Do you know what your intuition sounds like? Do you know what it feels like? Do you know what it tastes or smells like?
The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines intuition as, “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” It’s not reasoned or carefully thought-out knowing. It’s simply your gut instinct or your deep inner sense about something that can show up in unexpected ways.
The highly scientific and rational portions of Western culture have eschewed intuitive thought for many years. Those groups prefer scientific reasoning, testing, step-by-step explanations, and purely logical theories that define how things work and why. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with this. There is a lot to learn from rational thinking. It has brought us amazing things such as heart transplants, robot probes on Mars, and smartphones.
There is, however, a limit to rationalistic thought. For one, rationalistic decision-making is based solely on concrete evidence and logical thought processes. There isn’t any room for evidence that exists at the level of instinct or intuition. It is also (supposedly) purely objective and doesn’t allow any distortion from emotions or prejudices. The facts are the facts and any questions about them based on anything but pure rationalistic logic is simply to be ignored. We are all familiar with this mindset in the scientific world that values objective, highly controlled explanations of our world.
Which is so very convenient for rationalistic systems. Western culture, which largely subscribes to the rationalistic mindset, trains us all to think and trust in this way. It values conformity of viewpoints and beliefs. Any feelings or hints you have that there is a reality outside the standard interpretation of life are generally dismissed. This isn’t a problem until you run into a rationalistic system that contains hidden issues of ethics, racism, sexism, colonialism, or flat-out dishonesty. Then the system stresses conformity so that its members don’t bring up the inherent issues.
But lest you think that rationalism is confined only to the scientific world, I can assure you that religion, politics, psychology, education, economics, and more are all imbued with this upfront dedication to objective knowledge while hiding areas of mystical, subjective, prejudiced, and irrational thought. Part of the reason for this is that conformity is so much easier. It’s easier to keep people in line behind some very questionable practices and beliefs. It’s easier to keep things static and keep the culture from changing.
We are taught from early on to ignore our internal sense of knowing. There is some reason for this, as teaching the basics of social life and a common bulk of knowledge give us all a firm foundation from which to spring later. The problem is that the systems hiding dirty secrets never then teach us when and how to expand our sense of knowing and use our intuition. They rarely teach us to go past the basic teachings and use our own inner knowing along with the rational system we've been taught.
Rationalism and intuition are not inherently at odds, though. You may be surprised to know that some of the greatest scientific thinkers of the modern era relied heavily on intuition for creative leaps in understanding. Einstein had strong beliefs in the mystical and credits creative intuition for some of the wilder parts of the theory of relativity (most of which have now been proven true by objective science). Thomas Edison would regularly practice a technique where he would rest in his chair with something in his hand. The moment he would fall asleep, he’d drop whatever was in his hand, wake up, and then quickly write down whatever he had been thinking or dreaming about. He believed in those moments of half-asleep, his subconscious mind could make creative leaps his rational, conscious mind could not.
Modern (and particularly) Western culture prefers rational, objective thought and trains us early on to see the world in that way and to honor the people and systems based on it. However, the sneaky secret is that even within those systems there are many people who have this creative, intuitive side.
That’s because intuition is a part of who we are, how we experience the world, and how we make decisions. Although we generally don’t admit it, every single one of us has intuition and we use it more than we realize. Intuition is that sense of knowing that something is “off.” It’s that gut sense telling us not to go somewhere or not to do something. Or it can be that hunch that we need to do something, or meet someone, or think differently to change our lives.
For some people, it shows up when you buy gifts for others or decide your blind date is not going to be a long-term relationship. If you’ve ever had a sense that someone is giving you a load of B.S. without really knowing why, that is your intuition talking. If you have suspected without any firm evidence that what you’re being taught from the pulpit doesn’t quite make sense, then your intuition is trying to get your attention. Your intuition is available all day, every day.
For some people, intuition is a felt sense in their bodies. For others, it is a quiet voice in the back of their minds. Occasionally some sense intuition in smells, tastes, or sounds. Intuition is as varied and unique as we are. Learning to tune into your sense of intuition can be a challenge.
I think that many artists, musicians, and writers have always used their intuition. They fought the modernist system and didn’t let their views of the world get squashed. They have kept it alive while much of culture has followed the rationalistic worldview down the rabbit hole. Thanks to them, there’s a growing subculture in the West that’s rediscovering intuitive thought. You can find workshops and books helping you recognize and grow your intuition. You can find YouTube videos and webinar series that teach you how to guide your life based on intuition. This is because more people are waking up to the fact that intuition is a natural state of being and wish to reconnect with this aspect of themselves again.
