On Being Aware: The Lesson of the Stop Sign


I’m going to tell you a story, about a lesson, my lesson of the stop sign. 

Twenty-something years ago, I was still a twenty-something myself living in Culver City, California, being freshly transplanted from my home town of Chicago. I don’t recall my destination, but I drove somewhere on the west side, either in Culver City or West Los Angeles. As was the case during that time, I often got lost, “zigging” when I should have “zagged,” as I became familiar with this new metropolis that covered a far greater area than my much cozier and familiar “Windy City.” However, “getting lost” was not a factor in this experience.

I drove through a residential area. Don’t know if I’d call it a neighborhood. L.A. has neighborhoods, but this didn’t feel like one of them. Nonetheless, I was in my own world; watching where I was going while looking at the homes that I passed, imagining what the lives of their inhabitants might be like.

Then everything changed.

After crossing one of the seemingly endless intersections in this urban asphalt lattice, I suddenly pulled over and stopped. My heart palpitated as a cold realization flooded my awareness that shook me to my very core.

There had been a stop sign at the intersection that I had just driven through, and I hadn’t stopped.

The cross street had no stop sign, so cars frequently travel through it at normal speed, their drivers confidently assuming that they will not be hit by crossing traffic. I had driven through the intersection and stop sign with nary a clue. I didn’t see it until after the fact.

I can hear some of you thinking, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just a stop sign! You didn’t hurt anyone or get hurt!”

I wouldn’t argue with that, but it was far more than that for me. It was a wake-up call. It was a sign that I was not “awake,” meaning conscious and aware. This was truth of a potentially life threatening state of unawareness that I could not ignore or deny to myself.

The vexing thing about unawareness, is that we are unaware of it. So when you get a glimpse of one and its implications, you take notice. If not, you pay the price.

I was presented with undeniable evidence that I was not aware of my unawareness, because I clearly thought that I was both awake and aware. My lack of familiarity of the area was no excuse for being unconscious of my surroundings, because the stop sign was a familiar symbol. I knew what it meant, and where they are likely to be found.

It’s one thing to deny the truth to others, but our greatest form of denial to overcome is self denial. This experience was a wake-up call, from Me, to me. It was not so much about the stop sign — although that was important — it was about not “setting” my mind in a “closed” position, which will only make me more unaware, and subject to more, shall we say, “dramatic” ways that Spirit may have to use in order to get my attention, in my eternal conversation with my Self.

You could say “it was a simple mistake,” and I’d reply, there are no mistakes. The main significance of this experience wasn’t my going through a stop sign, but in recognizing that I am sometimes functioning unconsciously, and to wake up. How would I wake up, especially if I didn’t know, or believe that there were some levels of greater consciousness that I could and should open up to?

It is done by acknowledging that I was not functioning on a desired, or even safe level of awareness and caring about it, desiring to be conscious, instead of dismissing the experience as “accidental,” or my not being T-boned as “good luck.”

Do you ever get mental pictures of certain experiences that you’d prefer not to have, or perhaps you fear? I did. For years before that event, one of my mental pictures was driving through an intersection and being broad-sided or T-boned by another vehicle. It started happening so often in Southern California, land of the car chase, that they sometimes didn’t make the local news. But I had such concerns before ever moving to the West Coast, from the time I started driving.

Another mental image I had involved driving along a residential street where a child, perhaps chasing a ball, runs into the street from between two cars. This may be because I was such a child.

At not more than 10 years of age, we lived in a three-story apartment building situated across the street from the elementary school that I attended. My friends and I frequently played stickball and football in the street. When cars drove by, we moved to the side, and then resumed our game.

One day, as I arrived at the “office” to begin serious playtime, one of my friends called me from across the street. Without a second thought, I bolted to join him, darting through two parked cars to daylight, like a running back who bursts through the offensive line. Only in my case, I to come face to face with a rubber shoed, steel monster. Actually, I think it was a ’59 Chevrolet convertible.

Thankfully, I was naive, but not totally unaware, and my reflexes were lightning quick because when I sensed the car’s immediate presence, I stopped on a dime. The driver also swerved to avoid hitting me. Together we achieved our mutual goal, to avoid injury, doing harm, or being harmed.

Then he stopped his car, and ran over to see if I were okay. This is something that far too many people will not do today, even if they hit, or even kill someone.

Outside of trembling, crying, and peeing on myself from fear, and the overwhelming awareness and understanding of what could have happened, I was fine.

On that day at the stop sign in California years later, I didn’t pee on myself, thank you very much. But the importance of being aware — of being present in the moment–made me shudder, and was brought home to me in no uncertain terms.

Today I understand that what we perceive as death is not “the end” of life, but simply how we transition to a different “non-physical” experiential frequency. This was not obvious to me at ten years of age, or even at twenty-something years. For many, it’s a question that dogs us throughout life, as we watch so many come in with joy through the birth process, but go out with such fear, anguish, and pain at “the end.”

We fear “the end” of life precisely because we think it is the end, even though it’s not. Even though the transition we call “death” is our way of beginning a new experience (something we also have much fear about), there are many benefits to be gained through our being fully aware and present in this life, in each moment.

There are benefits to be gained by openness of mind and heart to positive possibility. Life yields bountiful dividends to us when we choose to be hopeful and joyful, and let go of our fears. It’s great to understand that love is a gift that is always available, but we must choo
se to give to ourselves.

I am grateful that I learned the lesson of the stop sign without actually being t-boned. I am grateful that I’ve never struck a child or harmed anyone driving my car, for I have always loved the driving experience. Perhaps gratitude is one of the attitudes that opens the mind and heart, for it means we are present, in a joyful place, right here and now. I’m grateful that this recollection was magic, not tragic.

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0 Thoughts to “On Being Aware: The Lesson of the Stop Sign”

  1. liew

    To concetrate on whats positive and what things that need to be done is more important than, what’s negative and looking in a way of how things should not be done. I totally agree with you. Your article has been genuinely helpful, it sure is magic. Being in a state of unconscious is detrimental and being in it is incredibly torturous, escaping that seems far fetched but extremely rewarding when accomplished. Well, thank you for keeping safe on the road.

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