we need it.
Fear is a shapeshifter, doing whatever it takes to make itself seem inevitable, ubiquitous, and omnipresent.
The bears reminded me of that.
On that road, so many of us were driving it because we chose to journey through this incredible part of the world to be present to the beauty of our surroundings. We came in Love, and so we saw what we saw through the eyes of Love. We recognized that we were in the territory of wild places and wild people and wild animals and wild nature. And we were grateful to be there. Through those eyes of Love, we did not view the bears in fear.
What we do not view in fear, we do not approach or retreat from or react to in fear.
It is, as we all know in our deepest hearts, the most fundamental truth of life. Love casts out fear. Always. All ways.
Fear is a habit. A habit we can break by inviting in the power of Love.
I will always remember the epic beauty of the Alaskan Highway. I'm sure I will write about it much more in this blog as I let its lessons seep into my soul.
But today is all about the bears -- and my gratitude for the lessons they gave me in Love.