When Going With Your Gut...Saves Your Life

Readers can explore intuition's power in "The Voice Within," an article of O Magazine's August 2011 edition. i i

Readers can explore intuition's power in "The Voice Within," an article of O Magazine's August 2011 edition. Amy Ta/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Ta/NPR
Readers can explore intuition's power in "The Voice Within," an article of O Magazine's August 2011 edition.

Readers can explore intuition's power in "The Voice Within," an article of O Magazine's August 2011 edition.

Amy Ta/NPR

There are times when all of us defy logic and make decisions based on our intuition. That's the focus of O Magazine's August issue. Its Editor-in-Chief Susan Casey and host Michel Martin discuss surprising anecdotes from the issue, and ways to improve your intuition and distinguish between the voice of anxiety and the voice of wisdom.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, what is scarier than a blind date? A blind date that's going to get written up in a major newspaper. We look back at five years of perfect matches, missed connections and what were they thinking reactions from The Washington Post magazine's Date Lab. We'll have that conversation in a few minutes.

But first, love is just one of those things in life that can defy logic, whether it's the big choices like finding a mate or buying a house, many of us make serious choices on the basis of gut instinct because something just feels right or wrong for that matter.

And then there are the little choices. Should you turn left? Should you turn right? That can lead to big consequences. It's what many call intuition. Well, the creators of O magazine went with their guts and chose intuition as the theme of their August issue.

We wanted to find out more about that, so we've called upon Susan Casey, O magazine's editor-in-chief. And she's with us once again from our bureau in New York. Welcome back, Susan. Thanks so much for joining us.

SUSAN CASEY: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So, I was kidding about that, but was it your gut that led you to intuition as the theme of this week's magazine this month?

CASEY: Well, Oprah - yes. Oprah talks about how much this means to her, this notion of you do know on some level when you make a decision how it feels to you. We don't always choose to go with our intuitions. And one of the things that we started talking about in an editorial meeting was, how do you differentiate between that voice that is really true knowing inside yourself, that this sort of inner wisdom and the voice of, say, paranoia or anxiety.

And we had so many different questions that we sort of looked around the table and thought, oh, if we're this interested in this, then readers will be, too.

MARTIN: What is the difference between a good intuition and one that might be fueled by something called, like, something like racism, for example, which is maybe you've been taught to be afraid of people who look different than you. So that's kind of you're going with your gut, but your gut is that people who don't look like you are scary. I mean, how do you know the difference?

CASEY: In the package, that was one of the questions that we really wanted to address, so we put one of our best columnists on it, Martha Beck, who writes fantastically insightful and always very original things. She's a life coach, but she's also a very gifted writer. And asked her tell - how can you tell the difference between that voice of fear, anxiety and the voice of wisdom?

And she actually has a lengthy story with a three-part sort of test that readers can give themselves. One of the things that she talks about is wisdom is calm, not fearful. So if you feel fearful, there's a very good chance that what you're hearing is your mind's chatter, as opposed to that sort of inner intuition that I think is another one of our senses. And it's a sense we've kind of lost touch with.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things I like about the magazine is that it addresses a diversity of opinions and it does talk about where leading your intuition can - there's a wonderful story about a woman who found her adopted son. She was visiting an orphanage, had no intention of doing this, but connected with a little boy. And she thought, something is not right. I am supposed to go back and connect with this boy. So she did that.

But you also talk about a woman who got herself out of a potentially life-threatening situation by following her gut. Very interesting. I wanted to ask how you went about constructing the issue and figuring out what aspects of this you wanted to dig into.

CASEY: Yes. We found these anecdotes fairly easily, including the one that just made the hair on the back of our necks stand up about the woman who kept having a dream of people at a fence and they were yelling at her. And every time she ignored this dream, more people showed up at the fence. And she had had a physical. She knew her health was fine. But she had this nagging feeling that there was something in her body that needed addressing.

