Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Trusting Your Instincts
I stepped outside last night with the puppy for his bathroom run and could hear the storm off in the distance. I saw it earlier on the local news weather broadcast, that big, angry red blob across the map. Noticing that the patio table umbrella was still open I thought for a second "I should close that," and then in just that very same split second, dismissed the thought and went about to tend to the pup. Then I had a feeling. A gut instinct that if I didn't close it, I would regret it. So, what did I do? I closed it. Seems simplistic I guess, but I have learned, often the hard way, to trust my instincts. Otherwise, I might be finding myself purchasing a new patio umbrella tomorrow.
One day, I was making one of my lunch break window shopping trips and leaving Hobby Lobby, when two men began to approach me from across the parking lot. I have always been a cautious person, though not immediately fearful of all strangers, but I had a very uneasy feeling about these two men. Immediately, with my voice raised and my hand held up, palm facing them, I said very firmly, "Stop right where you are and don't come any closer." The men stopped, but then began to walk toward me again and I said, even louder and more determined, "I said STOP right there and I mean it." They stopped, but the one in front sort of slowly continued to step forward, and stammered to try to talk to me. I said, "Look. I SAID STOP. Just turn around and go back the direction from where you came, or I will scream." The guy in front shrugged, looked at his partner, mumbled something and they turned around and walked off. I don't know what they wanted. I don't know if they needed help. But I know what my instincts told me and my gut said there was some kind of danger there. I trusted my instincts.
Many years ago, one Saturday night as I was sorting through laundry, my son, then probably around 15 or so, came to tell me goodbye. He was heading off to hang with a friend for the night and they were both taking a canoe trip up the river the next morning. As I bent down, I had a signal, a flash of an image that crossed my mind - of my son with a bloodied face. I looked at him and said "be sure that you wear a seat belt tonight." He looked at me and said "I always wear a seat belt Mom," and with a puzzled look on his face, asked me what was up. He knew I had these feelings sometimes and I told him "it's just a feeling," and that I needed him to promise me he would wear a seat belt. That night it was stormy and there was a lot of water on the road, his friend was driving, hit a deep patch of water on the road, lost control of his truck and he and my son were in a roll over accident. They were both wearing seat belts and walked away with nothing more than being shaken up a bit.
More recently, I kept feeling these strong persistent thoughts about knives and took that as a message to be very careful around them. The least that it did was to increase my awareness so that several times, just as I would go to reach into a drawer or into the dishwasher, or the sideboard, I would be more aware and more than once, I narrowly escaped being cut by a knife. Once, one of the sharpest knives I own had fallen into the disposal, blade side pointed up and was positioned just right so that you could not see it unless you were looking for it. Had I not been being particularly aware, I would not have seen it and would have been cut severely by that knife.
I once was preparing for a trip to a paralegal conference in upstate New York when the night before my scheduled flight, I had a dream that my airplane exploded in mid-air. Needless to say that was one uneasy feeling when I woke up, and I went to work with every intention of telling my boss that I was not going on that trip. Imagine the shock when I walked into the office, only to see that a plane had flown into one of the towers in New York City! Yep - it's was the morning of 9/11. My boss was still adamant that we were going to this conference. I was just as adamant that I was not going to fly and was willing to lose my job over it. As it turned out, all airports were shut down and the conference was canceled.
There are so many different examples of this kind of intuition I have experienced in my own life, having a feeling I should take a different route in the car, use the drive through teller instead of the walk up ATM, roll up my car windows or lock my doors at a specific moment, take my shopping cart down an opposite lane from someone I saw in the parking lot, or even when to look someone square in their eyes. Some signals I know I didn't heed, and those resulted in a negative experience of some kind. Others I listened to and changed something, and of course we've all heard the countless stories where somebody else has said "I knew there was something wrong ... and I should have trusted my instincts, but I didn't want to... [hurt their feelings/treat them badly/seem rude/etc.]" Author Gavin de Becker wrote a book about it, The Gift of Fear [and Other Survival Signals That Protect us From Violence], that was once featured on Oprah, where she said "every woman in America should read this book. It could save your life one day."
Gut feelings. Hunches. Suspicion. Nagging thoughts. Hesitation. Apprehension. Fear. These are all messengers of intuition according to Becker. Have you ever experienced a time where, on hindsight, you wished that you had trusted your instincts? What happened?
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