Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several people ask me about intuition: What is it? How do I know when I’m connecting to my intuition? How do I know that it’s real and not something I’ve made up in my mind?
As a shaman, I work with and rely on my intuition all the time. Every time I do a shamanic journey, I have to trust that the messages, visions, and experiences I have are valid and that they provide some type of insight that will help me or my client with whatever situation he or she is dealing with. Let me give you an example. When I am doing a shamanic journey — which is when I go into a trance-like state to connect with the spirit world to help a client heal at the spirit level, get insights, or connect with their higher self or guides — anything can happen. Different beings can come forward, different places or scenes present themselves, and different messages come through. It would be very easy for me to tell myself, “Oh, that’s just my imagination. I’m making all of this up. None of this is real.”
One day, I was doing a journey for a client. In addition to my usual guides, there was someone else there that I didn’t know or recognize. I could sense there was a person and that person was a female, but I could not see her. I was doing the journey in the Upper World, which is a world that is filled with loving, helping spirits, so I wasn’t concerned about the intentions of this woman, but I did want to know more about her. So I asked her, “Who are you?” She did not reveal her entire self to me, but instead showed me three things: she showed me her smile, she showed me her black curly hair, and she showed me the letter “J.”
When I finished the journey, I called my client back to share what had happened during the journey. I told my client, “There was someone who showed up that I didn’t know or recognize. It was a woman, and she showed me three things: her smile, black curly hair and the letter ‘J.’” My client was immediately excited because she knew exactly who it was: her cousin Jessica who had passed away a number of years ago. She was known in the family for her beautiful smile and gorgeous black curly hair. At that moment I started to fully trust and believe my intuition and stopped thinking that I was making things up. I would have had to hit the lotto in terms of guesses to get the three things correct — and the chances of me doing that is extremely slim.
What is Intuition?
Intuition is that quiet voice inside of us that lets us know that something is right or wrong for us or gives us more insights about a situation.
We can usually only hear it when we are quiet and still, connected with our heart, rather than with our mind or ego. When we are rushing through our lives, living in our heads and living by a clock that forces us to make decisions, it is extremely difficult for us to connect to our intuition and our inner knowing because these external things are much louder than our intuition and drown it out. To connect with our intuition, we have to step out of that loudness and stop, open our hearts and listen.
But is intuition real? Or are we just making stuff up in our minds?
I would be the first person to say that it is real, but I’m not the only one. A 2015 study presented in the Journal of Positive Psychology showed that intuition is especially beneficial when someone is stressed, under time pressure and dealing with something complex, because, according to the study, “intuitive processes often lead to judgments with higher diagnostic value for the to-be-judged criterion than rational-analytic processes of reasoning.
In fact, some scientists and researchers are now saying that intuition is the highest form of intelligence we possess, as noted in a recent Forbes article. That gut feeling, that hunch or that little voice within us contains a lot of power and is our truth…far more insightful than the outside world, data and input. Our intuition is now being viewed as a positive, beneficial way of making decisions.
When We Follow Our Intuition We get Many Benefits
Our intuition never steers us wrong. When we are connected to our intuition we see things clearly because we are not allowing fear to take over which can lead us to make decisions, that on paper sound correct, but are ultimately bad decisions for us. Our fear can often drown out our intuition. Our fear can also sound like a quiet voice inside of us, saying things like, “don’t do it” or “that’s a bad idea.”
When we are coming from a place of fear, we typically close ourselves off from moving forward and pen ourselves in to avoid whatever it is that is in front of us. The energy around fear is usually heavy, causes a tightness in our body and energy, and feels constraining rather than liberating. We may also feel anxious or like things could get out of control if we don’t somehow avoid whatever it is. When we are tapping into our intuition, we could also be getting the message “don’t do it” or “that’s a bad idea” but the energy around that message is different than the energy that exists with fear. Our intuition feels “right” rather than constraining or limiting and has a clarity around it.
