- Don’t piss it off. In 1970, when I was nineteen and naïve and had some extra money, I embarked on an overland trip to India with the black dean of my college, a decent-enough man, but one with whom I had no business being in a relationship. I knew as soon as I saw him striding down the JFK airport corridor that I shouldn’t get on the plane with him; I knew it in Amsterdam where we picked up our brand new VW camper (that I bought); I knew it in Germany when we fought; I knew it in Turkey when he started praying five times a day, a sudden conversion to Islam for convenience sake (he was always such a chameleon); I knew it when Iranian villagers mobbed and rocked our car after we stupidly handed out only a few Swinger Polaroid photos; I knew it in Afghanistan when the border guards were too stoned on hash to process our passports and the wild dogs were howling into the night wind; I knew it in India when we stopped to help a hurt pedestrian on the road and got mobbed again; I knew it in Delhi when we slept in the same bed in a five star hotel without touching each other; I knew it in Kashmir when we really did have an accident with a pedestrian and got arrested and prevented from contacting the embassy and had to make a midnight getaway across the border; I knew it when we approached the Iranian border, this time from the west, and he screamed at me as I threw out our remaining hash and paraphernalia out the window (and it was good thing I did, because the border guards searched us with a fine toothed comb—hooray for my intuition INSISTING, and for me, listening to it for once); I knew it when we got stuck for two weeks in a refugee camp at the border between Turkey and Bulgaria during a spat when Bulgaria accused Turkey of a cholera outbreak, and his health certificate had an acceptable date for his cholera vaccination, but mine didn’t, and I had to “procure” a new stamp on my certificate with a few other young women who knew a doctor on the outskirts of town who would stamp our papers if one of us spent time with him, you know, upstairs, alone; I knew it when we were finally allowed to travel through Bulgaria under armed escort, the townspeople lining the streets and shouting “CHOLERA, CHOLERA” as the long line of us passed, and the hazmat teams spraying the field where they finally allowed us to stop to pee and I wished I had been wearing a long skirt for at least some semblance of privacy; I knew it again at the Dutch border when the guards body-searched us, found his little black address book, and pressured us to snitch on somebody in Amsterdam; and again at the English border after crossing the Channel with my head in the toilet, puking up bile; and again during the entire Atlantic crossing when our estrangement, out there in the rough gray water, felt edged with static electricity; and again when we finally crossed the border from Canada into the good old U.S. of A. and drove back to college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This man may now be a perfectly decent father or even grandfather, but back then he was not someone I could trust to love me, respect me, help me. I learned the hard way what happens when you don’t listen to your intuition even when it’s giving you clear, precise, succinct messages: “Don’t get on the plane.” “Don’t go on this trip.” “Don’t put your life in this man’s hands.”
I picture my intuition as an old woman, beat, discouraged, sleepless and wrinkled with worry, having to make a dreaded call for extra help from that gang of guardian angels that hate to be disturbed from their all-night, every-night poker game. “You again? Whatsa matter? She won’t listen to you, AGAIN??? Ya must not be too convincing. Ya must not be talking loud enough. Ya must not be sayin’ the right thing. Okay, okay, don’t get your panties all in a twist. We’ll take over from here, won’t we boyz? But listen up. Ya can’t be callin’ us all the time jus ‘cause you can’t do yer job, hear me? We got better things to do than keep this wild girl from getting into so much trouble.”
- Don’t override it. Okay, okay. So there I was trying to learn that I can get into deep shit if I don’t listen to my intuition. But the habit of ignoring it, denying it, belittling it, deriding it, discounting it—whatever you want to call it—runs deep. I realized I had been trained to override my intuition. And probably so have you.
Was it ever intact? Accessible? Eager to speak? My best buddy? I think in my case it was, but my memory of that time is smudged as if water were spilled on a fine watercolor, the colors diluted and dissolved. It must have been intact when I was young, five-ish, not yet petulant and stubborn and moody and prone to misery. I loved horses. Absolutely horse-crazy, my mother called me. The world had fewer boundaries then. I could hear horses talk, not like Mr. Ed, but in my head. I felt heard and seen around them. I felt natural, unplagued by doubt or confusion. I could hear all kinds of animals, and trees, and sometimes the land itself. None of this seemed odd, but then again I didn’t talk about it; I just lived it. I was immersed in a world of semi-permeable membranes where information flowed easily back and forth; an interdependent, intertwined, interconnected world; the world of spirit; a world I’d like to find again before I die.
