As human beings, we have a lot of ways of knowing, and it can make life a whole lot easier when we can figure out how we know what we know, and tap into the most appropriate channels of knowing for every context we find ourselves in. Earlier this summer we talked a lot about discerning the difference between being in our head vs. heart because I am convinced that we tend to overuse our heads in situations where our hearts should be leading. This leads to a lot of overthinking, second-guessing, doubt, and confusion. Our heart knows what it knows, but our head constantly gets in the way. This month I revisited that idea, but with more complexity.
First, I want to emphasize the fact that our intellectual faculty is not the enemy. There are times when the head should very definitely lead the way. Deciding between health insurance plans, for example, is a choice we want to be very rational about, because it is a decision that requires us to assess very tangible needs and constraints from financial and medical points of view. Reading through lists, crunching numbers, planning, and making sense of data is all stuff that our brains are equipped to do. The intellect is also great in a supporting role. Once you make a decision from a deeper place in your being (e.g., where you want to take your next vacation), you can task your head with budgeting, planning, and filling out the details.
I still maintain, however, that we tend to rely on our head too much. For some people, it’s when try try to make career decisions. For others, it might be in their romantic relationships. At first it can be challenging to catch ourselves overthinking, because we are so accustomed to being in our heads, and it gives us a (false) sense of being in control. But the more you drop into your body (in meditation, in any mindfulness practice), the more you will recognize the feeling of being in your head. Also, here’s another clue: If you are asking the question “Should I…?” a lot, you are probably too much in your head about something. When you find yourself in this position, I recommend you drop down “lower” or “deeper” into your being. Where, exactly, depends on the context (more on that below).
For now, let me state my second point: our entire being is a tool for knowing. Looking at our nervous system broadens our concept of the “mind” considerably past the physical location of the brain, well into the depths of our bodies. The premise, as always, is that everything is energy, and if we allow ourselves the silence or stillness to attune ourselves to the subtle energy within and around us, we will be able to pick up on things beyond empirical and rational means.
We tend to associate the brain with our ability to know because it is the home of some 100 billion nerve cells. Yet consider the fact that the gut is part of our enteric nervous system, which is called the body’s “second brain.” (Sources vary on the estimate, but the gut houses anywhere between 100 million – 500 million neurons, which is an awful lot of neurons to devote simply to digestion and excretion).
This is just my contention, but I would go so far as to hazard that the gut is actually part of the rational faculty. I think of the gut as a super computer that is able to process information even more quickly than the brain because it doesn’t try to do everything consciously. An example I like to give is detective work. People who follow their “hunches” about a situation are probably taking in and putting together a lot more information than they are consciously aware of.
The third point I want to make is that in order to figure out what faculty to use when, we also have to be familiar with what what it feels like to receive knowing from different areas of our being. What signals seem to be positive, and which feel negative? If you have no idea where to start, allow me to point you to figurative language. We call it “figurative,” but there is a visceral (if not properly literal) truth to phrases such as: “It made my stomach turn,” or “I got butterflies in my stomach,” or “That hit me in the gut.”
The heart also has about 40,000 neurons of its own. This so-called “heart brain” connect directly to the brain and affects our perception, decision-making, and emotional responses. So try to think about experiences that made your heart “open,” “sing,” “soar,” or “light up,” and conversely, what has made your heart “sink” or “grow heavy” or “turn cold”? What does it feel like to be in the presence of someone who is warm and open hearted? What does it feel like to be with someone who is cold or heavy hearted?
After you’ve exhausted all the phrases around the heart, expand that out to the body in general. We haven’t yet mentioned the 100 million nerve cells in our spinal cord, and how that might be connected to chills going up and down our spine. What does it mean when you get chills or goose bumps? What does it feel like to have something resonate with you? If you get a “funny feeling” about something, where and when do you get that feeling? Can you describe it in more detail? How about focusing on different regions of your body, such as having “a weight on your shoulders,” or “a pain in the neck”? What does it feel like when a “weight is lifted” or you finally got “a monkey off your back?”
