by Amy Tiemann PhD
This story sounds almost too iconic to be true, but it really did happen, and learning of this incident developed even more motivation that fired me up to keep teaching safety skills to as many people as I can!
Earlier this year I taught a Doing Right by Our Kids parent education seminar, featuring Kidpower and other best practices for teaching child safety, to an evening workshop at a Montessori School in Raleigh, North Carolina. We had a lively discussion among a group of over 40 adults, and I presented my full talk, including my thoughts about the neurobiology of intuition. I can write more about that process in more detail in a separate post, but in a nutshell: intuition is not supernatural, or ESP. Intuition can come in the form of perception that may lie just beyond your conscious awareness. You need to train yourself to pay attention, listen to these important survival signals, and be willing to change your behavior based on what you sense at the edges of your perception. Often the “storytelling” part of your brain (the neocortex) will try to “talk you out” of these perceptions that it does not understand. Part of what you need to train yourself to do is to be open to these perceptions, even when they seem strange, uncomfortable, or counterintuitive, rather than inadvertently brushing off or explaining away a real danger without even realizing it is there.
On the way home from this seminar, participant Kimberly Green had a life-altering moment on her way home, where listening to her intuition and acting on it saved her life, and the lives of her two children and baby she was pregnant with at the time. Here is her story:
It was too late and chilly of a January evening for me to have my kids out, but I really wanted to attend your “Safe Kids In An Uncertain World” lecture at our school. My husband was working late, so I took them with me to school and put them in our daycare.
I had a lot on my mind when I gathered them a little after 9:00pm and helped them get buckled into my Prius. As such, I eagerly went into questioning Sammy (6) and Nadia (4) about talking to strangers, and our family rules surrounding that scenario. I was sitting at the red light at school trying to recall the phrasing [Amy] suggested when discussing this issue, and I found the conversation to be more challenging than I thought it would be. It was a lot easier dialogue to have in the old days when we employed snappy catch phrases like “stranger danger!”
There was a line of cars behind me leaving the school parking lot waiting to turn on to Lead Mine Road, but I was first behind the light. The light turned green. I remember just feeling something. Even though I was distracted trying to have this important discussion with my kids about their safety, I just felt something. I don’t know how else to describe it. Although I normally have a bit of a lead foot, I hesitated. I gingerly stepped on the accelerator and then stopped myself and re-applied the brake. I still have no idea what really made me continue to pause. I remember 2 flashes of light: 1) the SUV’s headlights behind me that was also waiting in line to turn, blinding me in my rearview mirror, and 2) another set of headlights in my left hand periphery that were accompanied by a … Zoom! The car flew, and I mean literally FLEW and BLEW through the red light on Lead Mine. It was a sleek-looking sports car and it had those fancy high-intensity xenon headlights. This car was going so fast that it was gone from sight within seconds.
What made me pause for several seconds at a green light? It was 2-3 seconds and that’s a long time when you’re first in line and leading the pack to get your pregnant self home — with your overtired toddlers in the back seat. I’m assuming my brain saw those headlights before they really registered in my conscious mind, and I chose in that moment to heed that impulse. That’s intuition. Or it was that night.
My family, including the baby in my belly, wouldn’t have stood a chance in that Prius had we been broad-sided by a car traveling at high speed. If Amy had not spoken about the most important part of parenting being following your instincts, paying attention to that little voice or that gut feeling, would we have all been killed that night? Like Amy says, we all have intuition, but we do not all heed it.
Thankfully, I was minding my mind that night. Thanks to Amy!
I was simultaneously upset on the verge of tears, yet extremely grateful the entire way home that night. I still am.
Months later this story still gives me chills and I am grateful beyond words that it has a happy and safe conclusion, and I am humbled and honored to know that what I had taught was helpful in this life and death situation.
Notice once more how Kim had to overcome a counter-intuitive impulse in order to obey her intuition: the light had turned green, she was first in line to go, and the people behind her were eager to get going, too. She had a perception that did not quite reach consciousness but instinctively told her to stop and take another look before driving forward.
What comes to mind for me is a quote from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote, “When we see a red light or stop sign, we can thank it, because it is a bodhisattva helping us return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness.”
Ironically, on this dark winter night, it was Kim’s impulse to over-ride a green light that illuminated the importance of honoring our intuition.
What messages is your life trying to send you, in this instant or through any nagging or worries you might have? How can you honor that intuition by listening, looking, exploring more, asking questions, and acting on what you learn?