The term intuition is arising in many discussions lately regardless of how misunderstood it is. These brewing discussions conceptualizing intuition can sometimes seem messy, complex, intricate. One question I hear often revolves around how one can distinguish a reliable ‘intuitive hit’ from anxiety-provoked perception, sensation and chatter. This is important to consider given that so many people make big decisions based off of intuition By understanding what intuition is and how it works, we can come to rely on it. Here, in this article, I’ll share some definitions, science, and my thoughts on this hot topic.
I think of intuition as an evolutionary, life-promoting sixth sense also referred to, by some, as “a gut feeling.” This kind of insightful perception is immediate – it does not involve reasoning, critical thinking, or reflection. But how is intuition experienced? Intuition can arrive as a felt sense, an inner voice, or even as visual imagery. Furthermore, intuitive knowledge arises in a nonverbal flash without having links to a memory or emotional pattern.
The foundation of intuition is in the body. The body and intuition are very much connected. Neural correlates, particularly the tenth cranial nerve (aka vagus nerve), are involved. This extra special nerve travels far, running from the brain downward to organs and the gut. So, it is our organs, nerves, and brain that form a multi-way communication system. Remember, the brain is not the only one sending out messages. Knowing this, we can work with other locations in the body to further develop our intuition.
Key to truly understanding the complexities of intuitive process includes familiarity with the nervous system, therefore, I will include a little about it here. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has three parts—the enteric, the sympathetic and the para-sympathetic. The enteric, sometimes called the intrinsic nervous system, is a complex system of 100 million nerves that regulate digestive activity. The enteric system transmits and processes messages in addition to other functions. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for action, such as defending ourselves or running away from danger, so blood pressure increases, digestion slows down, and the heart beats faster, while the parasympathetic is like put- ting on the brakes—resting and digesting, for instance. Here, pulse rate decreases, blood pressure slows, and food can be digested. The ANS is always working so that our body’s internal functions behave normally.
Here is where our behavior and lifestyle come in to play. Many of us have lost our relationship to ourselves, especially our own bodies. Knowing that the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve are not isolated, overly busy lifestyles (always being on the go) lead to a nervous system that is activated (Over-activation of the sympathetic is tied to health problems, but that is for another article). From that activated place, it is impossible to remain fully embodied and tune in to our deeper ways of knowing. Thoughts are much faster than the rhythm of the body! One way to counteract this and regulate ourselves is through conscious breathing which slows the heart rate. Nature can help too! Pair that with exercises for grounding, which are done by attending to sensation. Through these processes we can think more clearly and increase embodiment, thus giving ourselves the opportunity to further develop our intuitive ability, because they slow us down. It’s just what we need to develop intuition that is clean and clear.
Side note: if the idea of embodiment is new for you, read this – Embodiment is both a state and a process. It is inhabiting the body and locating ourselves. At this very moment, notice what your body is experiencing—that’s embodiment.
Always remember, intuition is connected to the body. Do not confuse intuitive hits with information emerging from states of anxiety or old schemas and perceptions. With continued practice, we come into deeper relationship with the body, attuning to our inner awareness more and more. When we do the work, we can come to trust our intuition, I believe, given the right circumstances.
I’ll close with the words of friend and colleague, New York based Somatic Psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Frank Tantia: Considering the body as “a gateway between consciousness and unconsciousness, and when those two parts from our thoughts to our emotions to our embodied experience can speak to each other, we can start to find a more holistic way of living in ourselves.”
May 2022 bring fulfillment and growth,
PS. Two things: In my new book, Dream Medicine, you’ll find an entire chapter on intuitive development. So, if this topic is important to you and you can carve out some reading time this season – a luxury these days – order the book here: https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/dream-medicine/
I teach skills for developing intuition in my California private practice. If you are a CA resident and would like to work with me one-on-one, just click on that tab found within this website.