I had heard about women being attacked by men in these woods.
Women just like me trying to get some exercise on a beautiful Saturday morning. But I never paid it much attention. I’d never been attacked, so I’d never felt afraid. Yet on this particular sunny day, as I jogged out of the parking lot and onto a trail that lead into 26 acres of woods, I felt nervous and scared for no reason, or at least not one my mind could understand.
My body felt uneasy. My heart was racing and my palms were sweaty even before I started running. I was skittish and it made me constantly look behind or go into shaky panic mode each time I heard a twig crack underfoot. You know that feeling you get when you watch a horror movie in the dark alone, or when the lights go out and you have to find the fuse box in a black, sinister basement? Your body is on hyper alert and things you might never normally notice become ominous signs of peril. Every sound, every feeling is amplified. That’s what was going on with me, but it made absolutely no sense.
It was a beautiful sunny morning and people were walking their dogs. Maybe I drank too much coffee or something. “Go for your run, Val, because it’s what you always do on Saturday mornings,” that’s what I thought. I never once considered that my body might be trying to tell me something. That maybe, if I paid it just a little bit of attention, I could get some information about the situation in which I was running into.
However, that wasn’t going to happen because I have been taught that logical thought is God. Your body knows nothing but biological desire, “give me the chocolates” and “I want to sleep some more,” and it is my job to discipline my body and keep it in line. I learned a long time ago not to heed physical inklings that take me out of joint with what I think is best for me, I plow over them in an attempt to itself improve. And so that’s what I did as I jogged off into the woods.
Down the hill, around the reservoir, 45 minutes in, I was almost finished, yet that uneasy feeling had made this one of the hardest runs of my life. I was on a secluded trail I had never run before that winded its way up a steep hill. Ascending this hill felt like running through quicksand. The entire run had felt that way but on this hill it was ten times worse. My legs did not want to lift. So I did what most of us do when we want to ignore the things we don’t like, I turned up the music in my headphones. I vividly remember the song that was playing. It was The Kinks and I remember singing to it as a way to motivate myself.
The lyrics went: I see many people coming after me / So where are you going to I don’t mind/ If I live too long I’m afraid I’ll die / So I will follow you wherever you go/ your offered hand is still open to me/ Strangers on this road we are on/ We are not two we are one.
The music wasn’t loud enough. My body roared over it. My heart was pounding like a mac truck in a traffic jam. I couldn’t catch a breath and I was starting to feel like I was going to throw up or pass out, but I said to myself, “self, don’t quit. Work through this and you’ll be stronger for it,” dismissing it all as laziness. Except that pep talk couldn’t override what happened next.
My body went absolutely haywire – waves of nausea and dizziness spun over me and a charge of electricity ran up and down my spine stimulating every nerve and cell. Chills ran everywhere. I stopped for a perplexed minute, thought it was weird but, since I wasn’t lying on the ground, I figured I would try and work through it. And as I broke the crest of the hill, a man wearing a bloody surgical mask jumped in front of me.
I froze. Time stopped. The surgical mask he wore on his face was dirty and stained with blood. His long hair was stringy and wild. His baggy faded blue jeans were dirty on the knees and his maroon windbreaker was zipped all the way up to his chin. My eyes locked with his. Electricity swelled in my veins. All at once the physical symptoms that had been plaguing my run coalesced into a tornado of chills and nausea. My body had been trying to warn me about this man while I had still been safe, and now it was screaming at me to get out of there.
What was special about that moment, and the whole reason I am writing this, is that I had no thoughts in the time I stood in front of him. My mind had shut off. My mind was silent, but I knew to run away. I knew without my mind working what to do. And here’s the kicker of the whole thing, just as I was about to take off, my mind kicked back on and gave me a very distinct thought, and I will never forget how clear and loud this thought was in my mind:
“Don’t run away, Val, or you will make him feel bad about himself.”
And for what was probably a millisecond of time, but felt like an eternity, I actually entertained that thought because it made logical sense to me, even though it went against everything my body was telling me. I remember following it up with the thought that maybe he wears a bloody surgical mask as a scarf because he doesn’t have any money for a real one. That is how dangerously powerful the mind is. As soon as it kicked back on, it was overriding my body’s knowing. Just as I considered dismissing my fear as illogical, the bloody surgical mask man tried to grab me.
