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Navigating by Heart: Stop, Look and Listen

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Do you recall those classic railroad crossing signs with a crossbar that reads "Stop, Look and Listen"? It's great advice at every crossing when learning to navigate by heart.

Recently I was driving in California in my Florida car with my Florida driver's license. I had just come through an intersection, and a school bus was stopped ahead. Two cars were in front of me; and as each car approached the bus' "stop" flag, they stopped, then proceeded to pass the bus. It didn't seem right to me, because I supposed that every state required drivers to stop and wait as long as the bus flag is extended; but I kept moving forward with the other cars anyway. When it was my turn to pull up to the bus, a line of cars had built up behind me. I stopped at the flag and looked around. The road looked clear, but that "not right" feeling made me hesitate. Cars behind me started honking. I waited, getting more uncomfortable as I saw cars now blocking the intersection behind me. There was even more honking, and finally I gave into the pressure and doubt, telling myself, "Oh, I must be wrong about the law here." I moved ahead, and within seconds a policeman pulled me over.

I apologized to the officer for passing the bus, and told him of my debate about the law. He asked me why I was in California, and I told him that I'm staying with family in California while recovering from a broken back incurred in a jump from a waterfall. I wrote in a recent post about that jump, about how I'd had a voice of knowing, a voice of wisdom inside me at the waterfall that told me not to jump. But I'd also had another louder voice, one that seemed to be grounded in other people's impatience and opinions and in my own judgment of myself as not courageous or capable or knowledgeable enough. As I spoke to the officer, I suddenly realized that there on the street, I'd just engaged in exactly the same process of not listening to myself that I had done at the waterfall. In both cases, I had let the loud voice of mind, emotions and opinions -- which I would call the voice of the ego -- overrule the softer voice of wisdom -- which I would call the voice of the heart. On both occasions I didn't want to feel like a wimp or a fool. I didn't want to inconvenience or be judged by others. In both situations, I stopped and looked, but I didn't listen to the voice of my heart.

To my great surprise, I found myself telling the officer all of that, telling him how I was trying to learn to listen to my heart, and how challenging it is when the world around me commands me to listen to it, and not to my heart. To my even greater surprise, the officer, with a choking voice, thanked me for telling him my story, and said that doing so was itself an example of listening to my heart. He related how he had learned only recently, after the death of his young child, how important it was to listen to his heart's bidding to spend more time at home, rather than his mind's and colleague's and society's urging to work extra hours to make more money. We talked about how lessons come around again and again until we learn them. We acknowledged the grace that brought us together to share our stories and reinforce in each of us our learning about the wisdom of the heart. The officer was gracious enough not to give me a ticket, but asked me instead to keep listening to my heart and sharing my learning with others.

As I drove away, I thought of the railroad crossing admonition to "Stop, Look and Listen." At so many crossings in life, I have hesitated and gathered information; but when hearing two competing voices inside me, I've too often listened to the louder one, the more popular one, the more demanding one. Slowly I'm learning to listen more deeply, to listen beyond the clamor, to listen for the quieter voice of knowing. It takes courage, but that's what the heart is all about. At every crossing, my challenge is to stop, look and listen to the voice of my heart.

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