And these people kept coming and each time there were more. And then one day, she had this dream and nobody was at the fence and she heard this voice in her dream say, look deeper. So she went to her doctor and said, what's the deepest place in my body?

And he said, well, I would imagine that's your colon. And she said, I want a colonoscopy. And he said, that's ridiculous, you know, you're in perfect health. You're too young. She finally found a doctor who would give her a colonoscopy and found a very aggressive tumor in there. And had she not been so persistent, she probably wouldn't have survived.

And we found this story absolutely astonishing because she had such a level of certainty that was, you know, so significant for her. And so what is this? And how do we all access this kind of knowing?

MARTIN: But, you know, that's the kind of thing that drives the medical profession crazy, for example. Because - I bet you can - we can all name stories like this where someone just felt that something wasn't right. And yet you're so often told, no, you have to go with the science. There's a metric for analyzing this, family history or this indicator or that indicator. And if you don't meet those, you know, criteria, you're often likely to be dismissed. How do you bridge the gap of the language of intuition with a world that so often has taught you to dismiss it or ignore it?

CASEY: Yes, exactly. We need both. We need the rational and the empirical. But one of the things I love about editing O, the Oprah magazine, is that we really talk a lot about the inner life of the readers and these kinds of things that are, you know, really just deeper. And I think that just because we can't prove something or we can't see it with our eyes doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I mean, we believe that cell phones work, for instance.

And we talked to a lot of experts in the process of creating this issue, a lot of whom said, well, this is something that we all have. But it's really up to you how wide the aperture is or how much you could access it. And there are actually tangible things you can do to improve your intuition.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TEL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about intuition, and specifically O magazine's take on it. It's the theme of the August issue. Our guest is O magazine editor-in-chief Susan Casey. Talking about bridging the empirical to the intuitive, you had a fascinating conversation with someone you call a professional intuitive. Tell me about that.

CASEY: I spoke to Susan King, who has a very long and illustrious record as - she calls herself an intuitive counselor. And, really, it's a little bit dismissive to call her a psychic because what she does is she sees pictures of things that happen in a person she's counseling's life. And she's had a very, very interesting past and she has an interesting story.

So I interviewed Susan and she actually came up with a number of things that she thinks will increase a person's ability to guide themselves in wise ways in their own lives. And, you know, if you think about it, if you walked into a room and you were standing against the wall with your back to everybody else and there was somebody in that room who really loved you or who really wished you harm, conversely, you might get that vibe. And what is that?

And so she is just an example of someone who is hyper tuned into that. And she had a number of very specific suggestions in the story.

MARTIN: She says in the past that we were better at intuition because of the frantic pace of life, many people don't stop to listen.

CASEY: In the past, intuition was probably a real survival asset, you know. Like, is this safe? Is it safe to go over here? And there was a sense of, obviously, if you're just rushing, you know, cell phone message and this and texting, you don't hear that inner voice that guides you that we all have and it seems to come from a very still place. So if you get still for a moment, you have a much better chance of hearing that.

MARTIN: Did working on this issue change you in any way? Or your staff? Or the way you thought about things after you went through this process of thinking seriously about intuition?

CASEY: I have to say that it did in the most amazing way. We all felt this. We all realized we could be using this. This is a fantastic resource and something that we all have and we could be using it more. And we all started paying more attention to our hunches.

And we also have a very funny timeline in there. A history of the hunch. And how would it be if you actually could guide yourself and your decisions were less fraught and less - somehow, what if you really did know what was the best thing for you? And we all started trying to access that and develop that muscle a little bit more? And we were very excited. The staff loves to try new themes, and this one, I think, to us anyway, felt very rich.

MARTIN: Well, I just knew that this was going to be a good conversation. And I was right.

CASEY: Thank you.

MARTIN: Susan Casey is editor in chief of O magazine. She was kind enough to join us from our studios in New York. O magazine's August edition is on the stands now. Susan Casey, thank you for joining us.

CASEY: Thank you, Michel.

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