After my divorce from a husband I adored, I was in shock. How could someone I trusted so completely have turned out to be different from what he appeared to be? During the course of our marriage, I’d occasionally had the sense that something was wrong, and I would ask him about what I was sensing. He would reassure me so kindly and calmly that I would override my intuition and often blame myself for whatever seemed amiss.
Countless times, I betrayed my own gut feelings to the point that when we went our separate ways, I doubted I could ever choose a partner again. How could I trust my intuition when I’d ignored it so many times? This fear was intolerable. I had to find a way to exercise my intuition, to retrain myself to listen, to trust my heart.
I decided to let my intuition know that I would listen next time it chose to speak to me. This meant embarking on a conscious program of following certain impulses that would appear in my consciousness. These ranged from simple moments like driving past a Starbucks and then following the impulse to take time to stop and get a coffee, or carefully stopping to listen to my body before making more complicated decisions.
During a meditation retreat, an image of cousins I hadn’t seen for years danced in my mind. Later, I called them; we reconnected, and I went to visit. Nothing particularly noteworthy happened during the visit, and I think we all kind of wondered why I had traveled there. Then I had an insight: the whole point was to let my intuition know that I was listening and willing.
Once I had a big dream of the sun setting behind the ocean. Since I lived in Boston at the time, it was clear this had to be the Pacific Ocean, as the sun only rises on the Atlantic. The dream was vivid, the message clear–visit California, where some of my family members lived. I did. (And now I live here!)
The true test of this training I undertook came when my dear friend and colleague Dr. Phil Aranow and I were teaching an advanced seminar for psychotherapists. We arrived at the airport in Ft. Myers, Florida, and drove to the conference center on Marco Island, Phil behind the wheel and me in the passenger seat. His wife, Deb, rode behind with their little boys while Phil and I went over our plans for the week. When it was time to drive back to the airport, I looked at the minivan and didn’t want to get in. This was odd. I didn’t have any sort of premonition–it was simply a feeling of, “I don’t want to go.” But I had to listen; it was part of retraining my intuition. The whole year I had been unyielding about trusting my gut, noticing and respecting even faint glimmers of intuition. I remember making an excuse: “Just one more swim before flying back to winter…” I found a ride with another participant, and Phil, Deb, and the boys went on their way.
Back home, I woke up to the phone ringing. It’s another colleague of ours, “I have some bad news. There’s been an accident.” He stops.
“What happened?” I asked.
He can’t go on. Finally, he says, “Phil is dead.”
What happened, was a cloud moved across the sky. A sudden flash of light moved through the windshield as a truck left its side of the road and ploughs right into the oncoming traffic. Phil was killed immediately, in front of his sons. Deb is sitting way in back with them, to help with toys and mediate arguments, so she survived. And I was not where I was meant to be, debriefing in the front seat right next to Phil, when the truck smashed the whole front of the van.
By listening to a seemingly senseless impulse, “why not drive back to Ft. Myers with Deb and Phil?” I discovered that intuition saved my life.
From the newspaper: “On February 18, 2000, after participating in a conference in Florida, Dr. Phil Aranow was killed when a fifteen-year-old unlicensed driver strayed across the median and struck his car head-on. His wife, Deborah, was injured but, thankfully, his two children, who were in the back seat, survived without physical injury.”
This piece was originally posted on 1/13/19 in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper.