11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You On The Right Path?

When I was in kindergarten my teacher used to ring a bell, upon which we were trained to do three things...Stop, Look and Listen.

Of course then the point was to stop playing, pay attention and listen to pending instructions from the leader of our small universe about what to do next.

Now that I'm older, things are not so simple. Or are they?

Learning to trust my intuition was a painful and often terrifying process that required slowing down, looking my fears straight in the face and choosing to listen, instead, to the signals. Sometimes this landed me flat on my face or in a situation where more difficulty arose, but even then, in the end, my gut was always right.

In 2003, I was working in the newly opened conflict zones of Northern Sri Lanka. The night before we planned to drive through an area riddled with landmines, I spent hours throwing up and couldn't sleep. My internal alarm was going off and I couldn't ignore it. At first I thought I was just succumbing to fear and needed to get tougher with myself, but after a deeper examination and really listening, I realized that I knew trouble lay ahead. Although it cost money and valuable time, I turned our mission around and chose not to go through the mines. I'll never have proof that I made the right decision or that something horrible would have happened to our team, but I know that I trusted myself and it felt right. In my line of work, getting in touch with your intuition can mean the difference between life and death.

I'm sure you've got a similar story about a time when you knew, you just knew, you had to do something (or avoid something) and you can't explain how. That's because we all have a signal. It's the sixth sense we hear of. But unlike our other sense, we are not trained or encouraged to listen to it or trust its wisdom.

Maybe for you it's a slight chime or a loud gong that goes off in your head. For me it's a pulling feeling in my stomach, like someone is tugging at my diaphragm. Intuition is how a mother knows when something has happened to a child she's away from, and how we all know when a circumstance just doesn't feel right.

But what if we aren't listening?

More than ever, our world is full of ways that distract us from hearing ourselves. Between Facebook updates on the iphone, Twitter-gone-wild advertising, and just your regular old text messages (not to mention e-mails, does anyone even e-mail socially anymore?), we are almost never alone and rarely listening to our inner selves.

If we're not listening, then how do we know who's driving the bus? On what are we basing our moment-to-moment decisions? And, more important, what do we rely on for guidance in major life choices concerning health, work, and family?

If we can't trust ourselves, if we don't hone our ears to hear our inner warnings, then we can end up acting out of social responsibility or just rote memorization, trapped in a routine that is not serving us, or the world, in any way. This is how people end up doing a job they hate for thirty years and not knowing why.

When we give --in to our fears and all the what-ifs, when we keep turning down the volume on our intuition -- we end up sleepwalking and missing our lives.

Sometimes the signals are external. We get so wrapped up in our plans to accomplish something that we refuse to see obstacles and difficulties as signs to slow down and reevaluate. We push ahead, narrow sighted, and often end up right back where we started...frustrated and confused.

At the same time, if we can be patient and pay attention to the indicators around us as well as within us, then the path becomes clear and unobstructed.

Only you can question your world and contact your deepest desires. Only you can make yourself happy. The path to doing so is already there, if you are brave, listen, and trust yourself.

For me, the answers always come when I close myself off from the world, turn inward and pay attention to what I already know.

Maybe that early lesson from kindergarten was the key...Maybe we all need to just Stop, Look and Listen.

Have a good story about a time you trusted yourself? Or, better yet, a time when you should have? Share it below!


Kiri Westby

Featured in Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.