So funny you should ask

One morning, seemingly out of the blue, I thought, I should call a colleague I have not contacted in months. I should call her now. I did. She said, so funny you should call, I was just thinking about you and wanted to ask you something important.

I read a memo at work that mentioned a future project. I had a strong feeling I should be a part of it. When I responded, the project leader said, so funny you should ask, we already had you on the list of participants.

Walking out of the lunchroom, I saw I woman who I barely know and rarely see and felt that I should ask her if she had upcoming vacation plans. So funny you should ask she said and proceeded to tell me that she, her nieces and her recently widowed sister-in-law were going on a Girl’s Day Out adventure this summer. She became emotional describing how healing this trip was going to be to her and her family. Obviously it had been on her mind and she wanted to talk about it. She seemed to be waiting for the question.

So funny – coincidental, serendipitous, uncanny – but curious funny, not comic. Funny as in hitting a funny bone or nerve center and watching your leg kick up into space on its own, that sort of tingling, in-body-out-of-body sensation that does not travel the usual pathways.

When I was an adolescent religious zealot, I called events like these “Move Your Wagon” messages. This phrase was derived from pioneer stories when someone would wake in the middle of the night with the distinct feeling that they should “Move The Wagon” only to have lightening fall or a flood gush through exactly where the wagon had stood moments before. It was divine intervention, a direct hit of instruction from God to mortals to action. Saul got it, Joan of Arc got it, tons of early Mormons got it – I assumed I must have a shot. I prayed and prayed for the heavens to open. Should I join show choir or be the editor in chief of the school newspaper? Should I ask Billy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance? Should I study an hour for the math test or two? What might the answers to that math test be? It never worked. No visions. And in the waiting I made few and lousy decisions.

Then I found another scriptural reference that said in lieu of the initial revelation, I could do a little homework, “study it out in my mind” and then get the confirmation saying, “good, that was right! Or wrong, try again!” This did not seem to work either. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what “bad choice” felt like – confusion? Darkness? A cloud of miasma around my head? How did celestial whammy feel different than hormones?    

Then I heard a friend once say that inspiration was a clearing of thought, a sense of clarity and new understanding. This I liked. It was rational, intellectual, and it felt like my own voice mulling over ideas. I am an internal processer and a self talker, I have whole conversations over what to order at the café hoping that my lips aren’t moving or that people won’t notice. To give a layer of meaning to what came naturally felt better than chasing after an external prompt.

Ironically I married a man who seems to have true intuition. He knows who might need an invite to dinner, which hitchhikers have broken down cars and need help as opposed to serial killers and the gender of babies in the womb (although this has become less useful with availability of ultrasound technology). I decided we were simply wired differently. People were either born with this propensity toward spiritual insight or they weren’t. Clearly my husband had some magic I didn’t have.

Over the past several years I have been considering my decision making dilemmas yet again. In reading studies about employee motivation, marketing strategy and change management, brain physiology is the theory du jour to explain sometimes inexplicable behavior. The limbic or primitive brain is the most ancient, operating entirely on emotion and sensation. It has no language. It merely wants to keep you alive and as comfortable as possible. The cortex, or frontal brain attributes language to how we feel, it is our rational, modern brain. Experts from multiple disciplines agree that to make “gut” decisions or to say “I feel I should do this” is to say we made the decision in our limbic system first and then wrapped it with justification in our cortex. Acting on primitive brain compulsions can be scary if allowed to go unchecked, causing a person to behave like a Neanderthal or a 16 year old boy. Although not always “right” in the civilized sense, the limbic brain can offer ways of knowing that might be more complete, taking in stimuli that other parts of your brain have not processed yet. An example of this is a horse, a mammal with one of the largest limbic systems, shying away from a nervous rider before the rider even knows they are nervous themselves.

Does this make me a budding horse whisperer, in touch with my limbic system in a way that eluded me for so long? How did I go from waiting for angelic proclamations to processing every move in my frontal brain to this new found spidey-sense?

Perhaps I have learned to listen more, watch faces and movements, attending to clues that are not always verbal. Maybe my brain is getting older and slower, expanding its capacity out of necessity. I wonder if just having the concepts to label what I am feeling and thinking allows me permission to go with my “gut” more often.

There is still plenty of need for all the frontal lobe reasoning and research I can muster. But I am asking questions, reaching out, and speaking up when before I might have been tongue tied or haunted by the pros and cons of traditional decision making. Long past the days of divine attribution, I am discovering what it means to occasionally let go of logic and act on the vague notion of a hunch, embracing the voiceless voice in my head.

6 responses to “So funny you should ask”

  1. LP says:

    I think when we get older, we tend to second-guess ourselves less (though not altogether!), so we tend to go with gut instincts more than when we were younger. It’s very easy to miss intuition when you’re constantly worrying whether you’re making the right decision or possibly ruining your life.

    This part made me laugh — ” I prayed and prayed for the heavens to open. Should I join show choir or be the editor in chief of the school newspaper? Should I ask Billy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance? Should I study an hour for the math test or two? What might the answers to that math test be? It never worked. No visions” — because the notion of you praying and hoping for the heavens to open reminded me of my Uri Geller phase, when I would sit in my room and try and try to bend my locker key with my mind. That never worked either.

  2. PB says:

    LP – now I am cracking up – imagining you wrinkling up your little girl brow . . . staring . . . staring . . . staring . . .

  3. Rachel says:

    It’s funny you should be writing a post on this, since it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

    Also the phenomenon of deja vu. Not exactly a sense that I’ve lived through a certain moment before, but that I’ve foreseen/glimpsed/presaged it somehow, in the distant past. Anyone else experience that? Maybe some kind of quantum fluctuation?

  4. swells says:

    Lovvvvvvvely post. I have a lifelong desire to be somehow psychic, intuitive, ESPish, something, even hypnotizable, and I have such a literal mind that none of that works for me. It’s been a source of grief for as long as I can remember. (Scott even bought me a book once as a joke, “The Idiot’s Guide to being Psychic,” as if it could be learned.) I’m quite envious of you. Oh, and for your writing as well!

  5. Stella says:

    I love this…I think it’s very hard not to go with your gut – whether your gut is ultimately proven right or wrong – it just feels bad to fight that primal, deep emotional impulse. And, the gut is usually flagging something we can’t yet articulate.

    I notice no boys have commented. Come on…

    I also think that meditation/yoga etc. help clear away the chatter and let us get in better touch with that internal emotional response – in my experience, clearing the head seems to mean fully connecting with emotions.

  6. lane says:

    ok here goes a boy.

    yeah going with the gut. making paintings is all limbic.

    there’s no reason to even get into the mess of being a “professional artist” other than some huge “hunch.”

    … how’s that?

    Your noting that difference is really interesting. I’ll read more about the Limbic System, thanks!