Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I once read about a race car driver who had an unusual experience. In one race he found himself behind some of the other cars and was just about to come up around a curve on the road. Instead of continuing, he hit the brakes. Hard.
He slowed down enough to not crash head-on into a fiery pileup that had happened ahead, around the bend. Approaching, he didn't, he couldn't see the pileup. Why did he brake?

Let me sleep over it, we sometimes say before making an important decision. Why am I feeling deflated now, we ask the next day after having had a good time with new friends.

When coming around the curve at maybe ~150 to ~190 m/hr, the race car driver, whose name I forgot but shall call Savyasachi Miller, saw something. Or more accurately, that the unconscious parts of his mind registered. His fleeting peripheral vision saw (as said in retrospect) that people in the stands were standing up. They were looking ahead of him, faces frozen in horror, eyes focused around the bend. They were not looking at him at all! His reflexes reacted sharply to the input. He braked, the entire sequence of input, deduction and reaction skipping the conscious analysis-decision loop.

You will know when you love a house, your gut will tell you! Our real estate agent had once proclaimed.

How can my gut or instinct know if a house is right? When a house feels right, isn't it an integrated response of a lifetime of ideas and impressions of what I think a house should look like? Maybe some ideas got into my memory when I saw pictures of houses or had been at houses of others and got stored in the good things folder. Why is it I like a room to open into the yard a certain way? Why do I like natural lighting? What is the response because of systematic social input and how is it different from instinct?
What is instinct.

When I was an undergrad and stepped out for classes in the morning, my mater would walk ahead of me into the lane, make a U turn and come back. She wanted to be the first person to cross my path and so bring me luck. It was her way of ruling out an accidental first crossing of my path by a feral cat or any other predetermined bad_luck_bringers from the neighborhood. Ayyo, yes, she had a mental tab.
I loved the way she smiled conspiratorially on her way back into the gate. But that was her superstition, her belief. Or was it her instinct?
How is her instinct/belief about a cat different from mine about a house?

Then there is the male-female difference. When a man says My instinct says..., generally respect is shown, as the said man is now understood to be not ruled only by worded logic. When a woman refers to her instinct, there is automatic suspicion of irrationality and even some expectation of theatrics. Instinctual bias of society, I may say!

Some years ago, we went on small trip to central California, to Sequoia National Forest. I was pregnant with my first and only child, four or five months into the nine. Something happened on the trip.

We stayed for the weekend at a house, a bed & breakfast/inn. This wasn't the most remote of places we had been to.
The house was a 2 bedroom country house, California style, renovated to match the present but retaining some charm of an older time, without trying to. The owners were farmers and lived in a separate house, some distance away. The farm stretched out behind the houses, lush with a grid of small dark-green plants, I can't remember the produce.
The small backyard was beyond lovely. Clever and dainty contraptions for water flow and hand blown colorful glass trinkets including a darting hummingbird were set around in a native style garden. There were no fences, the backyard led to the mighty farm, with a large culvert and timely automated watering. The kitchen window had the yard and farm for a view.

The lady of the house chatted away, the water comes from the Kings river. Wow, a desert turned into farmland. All the neighboring farmers share the water by opening and closing valves for their share of water at precise times, she explained. Amazing. We spoke of salmon, of migrant labor, of Sequoia trees. We hire migrant labor during the harvest.
She was probably in her 50's but looked much younger. Dressed in shorts and a T, she had earlier welcomed us and shown us around, the stocked refrigerator, our room and mentioned that nobody was in the other bedroom for the weekend and so we had the whole house to ourselves. Her husband waved to us from their porch, with the earthy geniality of a successful farmer. The children are now grown and have moved on, she said.
What a nice room, I had thought of the other bedroom, which was diagonal to ours, across the living room. The door was left open and I saw a bookshelf, a lamp and an armchair from the angle. There was something melancholy about the lighting and the shades of the furniture. Typical of the country, nothing was kept locked, not even the main door.

We saw the magnificent trees at the park, correlated the bark layers to historical events in India, laughed silly (I am better with dates than the husbn), drove and walked around, explored the farm. The second trimester is different from the first. The body starts changing rapidly. There is no time to lose, only nine in all, so it is understandable. And enjoyable if you are happy with the ride. Which I was.

All our parents were happy and relieved, alright, these guys have finally come around to starting a family. I had quit my job and was taking some time away for the first time ever.
Only, I was hungry so much, at the time. It seemed the spouse was tasked with continuously foraging for food for me. When he brought something, I could only take a few bites before getting overwhelmed with the sight and smell. I had to put it away and would not touch it again. My sensory system was taking in too much and was easily overloaded.

On the second day the owner, who liked to visit and chat, casually mentioned that her father when alive, had lived in the other room. The house was his before coming to her.

Very soon after, I started feeling something. It had to do with the unoccupied bedroom. The feeling intensified as the day went on and stayed even after outings.
I was feeling sadness in and from the room, as if someone suffered very much there. Not just loneliness. Hurt. It was very real and strong. I started averting my eyes from the room. That was one aspect of it.
The other was my response. Something in my mind was telling me to leave, to get away, to stay away, don't go to the room. Go away. Leave the house. There was fear and dread.

