I saw a man on television (okay, yes, it was Oprah, stop judging me) named Gavin Becker who wrote this book: The Gift of Fear.
It was a fascinating interview. His focus as he spoke was not on foot stomping and ball busting, but on how humans are the only animal that will sense danger and ignore it, and this is what gets us into trouble. Women, he said, are very prone to this, because we are accustomed to wanting to be nice. While our spidey sense may start tingling as soon as we hear a dangerous man’s voice behind us, our politeness brain kicks in and takes control. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. And they look harmless enough most of the time, most serial rapists and murderers look like normal people, so it’s easy to override that small bell dinging in the distance.
When I was in grade school I walked a half mile to and from school every day with my classmate neighbors/friends. This was in the 70’s, in a small town, and we rode our bikes and walked everywhere. We wore Catholic schoolgirl uniforms and stopped at the store for candy if we had cash, and joked and bickered the whole way about things like what we would do if we were witches like Samantha on Bewitched. So it was generally a fun journey if the weather was decent. On one of these walks home, on a beautiful Spring day, a man came up from behind us and said hi in an overly friendly tone and started asking random questions: what were our names, where we went to school, etc.
My friends reacted immediately with poker-face non-response, and then when he continued to push and went so far as to try to carry one of the girl’s bags, they ran away. I kept walking with him alongside, but staring straight ahead, and answered a couple of his questions as tersely as possible. I didn’t want to, I was extremely shy on a good day and his presence scared me. I knew I was in the vicinity of wrongness, I had already been molested earlier in life and recognized the icky temperature of the air. But I was frozen to the spot by the need to not hurt his feelings in case, just in case, he was really just a nice man who needed friends. My friend Shelly Hesslau finally ran back and grabbed me and pulled me into a run. I felt a great wash of relief as we ran together, knee socks sliding down skinny calves, even as she yelled at me for not moving immediately. She probably saved my life that day, and she told her mother who told my mother and then I got a big talk about the danger of strangers.
Now I am much older and have impolitely hurt feelings many times in my life. I have already written enough about a compensation for shyness that is sometimes too blunt and too bitchy. When I react in this manner I feel shitty about upsetting people so then I over-correct by being too accommodating and it becomes a neurotic see-saw of weird behavior. Like a teenager fresh behind the wheel of a car, I’m veering all over the road.
We flew back from vacation yesterday and the flight was jam-packed with babies and toddlers. I swear there must have been a ticket deal for people with kids under 5, the din was overwhelming. Seated directly behind me was a little girl with a great fascination for the tray table. Up, down, up, down. Bang, bang, bang! I dirty-looked the mom and she apologized and then I felt bad. Not that it really changed anything. Bang, bang, bang! Kick, bang, kick, bang, squeal! Finally I turned around and said, “I know she’s really little and it’s hard, but if you could keep her from banging on the back of my seat I’d be grateful.” I tried to be polite but I still felt weirdly shitty about the exchange, like I was a bad person who couldn’t control herself.
Next up was the woman in front of me with a shrieky infant and a chipper and admittedly adorable toddler who she referred to as “Nina-Bear”, her husband blissfully on his own in the seat in front of her. Sometime during the second half hour of the flight she created a rattle from hell out of a water bottle with change in it. So mommy ingenious! The baby screamed joyfully and shook the bottle and it made an overloud thunk, thunk, THUNK and then the baby would scream again and throw it on the ground, directly near the head of my poor dog who was horrifically abused throughout his puppyhood and is desperately afraid of loud noises, and who was at that time trapped in a carrier directly under the baby’s seat.
Sensitive dog who just wants to sleep in peace on planes:
Sigh…I tried, I really tried to be cool, as I already felt guilty about ragging on the woman behind me and I knew the woman in front of me didn’t know about the dog and was just trying to keep the baby occupied.
But then the noisy, ugly, change-filled plastic bottle flew in the air for the 9 gazillionth time and landed in my lap. The mother turned around smiling, expecting an indulgent ooh-don’t-you-just-love-babies smile as I handed the bottle back. Alas, it was not to be. I held the offending item in front of me and cocked my head and made a grimacey face that said, “Really?”.
She said, still smiling, “Well, it’s either that or a screaming baby, it’s your choice!”
I looked her in the eye a moment longer and said sadly, “Both choices suck.” And then handed the bottle back to her as her smile dropped and Drew’s eyes crossed as he tried to contain his glee.
