Intuition, Resilience, and Learning from Mistakes

37562-imageIntuition: Nagging voice. Deep knowing. Stomach cramps. Elated rush. It can be any or all of these or something else entirely.

I had an experience last week that confirmed trusting that moment, the one when you lay eyes on someone you’ve never met and know something–in this case, something alarming, enough so that it wouldn’t leave me alone and I pursued it the next day, discovering information that I had no way of knowing but was there for all to see. I contacted the appropriate authorities. And was reminded not to ignore that visceral kind of knowing.

In this case, intuition and the way I acted on it was immediate, literally sitting across from me in person at a table, a Google search, a series of emails where I took responsibility for my findings out of concern for the community in which I live and work.

Other times, though, it has been much more elusive and long-term. I remember so vividly sitting with a good friend in the backyard during the six-months of house-sitting after my marriage ended. This was three years ago this spring; it was finally warm enough to be outside with a t-shirt and iced coffee, and my friend looked beautiful to me in the light, her smile, her openness and joie de vivre speaking directly to some yearning I felt, some knowing without form. I told her, I wanted to find the equivalent of her, of that energy, that love of life and easy laughter and ease in herself. It–she–was “out there”–of this I was convinced. Not long after, I wrote a desperate email to a group of women friends far and wide, five or six kindred spirits in states spanning the country, telling them as much. Not sure where to begin, not so much searching for this imagined soul mate as longing to connect with the people I knew would “get it.”

Mani wrote back, a long and insightful and loving message about falling in love with myself. Which I did, in fits and starts and lots of not knowing and lots of one-day-at-a-timing it. I wrote a list of qualities my “dream woman” would have, and saw that in many ways, she was me, who I wanted to be and become. Mani and I didn’t meet in person until about nine months later, but the seeds were there, and the ease of a connection that seemingly just happened but had been gestating for months, years in fact, without our knowing.

Following your instincts. Trusting your gut. We hear these phrases so often they become diluted and we stop listening. I do, anyway, when I am inundated with messages that are easily bent and skewed and misinterpreted to mean that there’s something wrong with where and who I am. But there is never something wrong with these things; without them, we would be missing crucial information. The key, if there is one, is to tune in to those recurring thoughts and feelings, and then one day, to act on them in some small or big way.

When I was laid off from my job that spring, I took a long walk down the Burlington bike path and spent hours lying in the soft June grass by Lake Champlain, just watching the clouds change and listening the water lap on the beach, where some hearty Vermont souls were already swimming. It was the most productive I had felt in months, and I was doing nothing. Nothing but being there, with absolutely no idea what would happen next. The weeks that followed were filled with clarity about continuing to do seemingly nothing; all I knew is that I needed not to jump to the next thing, not to make any big, sudden moves driven by fear. And fear there was, so much of it. Because not knowing what will happen can be terrifying, but it can also be so freeing if you breathe in and breathe out and breathe in and breathe out and remind yourself that in fact, it’s all unknown anyway, and all we can do is pay attention and take the next step on the road in the dark, trusting that the ground won’t fall out from under us.

I’ve been thinking lately about mistakes, and wondering which ones I’ve made that I can learn from and try not to repeat. Was it a mistake to have an emotional affair that became a physical affair that became a big, hurtful mess for all parties? Was it a mistake to put my kids through that? Was there any other way through, when I had tamped down my knowing for so long that combustion was its only way of getting my attention? Was it a mistake to sell my house and move to Massachusetts? There were reasons for these actions and decisions. Some of them were practical and others more ethereal, but they were all rooted in meeting life head-on rather than clinging to the familiar and resisting change.

If asking questions about mistakes can be a gateway to learning, its shadow side can obscure the present and be a sinkhole of doubt if it mires me in the past. We could say that there are no mistakes, only learning, and I do believe this–if we learn. And that is where intuition meets resilience–because sometimes, acting on intuition does not, in fact, make things better in a way that’s obvious, or easy. It just makes them real, can be the hammer that cracks what was already broken, which is the only way to begin to really heal and be whole.

I am here now, knowing and not knowing. Experiencing my own resilience, which so many days means not fighting but flowing. It’s choppy, and there are days when I’d rather play games on my phone for hours that write or “deal” with life. But life is patient even when I’m not, and I always seem to roll out the mat again eventually, stand in tadasana and feel what it feels like to wiggle my fingers and root my feet and feel the connection between the floor and the crown. The knowing lives there, in that infinite channel between the two.

2 thoughts on “Intuition, Resilience, and Learning from Mistakes

  1. GailNHB says:

    Love this, Jena. You’ve inspired me to make a list of my own dreams and hopes and yearnings and examine it … and then go after it. Hey, at least I’ve got a good resume ready for when I take the leap. Thank you for sharing this. Another keeper, for sure.

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