In the know: There are many ways we can access our intuition
Albert Einstein called it a "sacred gift"; Carl Jung described it as "perception via the unconscious". Even today there is mystery around the phenomenon of intuition - perhaps that's why it's so intriguing.
We're all highly intuitive, in retrospect. We tend to utter the immortal words 'I had a feeling' after, rather than before, the event. In some cases, we discount our intuition because we fear embarrassment should our prediction not come to pass.
In other cases, we can't differentiate between anxiety and perceptivity. When you know you know, goes the saying, but how exactly do we know when intuition means different things to different people?
For some it's a transcendent force, a connection to a higher power. For others, it's simply the unconscious pattern recognition process of the limbic system in the brain.
The late Wayne Dyer fell into the former category. "If prayer is you talking to God, then intuition is God talking to you," he wrote. Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman falls into the latter category.
"Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not," he writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow. "Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day."
Yes, there is much debate regarding the process, but not so much regarding the outcome. We can all agree that intuition gives us direction and guidance - so long as we can hear it.
Often the white noise of modern life drowns out the subtle language of intuition. Likewise, you probably won't hear it if you're sitting in front of your computer or scrolling through your iPhone. Intuition tends to be more perceptible in nature.
Silence helps too, so choose the solo option if you want to get in touch with your inner wisdom.
An uncluttered living space also aids the process. "When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and good, orderly direction to enter," writes Julia Cameron in The Artists' Way.
Elsewhere, there is evidence to suggest that negative moods obscure intuition. A 2013 study published in Psychological Science found that those in a positive mood were better able to make intuitive judgements in a word game.
If you find it difficult to differentiate between anxiety and intuition, try facing up to your fears. Write down a list of them so that you can discern from a more rational state of mind the next time you are considering the difference.
And remember that intuition is characterised by a feeling of ease and expansion. It is quietly confident. Fear, on the other hand, feels constrictive and uneasy.
The body offers further clues. Intuition contributes to a sense of poise while the telltale signs of fear include clenched muscles and shallow breathing.
Remember too that we don't have to wait for intuition to speak to us. There are a number of ways to access it on demand.
I recently attended a course with Byron Katie during which she shared a very helpful exercise for tapping into our inner wisdom.
She told us to think of a predicament - something along the lines of "should I take this job?" or "I want to fall in love"- after which she told us to look around the room and find an object that we felt resonated with the situation.
"Ask the object what it would do if it were in the same situation," she told us. We then wrote down the object's 'advice', being careful to write down the very first things that came to mind.
Needless to say, the inanimate object is simply a prop to help us bypass the process of self-identification. It's a back door to the intuitive mind.
The late Napoleon Hill used a similar technique. He had a 'Cabinet of Invisible Counselors' - people he admired, both living and dead. Hill convened with his imaginary cabinet to seek their guidance before he went to bed each evening.
This is another clever technique in that it uses the people we admire as a device to access our highest potentiality.
More recently, positive psychologist and author Tal Ben-Shahar outlined his interpretation of this exercise in his book Happier:
"You are one hundred and ten years old," he wrote. "A time machine has just been invented, and you are selected as one of the first people to use it. The inventor, a scientist from NASA, tells you that you will be transported back to the day when, as it happens, you first read Happier.
"You, with the wisdom of having lived and experienced life, have fifteen minutes to spend with your younger and less experienced self. What do you say when you meet? What advice do you give yourself?"
The dream world also offers answers, which you can ask to be shown as you drift off to sleep each evening. Set a clear intention that you want to be shown the answer in your dream and keep a notebook beside your bed so that you can write down the guidance when it comes. Be patient - this one can take a few days.
Some think of intuition as a higher brain function, others see it as a conversation with their higher self. Either way, it is a gateway to a higher intelligence. We already have all the guidance we need patient - we just need to learn how to access it.
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