Have you ever heard that the advice you should always take is the hypocrite’s advice? It’s truly some of the best advice on advice you can receive. The image I always conjure when thinking about this concept is the memory of my mother sitting at her dining room table beside an ashtray heaped with cigarette butts as smoke swirled around her and she coughed. “Never start smoking,” she’d tell me in her gravelly voice before snuffing out her cigarette and immediately lighting a new one.
   I took that advice very seriously and I can say with complete honesty that I have never smoked a cigarette. My mother eventually did quit smoking but it was too late. She has COPD and I have to watch as she deteriorates and I wish that there had been a hypocrite to give her the advice she’d given me.
   Now the advice I’m about to dole out to you isn’t as serious as warning you about potentially fatal habits, but then again, maybe it is. See, what I want to talk to you about is the little voice inside all of us that on occasion will pipe in and tell us to do or even not to do something. I’ve worked very hard over the past couple of years to really listen to that voice, and when I take its advice I’ve always ended up the better for it. Now despite my ever growing habit of obeying my sixth sense-gut feeling-God-voice, I still lapse into moments of procrastination or even out-n-out ignoring. I recently had something happen that was a small reminder that I should listen no matter how insignificant I might think it is.
   Most of my readers know me well enough to know that I’m an artist. I’ve always been attracted to things with interesting visual appeal. My brain will automatically take something, turn its perspective, and place it on the imaginary canvas in my mind to create my version of what I’m looking at. Sometimes I’ll see it as a photograph (even though I’m a lousy photographer), a painting, a charcoal sketch, or a sculpture.
   There’s a field on hwy 380 that I drive past almost every day that has called out to every part of my being. Sometimes the field is dotted with black cattle and sometimes it’s not. The only constant in the field is a twisting stream that meanders from the road to a small pond. On the far side of the pond is a single tree sitting on the bank. The tree is old and its forked trunk twists into matted branches. I don’t know what type of tree it is, I just know that there’s something about how it stands alone in this field that is slowly being surrounded by “progress” and stares at its reflection in the pond. It’s majestic and beautiful and haunting all at once.
   For five years I’ve driven past that scene and watched it change for each season. The buds of spring on the tree and new grass sprouting from the beige earth. The rich green leaves of summer and the verdant carpet that spreads out in all directions. Then there is the change of autumn as the leaves turn and the grass becomes more yellow. And finally, winter, when the tree loses its coat and looks dark and skeletal against the pristine backdrop of snow.
   Every time I drove past I would think that I should pull over and take a photo. Then the idea came that I should take a photo for each season and put them together for a series. But I never stopped because I was always in a hurry or didn’t have a camera with me outside of my phone. So I drove past time and time again and learned to drown out that nagging voice that kept telling me to take that picture. Even when I drove past and realized the subdivision behind the field was starting to encroach into “my shot” I thought “I can photoshop it out.”
   My procrastination ended a week ago as did my opportunity. Nature came through our town with force and the tree that had stood for decades couldn’t hold on anymore. It split and crumpled to the ground where it will lie as it slowly browns and loses its leaves one final time. Seeing it like that instantly broke my heart as I had to accept that I would never have that single moment of tranquil peace I got as I’d glance at it when hurrying down the highway surrounded by trucks and commuters. And I’ll never have that perfect scene to look at again because I didn’t listen to that voice that had nagged me for so long.
   There are probably many people who will read this and not find the significance. I, myself, can’t say that having taken the photos of the tree would have changed my life, but I can’t say it wouldn’t have either. You see, the thing with those little voices of guidance is that you may never know how much taking the advice will impact you. Maybe deciding to drive a different street to work kept you from an accident but you don’t know that for sure. All I know is that there have been so many times I’ve listened and good things have happened, and I also know there have been times I didn’t listen and there were consequences.
   I’m choosing to listen more closely. Maybe the tree was just a reminder of how amazing intuition is and I don’t want to make the same mistake when something more profound comes my way. Are you listening? Well, take this hypocrite’s advice and tune into your voice. You could be amazed at where it leads.

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