The single most common denominator in the trouble people have is that they don’t know what they know, they do not trust their own senses, they ignore their better judgment and try to silence that too-small inner voice. It is more typical than most of us imagine for people to shrug and say, “I dunno,” when asked how they feel about something or someone. Patients look at their therapists cross-eyed when they’re asked to “track a feeling through their body.”
Intuition is our shortcut to truth. But it depends greatly on body sensations—gut feelings, not reasoning. Unfortunately, our culture relies heavily on linear thought processes, relegating intuitive leaps to something the “little woman” does, something more often associated with fringe elements of society. Western society demands logical thinking, backed-up by hard evidence provable in court. That is well and good, leading to one level of truth. But there is another route that, on the surface, often appears illogical and eludes formal analysis. Intuitively, we will know that something is right, good, bad, etc…It wouldn’t hold up in court, because we do not know how we know. We’ll just “know.”
There have been changes, though. Starting with the Think Tanks at IBM in the Sixties, Intuition has been re-written with a capital “I” and has become a dear friend of big business, especially over the last decade or so. The WSJ has reported that intuition training at DuPont has generated 100% increases in productivity and new product development time has dropped from three years to three months.
Leslie H. Wexner, CEO of The Limited, has said, “I never conduct formal research. I trust my intuition. It’s like taste. I can’t describe it.” People with the most to lose—and win—depend on their intuitive capacities for their final tallies, often over-riding opinion polls, statistics and standard protocols to do what they know, deep down, is the right thing to do.
Intuitive Good Sense
In studies done with businessmen, it was revealed that the most successful ones used a combination of logic and free intuition. Being intuitively wise involves more than just “a feeling.” It blends creative leaps with good judgment and basic common sense. There are times we may have to ignore what ordinary experience and other people tell us we “should” or “ought” to do/think because the intuitive sense of a situation is so strongly in opposition. However, a rapturous reliance on feeling or any one sense alone can lead us terribly astray.
A story is told about a psychologist who trains a flea to jump when it hears the word “jump.” The psychologist pulls off one of the flea’s legs and he still obeys the command. This continues with the psychologist removing one leg after the other and the flea following orders, until, one day, the insect, legless, doesn’t jump. So, the psychologist induces, “When a flea loses its legs, it can no longer hear.”
Almost any therapist working in this area will stress the need for balance. Intuition is based on feeling, but comprised of more. We need to be thoughtful at the same time that we need to learn to listen to ourselves. Not knowing what we know is essentially denial of one form or another. And when we don’t see, won’t hear, can’t acknowledge something that’s right in front of us, we get into trouble—or worse. We show exquisitely bad timing, enter into hopeless relationships, take the wrong assignments, run up enormous charges, make terrible investments.
How Can We Know What We Know?
1. Use Your Head.
“Wisdom,” it has been said, “is a firm grasp of the obvious.” Don’t be afraid to judge, discriminate, use past experience, get reality checks from trusted friends or associates.
2. Use Your Senses.
If you smell smoke, there’s a fire. Somewhere. If the handle is hot, what’s in the pot, no doubt, is hot, too. If you hear a scream, something hurts someone. If it tastes bad, spit it out. If you see a bus coming at you, move. If your stomach erupts, something doesn’t agree with you.
People ignore their senses all the time. They double-guess themselves, saying, “nah, can’t be.” But, it can. One woman ignored the distension and discomfort in her abdomen for three months. Those were a critical three months with a building ovarian cancer. One young person walked down a dark street talking himself out of the fear that crept along the back of his neck. He was mugged.
Most of the time, we have an investment in our denial. We want to believe we’re fine, because we’re scared of finding out we’re sick or that something is wrong. We want to believe a partner when he or she says, it’s fine, even though we know it’s not fine. We want to think of ourselves as courageous and unstoppable (especially when we’re young and male), but we put ourselves in danger.
There are millions of ways to acquire information. Sometimes it’s pheromonal (hormones, scents), sometimes it’s subtle visual cues. Sometimes it’s the almost imperceptible shift in tone or color of a person’s face or his vocal pattern that alerts us to a potential problem. At times it’s the things we can’t consciously pinpoint that tell us something is “up.” Dogs, cats and other animals seem to be able to sense a coming earthquake. We still haven’t figured out how they do that. Could it be shifting electro-magnetic fields?