And then when you’ve exhausted those metaphors, expand outward and recall times when you feel you were surrounded by “dark clouds,” and then when the “clouds parted.” Have there ever been times in your life when you felt you were staring into an abyss, sitting underwater, swimming upstream, or around the bend / on the precipice of a breakthrough? Or to bring it down to the more mundane, think about how your morning cup of coffee can cut through your “brain fog.” (We’re in third eye territory here, if you haven’t picked up on that.)
The fourth point I submit to you is that once you start noticing the signals of your intuitive and bodily knowing, you can start mapping them out. Doing so can give you a clearer understanding of where your intuitive strengths lie, and what part of yourself you can rely on to make decisions in different contexts.
For example, I always go with my gut when I am faced with decisions that seem so big it would be overwhelming to calculate every single factor involved. I made weighted spreadsheets to help me decide where to go to college and grad school, but I really only did that to appease my mind. My gut knew immediately that I should go to NYU for grad school, even though my heart wasn’t really in love with it, and contrary to my ego’s desire to to accept the fellowship from Harvard. My heart, however, is the master of communicating that feeling of “being home.” It leads the way when I am apartment hunting, and is also a great compass when I am around new people and traveling to new places.
You might also find that, beyond your heart/gut/other bodily knowing, your intuition communicates with you in a host of other ways. Sometimes I hear what I refer to as “the Voice.” Sometimes the Voice shares deep wisdom with me, at other times it forecasts something in my future, and it also acts as a guiding force. The Voice always speaks in a neutral tone, and it never repeats itself. By contrast, my neurotic mind is super judgmental, and likes to chatter incessantly, repeat itself endlessly, often getting louder and louder each time.
Sometimes there is a force that literally stops me in my tracks. Sometimes it stays my hand before I send out an angry email, or it makes me literally bite my tongue before saying something I will regret.
I don’t know if it is this same force, but I also receive internal guidance about when to turn left or right. Sometimes this makes my commute more efficient, but my favorite moments are when it leads me to magical sights and experiences. I find that I have to be really open and quiet, and not have my mind chattering in order to hear this prompting.
Another way that I use my intuition is to read a person, a crowd, or a physical location. I am sure you have walked into a room and felt an argument hanging in the air, even though everyone is silent. “You could cut the tension with a knife,” the saying goes, because the energy is so palpable. This is the same knowing that gives you information about whether a home is happy, sad, or angry. Another common experience is feeling when the energy in the room shifts, and it has nothing to do with what anyone is saying. It’s something “in the air,” so to speak that changes, kind of like how you know the weather shifting when the air pressure changes ever so subtly.
And think about all the times when you have sensed someone having a wall around them. This is usually just a subtle energetic thing for me, but once I memorably got the image of a person being surrounded by a tall stone fortress that was protecting a very tender heart. You might also be great at picking up on when people are lying, or when someone is hiding anger or some other form of darkness underneath a smiling exterior. Or think about what it feels like to be around someone with “a chip on his shoulder.” It might drive you crazy, and you might think you’re being judgmental, because there’s nothing in the conversation that would externally prove any of these suspicions, but you could check your hunch with someone else and see if they picked up on the same feelings as you did.
Lastly, think about signs. Everyone at the last gathering talked about repeating numbers, but signs come in all forms. A lot of us seem to find deep symbolism in animals. But signs can also come in fragments of conversations, songs on the radio or that pop into your head, books that cross your path, phrases or ideas that people keep repeating to you, etc. All of these go into my intuition journal as well!
I could go on and on, but I will stop here to make my final point: You are already intuitive. Everyone has their own ways of knowing that goes beyond what logic or hard evidence provides. For people who work as professional psychics, this might include talents such as mediumship, psychometry, remote viewing, aura reading, etc. With practice, you might also be able to build on such skills. Or you may already be in possession of some without really knowing or calling it that. I bet, for example, that you are already telepathically connected to the people / animals closest to you. The classic example is when you know who is calling before you pick up the phone, or when you call a friend who exclaims that she’s been thinking about you a lot lately. Another classic example is when you can finish the sentences of certain people. Or you know exactly what they’re thinking without them having to say a word. And how about prophetic dreams? As with anything, the more awareness and intention and practice we bring to bear on all this, the more we can use these skills to our advantage. And the more we rely on our intuition, the more we can move through life with a certain sense of grace and ease.