Intuition — or something else?

moonnight(Scroll to the end of this post to learn about two important deadlines.)

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.

Above image is “Moon Night”, © Paolo De Santis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making friends with creative transition

making friends with creative transitionRecently I spoke with a client who had just completed a massive project that took several years of her life to bring to fruition. It was a huge accomplishment for her to send her “baby” out into the world, and she was really happy about it.

Except that … she also wasn’t. She also felt lost and … sad?

How could this be? This was the time she’d been waiting for! In fact, at points during her journey she’d sworn the project would never be finished and couldn’t wait for it to leave her hands.

Because this was the first creative project of this scope that my client had seen from start to finish, she was unprepared for the letdown she felt when it was done. And it was making her really nervous that she wasn’t sure what her next project would be.

She didn’t even have any ideas. She kept trying to grab onto opportunities that came her way, but none of them felt right.

What my client was feeling was so, so normal.

When we imagine finishing something big, we often envision the elation that will come with the accomplishment but we don’t realize that there is a sense of loss in finishing, too.

We get thrown into “creative transition.”

Our tendency during these times is to rush ourselves through them because they feel so uncomfortable.

If we rush ourselves through, though, we miss out on the opportunity to become the new “us” that the transition time provides. That’s what transitions are, after all — bridges or tunnels from one version of ourselves to the next.

It’s kind of like when we end a relationship. Most of us have had that experience of breaking up with someone and then (oh, crap!) getting back together with them a week or a month later.

What happened there? We crawled back into our former lives, not quite ready to go through the “deep cocooning”  process we must embrace in order to emerge as that new “us.”

This is okay. As Robyn Posin says in one of her wonderful posts, we’re never fully anywhere until all of us arrives there. (I’m also reminded of an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry compares ending a relationship to knocking over a Coke machine. It has to rock back and forth a few times before the whole thing falls over.)

So what can we do to make times of creative transition easier? Here are a few suggestions.

* Allow yourself to come down from the trip.

Recognize that at the end of a long creative journey, we’re often functioning — to some extent — on adrenaline. This is especially true if we have a bunch of deadlines to meet or events to attend in order to complete our journey and we’re (understandably) tired. Adrenaline will kick in to help us make it through.

Remember how badly you wanted the semester to be over back in college, and you got all your papers in and exams taken, and then didn’t know what to do with yourself for a few days? That’s because you were still pumped with adrenaline and it was compelling you to do something, anything! When we come down from that heightened state (which, by the way, is not healthy for us to remain in), we will feel more centered and present and at choice.

* Allow yourself to feel sadness and loss.

There is nothing wrong with you if you feel a sense of loss and even grief after achieving a huge success. It is part of the natural process of moving from one phase of life to another. It’s normal to enter a “liminal state” at this time, what Martha Beck refers to as “Square One.” (Martha’s wonderful book Finding Your Own North Star explains “Square One” at length.)

* This is an excellent time to cultivate curiosity.

As the sadness and loss mix with your joy at your achievement and wash through you, what’s taking your interest? What do you notice about the change in yourself from the beginning of this journey to now? As you move through your daily life, what are you needing? Comfort? Connection with trusted friends?

Journaling about what you’re going through can be a great way to gain more awareness of your current needs, and the ways your inner compass is pointing you to your next step.

* It’s okay to go slow — in fact, it’s best to go slow — at this time.

When you allow yourself slowness as you enter creative transition, you really get a chance to experience who you’re becoming and what this transition is all about (though that may not be totally clear to you until you exit the transition phase!). This time is an amazing gift and you’ll never get it back in exactly the same form again. So how can you find ways to savor rather than hurry it?

You may need support in doing this. Our culture does not encourage savoring and slowness. Trust that support is out there in the form you need it!

What have you noticed about creative transitions for yourself? Has anything in particular helped to make them easier for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And: These are the last several days (through March 31) to purchase my package of four coaching sessions as I will have new offerings up on my site soon (I can’t wait to share them with you!). The package of four saves you $75 and is a great way to get ongoing support from me. Take a look here to learn more!

Image is “Tunnel Under Railroad” © Peterguess | Dreamstime Stock Photos