3. Trust Your Heart.
The “heart” confuses everyone sometimes and some of us all the time. But it is our leader, our guide, when all the other wires get crossed. The heart, for it to lead successfully, requires care and practice. It produces the kind of intuition that is the “non-sequential” knowing underived from established fact or observable time-space events. It is the kind of knowing that will guide us towards the buying (or not) of a particular home, the right time to call someone, or when to invest and for how long.
4.Know Your Own Defenses.
In order to know what we know, to become more wisely intuitive, we need to be aware of our own defense mechanisms and the obstacles we unwittingly set up.
To not know is to fear ourselves. To fear ourselves is to fear everything and everyone else. It is to live without grounding.
We all need—and all have—defense mechanisms in place. Without them, we’d all be crazy. But, they’re like coats in the winter. They’re wonderful when it’s cold outside, but we don’t need to leave them on all summer.
The most prominent defense is denial, which essentially denies reality. “No, it’s not dangerous.” “No, I’m not sick. I’m fine.” “No, I’m not addicted to gambling. I can stop any time.” Temporary denial can be necessary when we need it to survive, e.g., denying pain to finish a critical mission, denying grief long enough to function at work, denying catastrophic loss until coping mechanisms are back in place. But we don’t want to deny the truth to the extent that it makes us physically ill, ruptures my relationships, or prevents honest communication.
Other common defenses are numbness (not feeling), repression (burying it below conscious awareness), amnesia (forgetting), minimizing (making it less than it is), disavowal (obvious meanings are not what they are), and rationalizing or justifying (inventing a reason for a behavior or event so that it becomes palatable).
Everyone uses defenses. The task is to become familiar with your own defenses and the reasons you use them. Many people are afraid of the truth, thinking mistakenly that they will lose love, respect, or position. That is not the case. Having seen the truth, they may indeed decide to let something go or change something about themselves or their behavior, but they will, perhaps for the first time, be able to really choose instead of being a prisoner to unconscious needs and fears.
A Couple of Quick Techniques For Practice
1. The Rose Meditation
Imagine something you know without doubt you love. Choose something simple. Feel it. Sense it. Where do you feel the love in your body? Now, tell yourself you love it. What does telling yourself you love it feel like as you hold the image in your mind?
Now, imagine something you hate or fear. Sense it. Feel it. Where does it sit in your body? Tell yourself you hate it. What does that feel like?
Next, you want to switch the process.
Imagine something you love. Feel it. Sense it in your body. Now, tell yourself you hate it. How does the lie feel? Where in your body do you sense the distortion of it being untrue?
Imagine something you hate. Feel it. Sense it in your body. Now, tell yourself you love it. How does that feel?
Notice the difference between the truth and the lie.
2. Taking Your Emotional Pulse.
Every now and then as you go about your day, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you’re feeling. Be specific…go through your body as well as your thoughts and emotions. When you’re in conversation with others or at a meeting, stop yourself and try to determine what it is that other people are feeling, thinking, sensing.
Notes for the Refrigerator
1. Notice! Notice! Notice! Be aware of everything around you.
2. Wonder! Wonder! Wonder! Get curious. Ask questions. You don’t have to know everything right away. Not knowing is the beginning of wisdom.
3. Wait for Answers. Don’t assume too much. Sometimes, there’s nothing you need to do but wait.
4. Listen Well! Both to yourself and to others.
5. Tell the Truth! Be honest with yourself, above all.
6. Slow Down! If we’re running too fast, we miss the most important details.
7. Honor your Feelings. Practice the exercises and become acquainted with your own body.
8. Use your heart. Use your senses. And use your head. All together.
Judith Acosta, LISW, is a licensed psychotherapist, crisis counselor and homeopath in private practice in New Mexico. She is the co-author of The Worst Is Over: What To Say When Every Moment Counts, hailed as the "bible of crisis communications." She lectures around the country on Verbal First Aid, trauma, stress, and intuition development. She may be reached at her website: http://www.wordsaremedicine.com