It was a not a fleeting feeling. It was a struggle. I was aware of the feeling and my instinctive reaction to it but could not consciously rationalize either. The logical part of me had no role, it didn't understand the input or the reaction.
Clearly there was the power of suggestion, my response started after the owner mentioned her father. A charming room with a history turned into something of dread. But here is the thing, I was of the world, I had lived alone, traveled alone, been in strange places, have had my earthly share of seeing suffering. What is this? I don't believe in supernatural stuff. I am definitely not psychic.
So why the feeling, why the fear? Why should I go away?

But the reality was different. The beauty and serenity of the house, garden and farm slipped away. I wasn't registering anything besides my struggle. It occupied me.
I didn't say anything to my husband, I just asked him to close the door of the other room. It bothers me, was all I said. Later, I inquired if he felt anything and he said he didn't feel anything from the room.
As the night came on, the the feelings of fear – flight intensified. I sat in the sofa, frozen, not available for life.

Then he had to step out to pick up some bread to go with dinner. I stayed behind and right away began to regret that. I moved to the edge of the sofa closest to the door. All the lights in the house were already on. Still the sadness of the room behind the closed door and.... now, an imagined figure of an old man, standing sideways with a worn out hat near the bookshelf was right there.
It seemed like it took forever before my husband came back, though it was only 15 minutes or so. Much relief came as soon as I saw the headlights of the car pull in to the driveway.
The night was long, I slept fitfully and looked ragged the next day. I simply couldn't wait to check out the next morning.

Life went on, I forgot about this incident. I never made sense of it nor did I completely dismiss it.

In the last few years, I have come to see instinct as a friend.

But you see, it comes last in importance in any situation, in civilized lives. First we seek rational analysis. Easy. Then we try match it to vibes and feelings. Easy too. Then there is instinct. Not that easy. When actually, rational thinking and feelings are subsets within our instinct. Allow me-

In any new scenario. apart from the verbal expression, an amount of non-verbal exchange naturally happens. While our logical and conscious mind is swimming in the verbal, our unconscious is busy absorbing all the non-verbal and other aspects of the environment.
It takes time for what the keenest of the unconscious observed to filter out to our awareness, into the conscious mind. But even before that the observations start carving our behavior, even while sitting in the unconscious. Here it gets tricky.
If life is unhurried, this data can filter to the conscious mind and become available for contemplation and logic. Then it has a chance to match up with feelings and actions. But it won't have a chance to float up if it is deluged with impressions on impressions from a busy lifestyle. Or we are over-educated and imprisoned in the acts of expected protocols. The observations remain below, submerged in the psyche, hardening, but quietly and inexorably modulating our behavior while we remain unaware.
I DON'T KNOW WHY I AM SO ANGRY! has been known to be said by many. Or other things like that, you can ask your therapist (and ask for a discount).

But as I said, instinct is my friend. My semi-solitudinous lifestyle sometimes allows for the dialogue between instinct, feelings and logic. It is quite dramatic when it happens. You should try, if you haven't. You'll get to say 'oh, wow', because the speed of instinct > feelings > logic & verbal expression, so we have to pause the taught expectation of acting in the reverse direction.
Usually there is some peace after this exercise because something, even something little, makes complete sense, in a full circle.

Just like how with training, the physical reflexes of Savyasachi Miller learned to quickly react to his unconscious observations and give an integrated response, it is possible in real life also to reduce the time lag and always be true to oneself. In theory. Heh.

So that seems to be it, the difference between instinct and belief.
Instinct is where at first, in new scenario, you don't know why you are feeling something. Then it slowly dawns on you, if you let it. Unless of course, you are already fully balanced!
The other is where our life-learning condenses into a belief system. Which in turn judges and evaluates. It can change with time.

My mater's views about a cat comes from a personal belief system. If I buy a handbag, my likes or dislikes come from a belief system. Or my idea of what is beautiful or ugly.
My feelings about a house waiting to be bought fall somewhere in between a belief system and instinct. While the scenario is new, giving new fodder for unconscious observations, a belief system is also waiting in the wings.

However I still don't understand why I felt the overpowering sadness from the room in the house at the trip. True, my sensory system was at a heightened state. But when reacting to food- there is a direct cause and effect. Too much aroma –> overloaded soon. There was no known cause to feel sadness from a room. In fact, the family seemed healthy, active and functional.
My response though, is understandable. My instinct was telling me to get away. It is not safe here.
But why was it not safe, there was no physical danger in the room? Only some emotional trauma from excitement perhaps, given my then state. In fact, I am a curious person and ordinarily would liked to see it to the end. Was my instinct acting in the interest of the baby? I don't know.

I'll never know why because I didn't wait for it to float up to my logic. Hey, I was busy looking for a house, okay? There were those crazy bidding wars at the time, so we never got any of the houses we instinctively liked! They were out of our modest budget.
Now in retrospect, I think I should have just walked over and asked the lady, the owner of the vacation rental, about her father. That could have ended the whole thing right there. Or not... Right now, my instinct says let it be, don't go there!