My daughter and I are lucky. We get to spend part of every summer on Cortes Island, British Columbia. My sister and her family live on a gorgeous piece of land with gardens and chickens and goats, with mountain views, and old growth forests, and with the ocean surrounding it all.
I always have amazing experiences there, with both people and nature (close encounters with whales, eagles, seals, and banana slugs – truly as big as a banana!). But this year, something unique happened and it’s had me looking at nature, and the nature of reality, differently ever since.
One early morning, I decided to see if I could snag a glimpse of the sunrise from the beach. It’s a short walk from their land to the ocean, down a forested path. Coming from Ontario, and now living in Nova Scotia, the forests of BC still inspire awe. They are lush and dark and almost tropical-feeling. Insulated and quiet.
That morning, the forest seemed a little darker and a little quieter than usual. It might be why I started to think about the cougars. Yes, actual cougars live on Cortes! What would I do if I came face to face with one? It was early. No one else was up or around to hear me scream. I imagined one crouched on the top of a rocky bluff ready to pounce on me. I could almost feel its claws and teeth.
When my heart began to pound, I told myself to snap out of it. Cougar sightings are extremely rare. They mostly stay away from humans. But then I started to think about the wolves that also live on the island. What had my sister said about them? They won’t bother you? Unless they’re at a kill and are protecting their food? Oh God. What if I came across a pack of wolves eating a deer carcass or something?
Something in these crazy scenarios made me laugh out loud. Maybe it was realizing that I really do have a great imagination (like my mother always said!) or maybe it was my ridiculous lack of knowledge about BC wildlife. Whatever it was, the laughter softened the moment and I was able to clearly see the crest of an old pattern about to break over me like a wave.
Renée, the worrier. When I was six or seven, I would lay in bed at night rigid with fear, terrified that our house would be broken into. I could imagine the prowler vividly. Dressed in black. Creeping down our street. And choosing our house, of all the ones on our suburban block, to plunder. I was such a little worrier, about all kinds of different things, that my mom once bought me a “worry bird” necklace. It was an actual little bird and on its base, it said: “I’ll do your worrying for you!”
So, in the forest that morning, I had the “ding” of clarity. The worrying I was doing about the cougars and the wolves was the same thing I’d done as a kid. Looking at the world as if something was going to get me. The robber and the wild animals were just two different versions of the very same thing.
I was seeing the forest through the eyes of fear, but I could choose to see it differently. And in that moment, my stomach unclenched, I stopped looking around apprehensively, and I saw.
And it was truly like putting on a different pair of glasses. The first thing I noticed was the vivid green. And how lush and luxuriant it was. And then, how all of it—the trees and the ferns and the roots and the sun and the wind and the flowers and the birds—were engaged in what looked like an elegant dance. A complex, but cooperative, tapestry that all existed peacefully. How could I have seen threat in this? I stood still and took a deep breath and just soaked it in. And as I did that, the forest suddenly came alive to me.
Of course, the forest is alive, you might say. And maybe I knew that as a scientific fact, but that morning, I felt it. I actually felt it breathing and pulsing. I could sense its aliveness. As I stood there, this feeling deepened, and I became aware that not only was it breathing and pulsing, but I could actually feel a quiet intelligence.
This surprised, and delighted, me. And then quickly adding to my sense of delight, I suddenly felt what I can only describe as, being regarded. I had a sense that the forest was aware of me in the same way that I was aware of it. As I saw the forest, the forest saw me.
There was nothing neutral about this feeling either. I felt absolute appreciation coming back at me. And, this might sound far-out there, but in that moment, I actually felt love.
So, there it is again. Fear and love. And the choice we always have.
Gone were the worries about wild animals and in its place came this rich experience, this other way of seeing the same forest. Gone was the fear. And there was the love.
Of course, I wish I’d known this fact when I was a kid. That love is always there underneath, or alongside, the fear. You just have to get the fear out of the way. Easier said than done. I know that. But I also know it can be done. Gradually, incrementally, over time, and with gentle reminders like this one.
I’m glad I was able to start laughing at myself that day. I’m glad the forest revealed itself to me. I’m glad that I know the world is mine to see as I choose and I can make it a fearful or a loving place.
And now a question for you, dear reader. What do you see as a threat that might really be a beauty? And do you think you keep yourself from a truer reality by how you choose to see?