Lately I’ve noticed that the way I listen to my instinct sometimes involves the same reaction I have to when I see a sign saying, “wet paint.”
I touch it.
I touch whatever the sign saying, “wet paint” is on. Just to check it’s wet, just to see what it feels like, or simply just to see. I don’t know why but I still do it. I sometimes don’t, but often I do. It’s like the child in me just just needs to see, just needs to feel, just needs to know.
The same is happening with my instinct sometimes, too.
Like, I have an instinct and then I can’t figure out why I have it (which generally we don’t because that’s what instincts are here to offer us—insights that we can’t get anywhere else), so I do the thing anyway but with permission to see, to allow myself to go there or do that thing and to see if my instinct was correct, was right, was proving me wrong or proving me right.
And it always is. It always is ‘right.’
My instinct is a badass motherfucker who never gets things wrong. But I still struggle to trust her, sometimes. I still struggle to trust this voice that sparks up offering guidance and support when I can’t see what she’s offering it for. As in, I can’t see whatever it is that’s going to be hard or difficult yet, so in these moments of doubt, I struggle to know that she isn’t going to be wrong. Because often it’s when she’s here around something I want to do. Something I know I love or am drawn to or know is nourishing, or could be nourishing, normally.
Take last night for example. I went out for a bike ride with a friend. We got to a river and I wanted a swim. I miss water so so much, and so any opportunity to swim, I’m in. That’s not new at all—whether I’ve lived by the water or I’ve lived a hundred miles away—water and me go way back to before I was born. (Water and you do, too.) Living in a city this painful ache I have for water feels even more huge, so last night when I reached the river at nine pm I knew I was going in.
I walked down to the jetty and took off my socks and shoes and dipped my feet in. It was cold but beautiful. I was in heaven, and my heart sang a happy song of forgiveness for all the time I haven’t been near the cold wild water, and a song of joy that I was home. I thought about the next steps of stripping off and diving in, but my instinct said no.
I was like, “What? Hang on a minute, I’m in heaven here and I have to get in. This is my home. This is where I need to be, you can’t tell me no…? I need to swim! I love it! Why are you saying no?”
I sat there and hung out with it for a bit. I predicted going home having not swum, feeling sad and guilty that I hadn’t. But I also felt a sense of warmth and self-nurture, self-care, by choosing that option. The water lover, the child in me, was like, no! That can’t be an option. The part of me that doubts if something is right, that doubts that a wet paint sign is actually correct, kicked up and I stripped off and dove in.
It was heaven. Paradise. I was home.
I was in my bra and pants, and I took off my bra and swum topless. My wild woman was home and in her element.
She could breathe the sigh of relief as she stood—swum—out of her city home and into the home she’s been craving, and needing. The home she thinks of every day.
I have the tendency to stay in water for long as possible until my limbs are completely numb and people on the sidelines watching are growing cold, but last night I didn’t because I knew I had a ride ahead of me and I couldn’t afford the chills.
This was a high-five moment of self-nurture for me, rather than listening to the desperate need to stay in there As. Long. As. Possible.
So it was time to get out and I jumped onto the pontoon to get dressed. As I did, music started to play in the canal boat near me. I laughed. I thought no-one was in it. I stood topless, covering my boobs and getting ready to leave again on my bike. As I finished putting my clothes on, a guy came out of the boat smoking a cigarette. I felt shocked, but a part of me also smiled at the humour of it. I felt confused. I asked him if he could see through the windows he had on his boat and he said, “yes.”
I felt concerned. “Did you see me?” I asked.
He said, “No, I’ve just woken up from a nap and heard someone outside so was like, what’s going on?”
I said, “Oh, phew.” I believed him because I tend to in these moments. I felt sick as he tried to have a conversation but then I walked past and up the slope to my friend. I told him, and we laughed. We could hear the song still playing and it felt like a good song for the moment.
As someone who has lived through a sexual assault and as someone who is healing, this moment felt a mixture of empowerment and feeling thrown—the wild woman inside of me felt empowered and free, and didn’t mind that this guy had seen me.
She even almost liked it because it was the wildness and the realness, and the feeling of freedom about caring what others think or feel. Of not hiding any bits away out of fear of other people. But the young woman inside me felt thrown. She felt sick from the moment of feeling as though he saw me, and feeling thrown by the intrusion into her space.
So that was my instinct. That was my instinct telling me it wasn’t safe. It was safe in a logistical sense—although of course there are always the could-have-beens that play out in my mind after—but I was protected and I was safe.
I had a friend near me, and I had someone there in me to protect me if anything happened—to kick the shit out of someone and protect me if that needed to happen. But it didn’t, and it wasn’t going to, but my instinct had popped up to tell me that what I was going to do would bring a sense of unsafety, a feeling of dis-ease, a sense of un-calm, a feeling of being thrown.
What was wonderful about this was that I had that part of me there that knew I was okay, that knew I was safe, that could notice the feelings and the trauma and tell myself I was okay. I wasn’t hurt, and I wasn’t going to be. I was free and I just swum topless in the water…free.
Next time my instinct pops up, which it has done already a few times today, I want to listen to it without needing to touch whatever it is it’s saying not to. I also feel a warmth and fondness towards this part of me that does need to—that needs to check the part of me that’s saying, no, has got her facts set straight.
But that’s the funny thing about instinct: It’s simply how I—how you–feel.
Facts and logic, logistics and what’s been before doesn’t play a part in the mix. They take refuge in my mind telling me to figure it out, encouraging me to go where I’ve been before, but what matters is that knot inside my belly or that wash of “No” through my body.
Those signs telling me to go, to stay home, to drink tea, to call her not him, to go to dinner not go for drinks…it’s how I feel that determines what nestles nicely inside my soul.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Editor: Renée Picard