I felt really crappy almost immediately afterward. I was right, in a way, but I didn’t like how the exchange made me feel. Why couldn’t I have just nicely told her there was a dog under the seat? Why do I always have to take it there? I don’t want to be mean, I really don’t. It makes me feel better when people smile rather than frown in my direction. I love my rebellious nature but I’m a grown up lady now and let’s face it: the middle finger is more appropriate and attractive when paired with a mohawk instead of a manicure.
My nails look awesome right now, by the way.
But I digress…So this is a big lead up to the real topic, which is following intuition. After living in the heart of NY for 25+ years, I believe that I am fairly in tune when it comes to dangerous men. I know when someone is acting weird on the street and I know how to charm a potential psycho in a bar in order to avoid a brawl. But I am still learning how to navigate the less obvious pitfalls of ignoring my inner voice, which come these days in the form of unhealthy relationships, less soul-destroying than a rapist to be sure, but still damaging if left unchecked.
I recently learned that someone I trusted really doesn’t think too highly of me or wish me well. This happens, I am somewhat loose about this kind of thing because lord knows I’ve talked my share of shit, even about people I adore. Sometimes you’re just momentarily venting about a friend and it gets back to them and it becomes a high school drama. I don’t want to know what everyone thinks of me all the time, it’s none of my business and my ego can’t take the blow. But this turned out to be much deeper than momentary bitching, with an element of insidious using and secret hatred that shocked those closest to me. It’s a sickness that really has nothing to do with me, but I allowed it into my personal life.
The interesting thing about this situation is that my initial feelings at the beginning of the friendship were a tattoo needle buzz of quiet discomfort. No great warning bells, just a small something felt off. True to form, I initially overreacted and then over-corrected. On the surface there was so much overt, demonstrative kindness and intelligence and what I thought was deeply honest conversation, that I overrode the vibration of my own nervousness. I didn’t want to be a snob to someone outside of my usual circle, I wanted to be thought of as nice, I want to think of myself as nice. I wanted to make someone happy, I wanted to be loved. It’s nice to be nice to the nice. So I ignored warning signs, the advice of my clear-seeing boyfriend, and my own intuition for quite some time, and it bit me in the ass a bit this summer.
Happily, I am in tune enough that I feel the pebble hitting me on the head and don’t have to wait for the wall to fall to get the message. I have people who love me dearly and are there to guide and protect me when I am unsure. So everything is good, just a few hurt feelings on my part and a lesson learned.
I know that many people out there struggle with this too. We want to be polite, we don’t want to be snobs, we want to make new friends. We want to co-exist with our fellow humans in a way that fills our hearts and ensures that we’ll always have entertaining dinner partners. These are all good things. Most of us are, at heart, good people. I simply want to remind you, as I have been reminded, that if there is something tapping at the back of your consciousness, it is there for a reason, and it is important to pay attention to the small messages before they snowball into more unwieldy and painful ones.
It is my amateur advice to meditate or practice yoga or whatever it is that you love (painting, running, etc.) that will connect you with your inner, higher self, so that you have an easier time differentiating between mind chatter or social conditioning, and your true voice. It’s hard to tell when we have been trained our whole lives to follow societal protocol, which is necessary for peaceful co-existence, but sometimes cripples our ability to protect ourselves.
If you are not in immediate, dramatic danger, but are unsure of someone’s intentions toward you, envision yourself surrounded by white light whenever they are in your vicinity. Lower energies or intentions cannot get through a field energy of love and protection. Don’t hate them or engage in the struggle, this will bring you down into a lower, and therefore more vulnerable vibration. My mother told me that she imagines a diamond of light in everyone’s heart center as she walks through the world. This is a means of recognizing that regardless of form or personality or evolutionary progress (or lack thereof), there is a higher self in each person. I love that. People may or may not respond, it’s not so much about them but about keeping in tune with your own higher self.
Come to think of it, it’s probably a good idea to surround yourself with white light whenever it pops into your mind. Right now energies are moving very quickly, and we are being asked to step up to the plate and shed old, destructive habits in order to make way for a more crystalline form of being. If we don’t cut the shit and do it now, we will probably get left in the dust with the worst of us. Which, in my case, is probably why this is happening, just a little reminder to stay the course of true soul as we move into the new age. I am releasing this person with love and moving forward peacefully.
Oh, and I found this: If you’re on a plane with a parent using a super loud gross plastic bottle and dirty coin rattle that’s totally freaking out your dog and ruining your flight, you can suggest this much more peaceful alternative. And then, because you’ve been so helpful and accommodating, you can ask for one of whatever is in the bottle.