The next bit is a blur. I don’t remember my feet touching the ground. My body was flying through the woods. I ran faster than I have ever run, than I ever thought I could. I never looked back. I never thought a thought in my mind. I knew. I knew what to do and I knew how to do it without thinking about it and I was allowing that sense of knowing to guide me. That sense of knowing was saving my life.
Without thinking about direction, I made it out the edge of the woods and onto the safe sidewalks of suburbia. The cul de sac homes that welcomed me were sunny and green with manicured flower beds and freshly cut lawns. SUVs sped along, driven by women working madly through their own to-do lists, women just like me, so busy that they are unable to feel anything except what their conditioned minds will allow.
I called the police, angry. Not about that man, that hadn’t sunk in yet, but about the fact that I couldn’t finish my run, I couldn’t do what I had wanted to do, what I had planned to do. It didn’t hit me until later that day when my heart was still racing, my hands still shaking, that I had come within a lamb’s breath of being attacked, raped, killed. I was a second away from being another statistic, another five minute news story that some other woman might ignore on her way to do the same run.
A friend of mine’s brother is a police officer, and he told me that nine times out of ten, women are raped and murdered because they don’t listen to their instincts. His words were, “They try and maintain some semblance of normalcy, they try to keep the peace.” Because that’s a woman’s gig in our society, right? Keep the peace, keep everyone happy, worry about others first before yourself. And, oh yes, the most important, God forbid if a woman listens to her irrational instincts because we wouldn’t want anyone to roll their eyes and call us koo-koo for picking up feelings that don’t jive with the logic of the times. So we stick to our to-do lists, our plans and we live like we are on a carousel, riding the horses around through prearranged and logically calculated scenes, never paying attention to what is really going on in the moment, never listening to our bodies.
We have a built in psychic system that we have been conditioned to ignore. It picks up on what’s going on around us, it keeps us safe, but it doesn’t work in the same way our minds do. My body was trying to tell me that there was a reason for me to be scared but I kept ignoring it. Our logical minds don’t have the supernatural abilities that our bodies do. We are so disconnected and so trained to be so disconnected from our bodies that we only consider them an aesthetic container for which to place our intellect. They are so much more than that. They let us know when we should be nervous or scared.
Have you ever had a feeling that something just wasn’t right, but because you thought it should be right, you ignored that feeling? Our bodies know how to do things we could never know how to do, like heal a cut or predict the future or sense danger.
The beauty of this horrifying experience comes in its fallout. I was too scared to run after that, so I thought about joining a yoga studio up the road from me. I even resisted that urge initially because it was expensive and my logic was that I could do it at home for free. But when I decided not to go to the 6pm class and plopped a DVD in the player for the sake of frugality instead, the DVD player wouldn’t work. I tried to play another one, but it still wouldn’t work. I turned it on and off and tried again to no avail.
Finally, as I sat baffled on the floor in front of my television, it occurred to me that something bigger was playing me. I looked up at the ceiling, smiled and said out loud, “Okay I get it,” drove to the yoga studio, and have been in love ever since. Yoga has changed my life. I am healthier, stronger and happier than I have ever been. I feel my body now. Yoga has taught me to stay in my body, pay attention to what it needs and this has enabled me to be more aware of its language. Oh, and by the way, the DVD player worked perfectly every day after.
The short of it is this: My body knew I was in danger, it could predict the future and it was using my feelings to communicate that with me, but my mind couldn’t logically conceive of the signs so I ignored them and was almost killed.
We beat our bodies into submission for the sake of self improvement and we beat ourselves down in the process. Yoga and being chased by a murderer in the woods have taught me that I need to use my body with my mind. Both are important. My body is psychic, all of ours are. It knew what was going to happen the way animals know when bad weather is about to arrive. It gave me the warning signals, but my mind hasn’t been trained to understand the psychic abilities of my body. We are all psychic, we just have to pay attention and not fight the information we are getting so hard.
If you get anything from this story, let it be that you pay closer attention to how you feel, and don’t be so quick to judge and dismiss your body’s feelings because they don’t sync with what you think you should feel. There are things at work in the world that we don’t see and that our minds can’t understand, but our bodies do. We need to use our minds to work with our bodies, not against. Like the Kinks’ song says, we are not two we are one, and from now on I follow my body wherever it goes, if its offered hand is still open to me. We are being offered information, we just have to stop resisting it.
Valerie Shively resides on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, where she teaches high school English and lives with two unbearably adorable cats and one extra special ex-smoker. She likes to write, do yoga and drive around without directions.