An Owl on the Road, Overcoming Fear

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My husband Aaron and I were driving up to Denver on our way to a family wedding. We were chatting about this and that and listening to music, and I was behind the wheel. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird, obvious road kill, on the shoulder.

I considered stopping to pick it up but there was no safe place to turn around and traffic was moving, so I decided to keep going. I told Aaron and we both thought it was probably an owl. I already had an owl drying in the garage that I had felt obliged to pick up on a previous road trip, and I really didn’t want or know what to do with another one.

Besides that, I’ve always had a bit of fear surrounding the owl and have had a lot of trepidation about using it as an ally, even though in recent years it has frequently shown up for me in various ways. For many of the North American Indian traditions, the owl is thought of as an omen of death and is feared greatly. I try to refrain from contributing to superstitious thought, but recently, I hadn’t been able to help myself to some extent. When I had come across an owl I’d been gripped by instinctive fear and my first thought had often been, Oh no, what’s going to happen? Who’s going to die?

So we left the owl on the side of the highway. But a few miles up the road we came across another large bird, this time in the middle of the two lanes. We looked at each other briefly and both knew that this time we had to stop. I quickly pulled off on the shoulder and Aaron jumped out of the car and ran back to collect the bird. Back he came a few moments later carrying a giant feathered lump.

“It’s a great horned owl,” he said. “Still warm. It looks like it was just hit. What do you want to do with it?”

“I think we have to bring it with us.” I said.

Aaron found a bag and put the owl in the back of car. He climbed back in and we got on the road again, turning the music off. We were both in a sobered mood and didn’t talk. As soon as the owl had entered the car I could feel the presence of her spirit, almost thick in the air. That instinctive fear of something bad on the horizon associated with this owl started to grip me and I began trying to think my way out of it, to mentally talk myself down into being rational. Suddenly a female voice spoke to me. It was the owl.

“You’ve been too fearful lately, indulging in fear.” She said.

“I know,” I said “but I don’t know how to stop it.”

“You should not fear me. I am your ally. Get over it.” She said in a very direct and serious tone, yet there was compassion there too.

“But how do I know I can trust you? I’m worried that you’ll bring things to me that I don’t want and that I’m afraid of.” I said.

“I will always be straight with you, and I will always talk to you directly as I am doing now. I will never trick you.”

“But you come with death. I’m afraid of someone dying whom I love. Is everyone one in my family OK?” I asked, still gripped by the instinctive fear.

“I will not answer that, because you ask it out of fear and want to know just to appease your own fear. There is no power in that. Fear gets in the way of your power and the truth.” She said.

“I don’t want to be fearful, but how do I get rid of it?” I asked.

“You must be ruthless and not let it take hold. You decide to be courageous, you decide to be fearless and you are ruthless about those decisions.” She said.

“Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “ If I had stopped to pick up the first bird I saw, would the second have ended up on the highway?”

“No.” she said. I started to feel bad that by failing to pick up the first bird I had unknowingly caused the death of another.

“Stop.“ She said. “Don’t waste your time feeling bad. The bird was merely a vehicle for this encounter, just Spirit.” I pondered about that for a few moments, the difference between the owl, which for all intents and purposes was nothing but a piece of feathered meat in a bag in the back of the car versus the spirit I was now talking to.

“About fear,” I said, “I decide that I’m going to be fearless and that I won’t be afraid anymore, but then undoubtedly I feel afraid again. How do I get rid of it?”

“It’s not about shoving fear aside, or stuffing it. It’s about moving through it. It’s OK to have fear come up. That’s human, but it’s not OK to identify with it and let it control you. Courage comes when you face fear and courage is what you need to move through the fear in order to be fearless. In other words, you need fear to develop courage, but always let courage win. If you decide and intend to be fearless, and you are ruthless in that pursuit, then eventually you will be. Trust in the process, trust in Spirit and be patient with yourself. Eventually when you are fully identified with Spirit, you will realize that fear doesn’t actually exist because everything is Spirit.

