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Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition

Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition PDF

Author: Amber Tamblyn

Publisher: Park Row


Publish Date: October 18, 2022

ISBN-10: 0778333337

Pages: 288

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

The Body Always Knows First:
An Introduction

By Amber Tamblyn

In the dark, my arms reach toward the sky to hold on to someone who is already gone.

Asleep in my bed, the sudden jolt of my body prompted by a dream that left as quickly as it came awoke me before my alarm could. I found my arms outstretched, my fingers casting shadows in the moonlight like wind-spanked branches. Once oriented, I yanked my limbs back close to my chest, gasping, and held myself close. Moments later, my alarm buzzed. I turned it off and reached for my digital watch to check the time and prepare for an early day of work.

The watch has a comforting feature whereby different pictures can be programmed to appear at random each time you look at it. I had been in Toronto, Canada, far away from home for close to six months, so I set the watch with various photos of memories that would sustain me while I was away: my mother on the beach in Santa Monica holding on to her windblown hat, laughing. Our ailing, old dog licking our three-year-old daughter Marlow’s face. A trip with friends to a cabin in the woods. My husband drinking his favorite pint of beer at our favorite local bar. That one Beyoncé concert. I loved not knowing which memory awaited me each time I looked at the watch, and each picture’s reveal was a welcome surprise that made me feel closer to home.

The watch lit up the blackened room as I looked at its face, and the glow of a picture struck me so bright and so present, I winced: my writing mentor, the poet Jack Hirschman, standing in Caffe Trieste in San Francisco some years earlier, holding my then baby daughter in his arms. She is clutching on to his black shirt with her tiny fingers as his hand cups her diaper, holding her close. Jack is a brilliant writer and has authored more than a hundred books in ten languages as a celebrated poet the world over. In the picture, I can make out the wise rings of his skin, an ancient tree of a man. I can see the rubbed reddish-pink flesh between his thumb and index finger, the place where his pen has rested and written for more than seven decades. His ring finger pushes down against Marlow’s diaper, keeping her steady against his chest like a pianist holding a vital note to finish the chord. In the picture, Jack is wearing his signature red suspenders, and silver writing glasses sit on top of his head. His white hair billows down over the canyons of his neck like fog. Marlow is looking out, eyes wide open, and Jack is looking down at her, his massive mustache spread broad across his face from a smile breaching beneath it, the cracks around his eyes deepened with joy.

I held the watch there in the dark room and stared at the image of them together, unable to get out of bed just yet. My body wouldn’t let me. Jack is my creative father, the man who published my first poem at the age of twelve, who taught me everything I know about the power of my emotions put to pen.

“Hey,” my husband said, finally stirring in bed next to me. “You better get up and get going. You’re gonna be late.”

In the car ride to work, I again looked at my watch to see what new photo might appear but saw the same picture of Jack and my daughter. And again, when I got to my trailer. And again, during our lunch break, and when I got home, and before bed, and the next day, and the day after that. The face of the watch was no longer rotating the different photos chosen for it but instead held just this one. I checked the watch’s app on my phone and reset it. But it was still stuck on Jack. It was stuck on Jack for a long time. How sweet, I thought, the universe keeping him close to me while abroad.

But my body told a different story each time I looked at the photo. I would feel physical unease: a sensation in my lower abdomen that would transmute with persistence all over. I directed all my senses toward the ache and then my mind, too. I asked what it was trying to tell me. What came back was a picture at first, painted in a thousand directives: an urgency to move, to travel somewhere far away, yet still familiar. To go somewhere distantly needed. I checked the watch again. Still Jack.

In that moment, my whole body spoke, and my mind heard what was being said. This stuck photo was a sign, for lack of a better word, and for lack of a better sign, this was also a word: time. Time, both literal and metaphorical, was trying to tell me something. In this moment, time was not just a clock on my wrist marking the hour, it was a countdown advancing toward something, as if these specific hours and these specific days meant more than just a passing but, perhaps, a disappearing.

I needed to go west. I needed to see Jack as soon as possible.

That evening, I emailed him and told him I wanted to come visit as soon as I could leave Canada. I wanted to come to San Francisco where he lived with his wife, the poet Agneta Falk, and I wanted to bring Marlow, too. Neither of us had seen Jack and Aggie for more than a year and a half because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and working abroad had furthered the absence of that time between us.


“Jack!” I emailed him that night. “Are you and Aggie in SF around the week of August 9? I might be coming to town with Marlow and just wanted to see if you’d be there.”

Cara Amber,” he wrote back within the hour (cara meaning dear in Italian). “Yes, we’re here. Looking forward to seeing you both. Sempre, Jack.”

The body always knows first. It knows through sensation, or the absence of it, what happened before, what’s happening now, what’s to come. The mind comprehends what the body knows, eventually, and in that comprehension, the mind makes a swift decision about the information imparted and whether that information threatens the stability of the person inhabiting the body. The body might tell you that you have to run, for office or from a relationship. It might tell you to fight back, from a predator or the tears in your eyes. It tells us something’s wrong: we are sick or someone else is. It tells us things before our mind can: we’re in love, it’s possible to heal whole parts of ourselves, we’re hitting a creative threshold, or something is coming to an end.