Everyone has intuition and everyone can choose to listen to it or not. What you need to know is that if you choose to pay attention to your intuition, that isn’t necessarily at the expense of rational thought. Intuition, like every other form of sensory or intellectual input, is simply a data point. One of the dozens that you can use all day long to make decisions and direct your life. Being intuitive doesn’t mean you ignore conscious, logical reasoning. Just like Einstein, you can be a rational thinker who pays attention to intuitive hits when you get them.
Despite the prevalence of information about intuition out there, there are some common misconceptions that I see (and have believed at times). If you want to start exploring your intuition, then there are a few things you need to know:
Your intuitive sense may not always be right. Mystical and new-agey sectors of our society often teach (or simply suggest) that your intuition is always right. The subtext is that, if you connect to your intuition, it will always guide you precisely toward where you are supposed to be. I’m not confident this is true. I don’t think we can interpret our intuitive knowing accurately all the time. Just like I can incorrectly see something right in front of me, sometimes my interpretation of my gut instincts can get skewed. Even when you feel you know something intuitively, don’t assume your interpretation is 100% accurate.
Skills for intuition can be learned. I believe we are all intuitive, but most of us don’t know how to access or trust our intuition. Being open to learning and practicing will make you more aware of your intuition and better able to interpret it. Knowing that intuition comes in many ways and at many volumes also helps. Learning and practicing what you think you are hearing from your intuition will help you build trust.
Intuition is usually subtle. People who teach intuition suggest that you can get to the point where your intuition is so obvious that it’s hard to ignore. This does happen sometimes, but I’ve found that my intuition is often indistinct and harder to interpret. Don’t assume that the subtlety means you aren’t intuitive. It just means that you should proceed with caution and practice more. Learn to get quiet and listen carefully. Don’t make wild decisions based on some half-baked idea that your intuition is guiding you somewhere.
Intuition can show up in surprising ways. Mine usually shows up as an instinctual knowing what my body needs, what books I need to read, and what teachers and energy workers I need to learn from. I’d love to get more intuitive hits about building my business, finding good sales, and knowing when my friends and family need help with something, but that’s not how I seem to operate. Maybe this will change over time, but right now this is how my intuition functions best. Know that your intuition may not make itself known in every area of your life. Watch and see when it shows up.
Intuition doesn't always lead you down the easiest path. There’s this belief that intuition will show you the “right” path to take and that learning to follow it will make your life full of sunshine and roses. Unfortunately, that isn’t entirely true. I do think that intuition can guide you toward the people and circumstances that will help you find your life’s purpose and live your best life. That doesn’t mean, though, that following your intuition will make your path easy. I followed my intuition three years ago when I left my teaching career, but there have been tons of difficult times since then. That doesn’t mean my gut instinct was wrong, it just means that my intuition led me through some challenges that are still taking me on the path toward my best life.
Your intuition is a natural part of who you are and can provide important data points for decision-making. However, it can also be hard to pick up on the subtle messages and tricky to interpret. We’ve all heard stories about people refusing to get on a plane or train because they “feel” something is going to happen. Then, of course, when something does happen, they are so thrilled to tell their story to everyone. They inspire us to believe in and trust our gut instinct. The flip side, though, is that there are probably just as many people who have a strong feeling that they shouldn’t get on a plane or train and follow it, but then nothing bad happens and they have no idea why. Was their intuition wrong? Did something change? Or did they simply have to be somewhere else and the reason for it was so subtle they simply didn’t recognize it?
Intuition can be tricky and elusive. Learning to listen to and trust your intuition can be challenging. It takes practice. It takes some experimentation. You have to be willing to take some risks and see what happens. Sometimes you have to be willing to trust other, more rational data points over your intuition and see where those decisions take you. Don’t expect that learning to hear your intuition will solve all your problems, but also don’t discount it. Just like you listen to a lot of input from different people before making big life changes, your intuition, rational thought, and life experience can all give you input as you make decisions.
Want to learn more about intuition and start practicing how to hear it? Check out my blog post “Trust Your Intuition” to learn more about how you can use your body’s intuition for healing. In the post, you can also download a free MP3 audio visualization. Visualizations are one of my favorite ways to access my intuitive, subconscious mind. I created this one to introduce you to your intuition and how you can ask for advice on something you need help with.
You can also to go Creative Sunflowers for some suggestions of ways to start accessing your creative, intuitive wisdom. Go read her short blog post How to Tune Into Your Intuition for some other ideas on how to get started.
As you learn, practice listening to your intuition and be honest about where it is taking you. Keep the misconceptions we talked about above in your mind. Allow intuition to be one of several data points. Don’t wholly discount rational thought. Most importantly, be curious and open about what your gut is telling you and what you can do about it.
May your intuitive journey be exciting and eye-opening!