She told me that she would help me to eliminate fear. The more we talked about ruthlessness and deciding to be fearless, the more I could feel myself doing it. Through her words, she was actually giving me a tangible lesson and teaching me how to do it. I could feel moving through the fear into a place of trust. She was right. I could decide to be fearless, to not give in, and the feeling was a tremendous sense of courage, clarity and freedom, and even a physical relaxing and opening in my body. She told me that the feathers of the owl I had drying in my garage were ready to be used and she told me how to begin to use them on myself for clearing my own fear.

“Now, about death, you must make a friend out of death. Everything is dying every moment,just as everything is being born anew every moment. Nothing exists out of the present moment including you, so that means that death is with you all the time taking each moment after you experience it. Remember that without death, there is no change, and change is vital. Make a friend out of death. Thank him and acknowledge the incredible service he does. If you make a friend of him, he will be your ally and one of the most powerful tools for transformation you have.”

“But I don’t want death to take someone I love.” I said, the fear returning momentarily.

“Why are you worried about that? Everyone has their own process and when it is their time, it is their time. And as for you, Spirit never gives you more than you can handle and Spirit is always there supporting you, regardless of how challenging something feels. Trust that. Trust in Spirit. Remember that feeling fear is not the problem, indulging in it is. If you feel fearful, do something about it. You must be ruthless. Use your tobacco and smoke yourself, use my feathers, pray, use your tools. Do anything that helps you to move beyond it. Be ruthless about not letting fear be in charge. It does not serve you and it will only bring you down.” She warned.

We were driving up a steep pass, both Aaron and I still silent in the car, each having our own experience with the presence of the owl in the car.

“I think we need to drop the owl off at the top of the pass.” Aaron said.

“Are you finished with me?” I asked the owl, “because I’ll keep you in the car if we need to keep talking.”

“Yes,” She said.“When you get to the top of the pass we will be done and you can drop me off. Now, one last thing, give all of your fear, your worries, the things that aren’t working for you, anything you want to get rid of at this moment to me and leave it with me when you drop me off.” So for the next few minutes I poured my heart out and concentrated on giving her all that I wanted her to take and thanking her with tears in my eyes for relieving me of it all so generously and compassionately.

When we got to the top of the pass we found a pull out where we stopped and parked the car. We took the owl, climbed over a fence and clambered down a hillside out of view of the highway. Finding a flat spot on the edge of a rocky cliff, we laid the owl out, wings spread wide as if in flight, and did our prayers of gratitude, blessing her for her wisdom and sacrifice with mapacho.

We were about to go when she said to me, “Wait, take a feather from the center of my tail.” I reached down and pulled a feather from the very center of the tail. It came out effortlessly and practically fell out into my hand.“Aaron should have one too,” I thought and tried to pull another out. I tugged, but the other feathers were stuck fast.

“Did I say take one for him?” Asked the owl.

“No.” I said and smiled, lesson learned. “Thank you for the feather.”

We walked back to the car and climbed in.

“That owl talked to me from the time we picked it up.” Aaron said, a bit of relief on his face that it was no longer with us the car.

“Me too.” I said. Later when he told me his experience with her I was surprised at how similar most of it was to mine, but that is his to tell.

We got back on the highway and started down the other side of the pass. We were not two curves down the road and the biggest red tailed hawk I have ever seen took off from the cliff face on the right hand side of the road and flew right in front of our car, so close that we both caught our breath thinking that we were going to hit it for sure. It swept over the car, its tail feathers barely missing the windshield and soared out into the wide valley to our left. We looked at each other with amazement and glee. The car felt like it had been filled with light, our hearts full of energy and power and love.

“We just got blessed.” Said Aaron. And we had, in more ways than one.

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Anna Stevens Harrington

Anna is an instructor for the Power Path School of Shamanism and has over 20 years of experience working with indigenous shamanic healers around the world. She has in-depth training in both Shipibo and Huichol healing modalities as well as the Paco tradition of the Andes and Native North American traditions. Her specialties include healing through song, icaros, extraction, and traditional feather work as well as house/space clearings, ceremony and ritual.