Our mind weighs this information and often errs on the side of caution, not wanting to cause disruption even when this information might mean a breakthrough, a revolutionary idea, or a reclamation. The mind can be our strongest protector, the armor over our adventure, the sorcerer behind the spun tales of our mythology: what we need to tell ourselves to survive. Because, even though the body knows first, on its own, it’s not always right in its reaction. It can tell us that we are not worthy of touch, that we are broken when we are not, that we should be afraid to act on what we feel. The body on its own can send mixed signals, second-guess itself, or put itself in a dangerous situation. (Think of all the times you’ve said, “I wasn’t thinking” and you meant it.) Similarly, the mind on its own can be misleading, causing us to spiral down into irrationalities or stubbornly carb-load on what’s safest: analysis and intellectualization. And somewhere amid the handoff between the body’s knowing and the mind’s grasp of it, somewhere before the swift decision but after the sensation, somewhere in the meet-cute between the two, there’s a window worth listening in to. It can tell us when to move into action, or when to nest, when to say goodbye, when to go west. What you will hear is your intuition.

“In biological terms, these telepathic responses to the distress of family members and close friends make good sense,” writes researcher of parapsychology Rupert Sheldrake in his book, The Sense of Being Stared At, in what he describes as the effects of intentions at a distance. “They are not mere curiosities of marginal significance but are often important for survival.” Sheldrake believes that a response to telepathic intuition has been proven to save lives in some cases, or at the very least, helped to comfort those who are in distress, even if acting on that intuitive calling is nothing more than a simple phone call.

For women, the actualizing of our intuition can be life-changing, but it requires long-term practice in earnest. What we call a gut feeling, or a hunch, or a voice inside, can be the driving force behind every decision we make, or every decision we don’t. It is a way for us to hear what is needed, or what isn’t, what is stopping us, or what won’t let us begin. It can be what keeps us up at night, what makes us pull over on the side of the road, what propels us into a new career, or awakens us to the realization of an abuse. It is a second, deeper tongue which demands we speak. “This is why women are knowing creatures,” writes poet, psychoanalyst and trauma specialist Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her iconic 1992 book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype. “They are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything.” If women are made from the soles of life’s feet, then intuition is the ground on which we walk; the culmination of our instincts and the utilized connection between our physical bodies and the influence of our minds. It is a tying of the knot between what can be explained and what cannot, and if we give it the power it deserves by strengthening its foundation within us, it can change us, and the world.

But if we choose to ignore our intuition, the consequences can be many. We end up with a life unfulfilled, a story unwritten, a body not saved, an unhealthy relationship continued. “Some women don’t want to be in the psychic desert,” writes Estés. “They hate the frailty, the spareness of it. They keep trying to crank a rusty jalopy and pump their own way down the road to a fantasized shining city of the psyche. They are disappointed, for the lush and the wild is not there.” Intuition might be something we are born with, but it is not something we are raised to maintain. From a young age, we are taught to grind down that connection between our bodies and our minds until it’s a dull noise deep in the background of our daily doing. We are taught to do away with any gut feelings which paint us as difficult, controlling, dramatic, or unfit, even if those gut feelings might lead us toward a personal or professional revelation or freedom.

The destruction of our intuitive lives in our youth is the first major act of misogyny a young girl will experience in a life defined by the normalization of such oppressions. As young girls, we are often punished for exploring and expressing our emotions and demonized for wanting them to matter. We are told that rational and intellectual thought are the only worthy forms of intelligence, and we are groomed to believe that our bodies hold no importance other than to be objectified. We are encouraged to stay small, quiet, and polite as we grow up and move through a world that has built itself on the comfort of that normality. We are told to fit into that world, not stand out from it. Charm that world, heed that world, follow that world—do not try to make it yours. We are asked to be good mothers, good teachers, good writers, good doctors, good listeners, but to draw the line of that listening to when it is our own.

Still, we hear. We cannot help hearing. The window calls to us, demanding what must be heard. And while the world has tried to separate us from it, we can never be severed from it, that which is our ancient guiding principle, intuition, fully realized.

After my job in Toronto finished, I moved my family back to New York and left soon after to take a vacation in Georgia in the late summer of 2021. I planned to visit Jack and Aggie a month after I got back, and I called to tell him.

“Sounds good, kiddo,” he said on the phone, his strong voice vibrating through my ear. “We’ll be here and can’t wait to see you.”

A few weeks later, I was sitting on my sister-in-law’s stoop drinking a cup of coffee under the hot Georgia morning sun when a text came in from my friend of twenty-five years, poet Derrick Brown. Jack had died in his sleep.

