What now seems like a lifetime ago, I was a volunteer for a homeless shelter located in a questionable area in downtown Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the possibility that I could get robbed, it was my naïve habit to put my purse in the trunk of the car before leaving home.

One afternoon, as I prepared to leave for the shelter, I was suddenly gripped with a strong feeling of anxiety and could ‘see’ my purse being lifted out of the car trunk.

I felt a bit shaken by the unexpected experience, but then convinced myself that I was not being ‘rational.’ Needless to say, while I was at the shelter, the trunk of my car was pried open and my purse was lifted.

A few years earlier, I had been in a very dark place in my life. One day, I decided to get on a bus and sit in the back until I could clear my mind. While heading toward downtown Portland, the bus I was riding stopped to pick up a passenger. An elder man got on the bus and headed toward me carrying a rose.

“This is for you,” he said. Before I could say anything, he turned around and got off the bus. I’d never seen him before and never saw him again. But somehow that man knew that someone needed a lifeline. On that day, he listened to an inner voice and became my lifeline.

When Is Listening to Messages That Defy Rational Thinking Rational?

As an elder woman and communication educator, I’ve come to accept that some communication messages simply defy rational thinking. I’ve also come to believe that my preference for what is rational, observable and measurable sometimes prevents me from fully listening in the present moment.

I cannot explain why the face of someone I haven’t seen or thought about for years pops into my head, or why I will get a call from that same person a day or two later. Nor can I explain how I can sometimes ‘see’ where my husband has lost his phone or keys in a most unlikely place.

Nonetheless, I believe such experiences are more common than I might have once believed. Whether we call it coincidence, extrasensory perception or divine intervention, my guess is some of you too have had similar experiences.

Annie Jacobsen writes in a 2017 online Time Magazine article that the U.S. Defense Department has researched premonition for military use. Some active marines have been taught what has been referred to as ‘sensemaking’ skills.

Training in these extrasensory skills is supposed to help these marines become more aware of connections which might exist between people, places and events. The focus has been on helping marines ‘see’ dangerous situations before they are in peril.

Why Listening to Our Inner Voices Might Be a Wise Choice

As an elder woman, I believe that it is essential to listen fully with my mind, body and spirit. For me, this means I must quiet my mind enough to really take in what I need to hear.

Sometimes I find it is easiest for me to listen when I’m focusing on gratitude or when I’m taking a country bike ride and enjoying my natural surroundings.

During one of my bike outings, an elder widowed neighbor’s image came to mind. Because I didn’t know this woman very well, I dismissed her image as a random impression.

The next day I got the same impression. I again dismissed any thought of this woman as I had a full ‘to do’ list and didn’t want to get off track.

Later in the day while out shopping, I passed a flower stand. “Get her some flowers,” I heard myself say. I bought the flowers and spent the afternoon visiting with my neighbor. It turns out my neighbor’s sister had passed away the previous day.

Other times I only listen to impressions when I feel like my body has been shaken to the core, such as when I’m facing some sort of threat or danger. Two and a half years ago, while driving to the rural community college where I am still teaching, I started to get an uneasy feeling.

My heart started to beat quickly and I felt nauseated. Again, I shook off my anxiety and chalked it up to an irrational anxiety about starting a new school year. Two hours later, I was crouched under the desk in my office as a gunman killed nine people in my building and wounded a few others.

I am retiring from teaching in December. I have spent most of my adult working life teaching college students how to think critically about communication. I have taught them how to construct logical arguments and how to listen with a bias toward the analytical.

Now I am thinking about what I haven’t taught my students about communication. Sometimes we do have to quiet our thoughts so we can listen to what really matters. What do you think?

Can you recall an instance when you wish you had ‘listened’ to your inner voice? Can you think of an instance when you have openly ‘listened’ to impressions that were later validated in some way? Please share your stories below.

Paula UsreyIn 2004, after becoming a grandmother, Paula Usrey started an encore career as an associate professor of communication. She is also a speaker and workshop facilitator. Her topics include communication and personal life planning. In July 2017, she gave her first TEDx Talk: Your Best Life at Any Age.

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