Something that often comes up for the clients I work with is confusion around the concept of intuition. When are we acting on our intuition, and when are other forces at play, that may look like intuition, but actually aren’t?
I used to believe that strong emotions and my intuition were the same thing. It took a few very painful experiences for me to come to terms with the realization that this wasn’t true.
At that time in my life, just getting in touch with my emotions was huge for me, because I had learned to disconnect from what I was feeling over the years. So when I got back in touch with my feelings, I began to act on them, usually extremely quickly.
This looked like: Getting and quitting jobs, without much forethought at all; getting into (and out of) relationships without pausing to reflect on whether they were what I actually wanted; expressing my feelings to others, even when it wasn’t helpful or necessary; buying things on the spur of the moment; staying up and active when I needed sleep — the list goes on.
All of the above, I came to discover, was not acting on my intuition — it was acting impulsively. It was an important place for me to be for a while, since I’d learned so well during my teen years to bury my feelings and disconnect from them (and my body, where feelings reside).
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being impulsive here and there. (It can be fun, for sure!) But ultimately, I had to face the truth that this impulsive behavior was not necessarily helping me.
And then I began to wonder: what IS intuition, then?
Let’s start with what intuition ISN’T:
• It’s not action that comes purely from emotion (many times we think we are acting from intuition when in fact we are being driven by fear or anger).
• It’s not wishful thinking (sometimes we can confuse the hope that something will happen with the idea that it’s meant to happen).
• It’s not predicting the future (though acting on our intuition can certainly guide us toward important growth experiences, they may not look like we thought they would!).
Because we live in a very action-oriented culture, one of the most difficult things for us to do can be sitting with discomfort. (It can be hard to even give ourselves permission to do that!)
What I learned from my experiences was that my impulsive actions were often born of an unwillingness to sit with that discomfort. I thought I had to do something to alleviate it — and more often than not, I’d just create more mess for myself (like the time, at about twenty-one, when I cut my own hair, screwed it up, and then shaved half my head to “cover up” the screw-up).
Sitting with our discomfort and letting muddy water become clear, to paraphrase Lao-Tzu, is key to getting in touch with our intuition.
True intuition has a detached feel to it. There will NOT be strong emotion hanging onto a true intuitive prompting — it will feel simple, more like “I want to do this” or “I don’t want to do that.” Sometimes people describe it as simply “a knowing”. (It’s the stressful thinking we pile on top of an intuitive prompting that makes it seem complicated!)
Intuition does not explain itself, either. If you hear a lot of “Well, I want to do this because of this and this and this and then hopefully this will happen but maybe Mom will be mad if it happens but I’ll figure out a way to deal with that and oh yeah maybe Bob won’t like it either if I do that but I’ll show him!” — that is NOT intuition, it’s your mind rationalizing an action you’re not clear you want to take (yet).
This is why it’s so important, when we’re unclear, that we start with our bodies and notice what we’re feeling, then let the emotions come up and through us, and then, when we’re in a calmer, more settled place, see what we know.
Because intuition, I’ve noticed, tends to hide from drama. Intuition is always there, and can always be accessed, so it’s not truly hiding; it’s just that the drama drowns it out and is so noisy intuition can’t be bothered with it.
(Intuition is kind of like my cat, who slinks off to hang out under the dresser when there’s too much company. It’s not that my cat hates the company; he just figures it’s not worth the trouble and will reappear when the environment is quiet and peaceful.)
Now, intuition does take our emotions into account. It uses them as information. And that’s an important point: intuition needs information to function.
Even “intuitive flashes” that happen seemingly instantaneously occur in part because our subconscious mind has picked up on various cues in our environments and factored in our reactions to them — all so quickly our conscious mind may not notice. (Here the classic example of choosing not to get on an elevator with a person who gives you a “creepy” vibe applies. You’ve only seen the person for a second or two, but something feels “off.”)
Our desire to please others, or our fear of loss and change, can sometimes keep us from being willing to access our intuition. I always encourage my clients to allow themselves to know what they know and to give themselves permission not to act on it right away. It sounds, um, counter-intuitive, but sometimes this is the safety we need in order to allow our intuition to emerge — particularly if we grew up in an environment where speaking our truth was not encouraged or accepted.
How do you discern between your intuition and other energies within you? What helps you access your intuition? I’d love to hear from you.
P. S. There’s still time to sign up for one of my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you’re in a life transition this fall and need some clarity about your next step, I encourage you to check them out, here. You can sign up through November 1, 2016.
Also, if you’re a woman at midlife who’s feeling stuck and yearning for change, I hope you’ll take a look at my dear friend Theresa Trosky’s program, What’s Next? Theresa is an extremely gifted Master Certified Life Coach, and she’s helped me (brilliantly) through some of my own challenges. Her program begins on November 2, and you can find out more about it here.