I did not believe it, could not believe it at first. I quickly went on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website to see, hoping it was some horrible mistake on Derrick’s part. But it was true. It was true. I let out a fractured scream as my arms threw my phone onto the lawn in front of me. They stayed outstretched after it hit the grass, then reached out farther, up toward the sun as I came up onto my knees, grabbing at the sky in disbelief, trying to pull Jack back to me, to will his body home from its eternity. They say to never stare into the sun, that you can go blind, but that morning my eyes could not leave the confrontation of its horrible brightness, could not make sense of it as a symbol for future days in which Jack no longer existed. I stared into it, violent with grief, and could make out with watery eyes the edges of my fingers pulling at its fire. I would never see him again, except in pictures. I would never hear his bold growl of a voice on the phone, or receive his handwritten letters in the mail, or share a vodka with him at Specs’ Bar, or walk with him down Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. He would never read my poems again, and I would never send them to him.

And there in the blazing light was the watch on my arm. And Jack’s picture, pressed against an unrelenting sky. As I wept, I removed it from my wrist and held it to my lips, its face between my teeth, as if to swallow it whole, to make the image come back to life, to go back in time and get to him sooner.


Jack’s time was running out, and then it was gone. Just like that. And it was my body and then my mind—my intuition—that had tried to prepare me for this moment by giving meaning and purpose to what was nothing more than a digital malfunction of hardware on my wrist. Time itself had not halted, but Jack’s time was ceased, and the meaning of time, for me, had been altered by this symbolism—by this foreshadowing. Jack’s face stuck in perpetuity on an interface mere months before his death was probably just a coincidence, but it was mine to intuit real meaning from. And I did just that. Acting on my intuition, however late, may not have resulted in getting to say goodbye to him, but it got me closer than if I had ignored it. There would have been no email exchanges, no last phone call, no intention expressed in which I could hold on to for the rest of my life as proof that at least I tried. Listening to my gut played an integral part in some form of goodbye, which was not nothing. And it showed me that the window inside, the space where the body knows and the mind receives, is worth listening in to, worth being guided by, and worth investing in.

Each of us has access to that window which unlocks our intuitive process, and for each of us, there is a road map that points to exactly how we can harness it, each and every time. This book aims to acknowledge and pinpoint that process: to excavate a clear and concise path toward embracing and activating your own intuitive intelligence, and to be able to use it at will. Within these pages, you will read from powerful women across industries: doctors, actresses, biologists, politicians, writers, composers, poets, comedians, and even my own mother, all of whom have spent their lives cultivating a profound relationship with an intuition which has been used to actualize their greatest potentials, and even change the world.

The activation of intuition presents differently in every woman, and this book intends to teach each and every one of us how to access our own, uniquely and individually. For some women, this feeling may present first in the body: an agitation, a doubt, an unquenchable urgency. It may be unexplainable, what you can’t quite put a finger on, though your spirit demands you must. It is what compels you, even when you may not want to. “Go back to that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile,” writes Estés. “Go up and knock on the old weathered door. Climb up to the cave. Crawl through the window of the dream. Sift the desert and see what you find. It is the only work we have to do.” Follow the voice inside that compels you to that sealed windowsill, when a defining moment of your life calls for deep introspection, when you are pushed to change, to fight, to leave, to stay, or to speak.

It is both a window you must learn to look and listen out from, and a window of time in which you have to do it. Time.

Follow your arms, outstretched, to find the answer and the bravery to bring it to fruition. See your fingers reaching, pushing up, until that window is no longer closed. Trust that gravitation: a pulling which makes you and only you its orbit. Trust yourself; trust your process; trust your map. See the stories from this collection—their triumphs, reckonings, and revelations—as a compass which can show you a direction—a way to begin.

So begin. Follow your map. Find your window. Take in what your body can hear and your mind can achieve when you’re wide open, listening in the dark.



The Body Always Knows First: An Introduction

Over the Rainbow – Dr. Mindy Nettifee

Untwisting My Intuition – Jessica Valenti

The Science of Intuition and Deep Connection with Nature – Dr. Nicole Apelian

There Are No Angels – Meredith Talusan

Harnessing Catastrophes – Dr. Dara Kass

In the Mouth of the Wolf You Will Find It: On Dreams and Healing Trauma

Journal Entries

Letter To Our Childhood Dreams

Two Worlds Are Better than One: On Dreams – United States Poet Laureate Ada Limón

The Field– Bonnie Tamblyn

A Brief Cartography of My Hands – Lidia Yuknavitch

Mystic Lessons – Jia Tolentino

Crossing Paths with Ghosts: On Creative Process and Reckoning with the History of Women’s Intuition

Practicing the Quiet – Amy Poehler

Mirrors – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

Gut Feelings – Samantha Irby

Knowing – Huma Abedin

I Am Not Lost, I’m Looking – Emily Wells

In Conversation and Friendship: A Dialogue on Navigating Intuition – America Ferrera and Amber Tamblyn

Listening Exercise

The Road Map, Realized



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