Back then, intuition was as normal as sunshine and rain. The voice came easily. It wasn’t hard to distinguish; it truly was the voice of intuition because the demon voices had not yet been born. The voice told me who I could trust, who to stay away from. I could tell important information, like if my parents had been fighting and were now trying to hide that fact from me. I could tell if my father had shamed my mother, or if my mother was punishing him by withholding her love. I could hear the subtext when relatives came to visit; I could see into people’s hearts and hear their unspoken pain. One day, my great aunts twinkled at me and said I was an old soul. This confirmation, and the eager voice of my intuition, were extremely helpful to know how to navigate safe passage in the world.
But then something happened. What, exactly, and when? Grade school? Junior high? Was there ever a person who said, “Kathy, don’t trust your intuition anymore. When you hear that voice, you’ve got to just ignore what it says. It’s not to be trusted. Just keep on going as if it hadn’t spoken to you at all.” I picture myself in grade school feeling for the first time the cruelty of being snubbed by some other child, and then, in my ignorant and clumsy attempt to defend myself, learning to snub him or her back. That’s what I was doing to my intuition. Snubbing it. Turning up my nose, closing my heart to it, and walking on as if I were some dazzling peacock.
My poor, “unfriended” intuition. Confused, bewildered, and forlorn, muttering, “Was it something I said?” Like an ostracized child on the playground, she swallowed her hurt and silently shadowed me, ever hopeful. But I was too proud. I was going to figure this out by myself, with no help. I was beyond needing help, that’s what I thought. If I didn’t have needs, then I wouldn’t get hurt. Meanwhile, my intuition grew shyer. Her once boisterous and confident voice was now a whisper. She second-guessed herself, choked back her words. After all, how could she know what she knew? Who did she think she was? She hung back, a wall-flower, watching, while I spun and stumbled and generally made an ass of myself on the dance floor.
- Realize you need it. Badly. Although I put up a good, convincing front, inside I felt awful, lonely, alienated from myself. My years of “majoring in drugs” did absolutely nothing to help me find my intuition again. In fact, I probably freaked her out, chased her farther away. How could her sweet and gentle voice compare with Janis Joplin’s screech or Jimmy Hendrix’s wail? How could she be heard when I was inviting even more voices into the cacophonous choir? She sat and waited while I got more and more lost in the woods. She waited. And waited. She wasted away for want of being listened to. She started to mutter to herself, wander the streets like a homeless woman clutching her bags, sleeping on heating grates, watching with grim fascination as the worm holes burrowed deeper into her mind.
Meanwhile, I eventually got tired of making an ass of myself, of insisting on doing things the hard way, of tampering with the delicate chemistry of my mind with drugs. Eventually I realized that my strategy of not needing anything or anyone was deeply flawed. I needed help. In my stumbling, I found an old bag lady muttering into the wind, but when I sat down on the curb next to her, she surprised me with how much sense she made. Sometimes I couldn’t follow her, as if her words were like tossed salad. But other times her words pierced the thick callous around my heart. I knew she was my long lost intuition, so I took her in.
- Start listening, even if you’re late. And make amends. She isn’t as old or as decrepit as I thought. And she cleaned up pretty well too when I took her home. Her voice has grown thin over the years, reedy and hoarse, too much talking without being listened to, I fear. I realized pretty soon I can’t hear her unless I get real quiet inside, and I’m not used to doing that. I’ve gotten into the habit of hearing so many disparate voices inside that her voice is easy to miss. Sometimes it isn’t a voice at all, but a feeling, and I have to be really quiet inside to register those feelings too.
It’s like being around horses. I have to be quiet inside to hear what they need, what they’re trying to tell me. If I have an agenda or a time constraint pressuring me, it will foil my connection. If I have slipped into competitive mode, as in “I can access my intuition faster than you can yours,” the horse will toss its head, balk or spin out in distress. If I have people around me who don’t believe in what I’m trying to do, or are suffering from unacknowledged turmoil themselves, it’s like static over the phone, a dust devil spinning through the yard. And if I get too excited, the excitement is contagious. It’s fun for a while, like galloping on a wild ride, or surfing a huge wave, but I know now that I’m deluding myself. So many things could happen, like getting hurt, disappointed, lost, and most of all, losing track of that intuitive voice. Maybe that connection will grow stronger with time, but right now, if I can’t contain the excitement, I will end up on the ground, sometimes hard on the ground. And it’s not as soft as it used to be.
So I’m learning that when listening to my intuition, the work is almost all on my end. If I can’t hear or feel my intuition, it’s not her fault, it’s mine. I have to be willing to be humbled, to quell my pride, my defensiveness, my complaints, and just wash them all down to the ground, softly, until I’m clear and quiet again. And then there she is, sitting, watching, waiting. Waiting for me to listen.
- Befriend your intuition again. Seek it out. Pay regular tribute. Be grateful she’s still alive and willing to be with you. Help others find theirs.