When you are connected to your intuition, you may feel a sense of calmness or peace, as if the truth and clarity make the decision easier for you. Or, you may feel a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, like something isn’t quite right about the situation, even if you can’t put your finger on it. Regardless of whether you feel peaceful or have a sick feeling, there is a lightness associated with the insight — even if the insight goes against what you want or how you want the situation to be resolved. When you connect with your intuition, you feel clear about what it is that you need to do. With that clarity comes confidence. You know what you need to do, and any fear around the situation is lessened so that you can move forward.
Your intuition may try to speak to you through multiple ways so that you get the message. Some ways you can know that your intuition is trying to communicate with you include: a sense of peace or a sense of sickness in the pit of your stomach, you feel clarity and lightness about what you need to do, you feel confident, you may get messages in your dreams — daydreams and night dreams, you may have physical illness that can grow, and getting the same type of message multiple ways or repeatedly.
Here’s an example from my life: When I was considering doing shamanic work but wasn’t quite sure that it was the right thing for me, I had a series of dreams that served as nudges to give me guidance that it was the right thing for me to do. I would dream of Mayan pyramids and ruins, which were the starting point of my journey to becoming a shaman, and of snakes which symbolize transformation and change — and are a spirit icon for the Mayans as the feathered serpent god. Interestingly, in real life, I am afraid of snakes, and other times when I’ve dreamed of snakes I have been terrified, but in my dreams, while I was trying to make the decision, I was not afraid of the snakes. Instead, I was working with them and learning from them, which was a clear sign that my intuition was trying to tell me something.
At the time that I was trying to make the decision, I also kept finding myself daydreaming about what my life would be like as a shamanic healer, rather than as a business strategy consultant. As I continued to wrestle with my decision, I was leaning toward staying in my job and not really pursuing the shamanic work. I kept chugging away at my job, but I noticed that I started to feel physically nauseous every Monday morning as I was getting ready to go to the airport. This too was my intuition trying to communicate with me to let me know that I wasn’t making the decision aligned with my highest good and my life purpose.
Being the stubborn person that I am, I ignored the physical nauseous-ness, chalking it up to stress and exhaustion, but I kept thinking over and over again, “I need a break. I need a break.” So the universe and my intuition took it to the next level: I ended up getting hit by a minivan. I got a break — actually multiple — and couldn’t go to work for several months. When I had been thinking, “I need a break,” I was thinking more along the lines of a vacation, but what I got instead were several broken bones and lots of time stuck on the couch while I healed. My couch time gave me the time for me to really connect with what was going on and see that my intuition was telling me that the shamanic work was more aligned with my higher self. As I did that, I realized that my fear was holding me back and that I had missed many of the ways that my intuition was trying to nudge me in the best direction for my life. And my intuition kept nudging — sometimes firmly — until I got the message.
Connecting with Your Intuition
One of the first things that you need to do is connect with yourself first — your true, authentic self. We bury and hide who we are under the personas we take on in our childhood and the roles we play as a result of those personas. We box ourselves in with our limiting beliefs. We deny our gifts and our purpose.
To connect with your self, you need to identify and release your persons and your limiting beliefs. You need to identify and own your gifts and purpose. Once you’ve gotten clarity on whom you really are, it is much easier to connect with your higher self and your intuition because you don’t have anything (or at least have less) clouding your energy. Part of this whole process includes loving yourself as well. Since our higher self — the source of our intuition — is pure love, when we don’t love ourselves we limit our ability to connect to our intuition. It can be difficult to love ourselves — our personas and our limiting beliefs impact this, as well as other factors.
Learning to love ourselves can be a lifelong journey, but the more we can accept ourselves as we are, complete with our faults and our mistakes, without judgment or self-hatred, the more we can connect to our higher selves.
You also need to be still and quiet. Meditate, breathe deeply, go out in nature…do what you need to do to quiet down your mind so you can connect with your heart, your gut and that small quiet voice within you. If at all possible, remove yourself from the situation so that there is some space between you and it, and remove yourself from distractions so that you can quiet down the noise and even drama associated with the situation. Within this space, you can connect to and hear your intuition.
Connect with your physical body first to see if there are any feelings coming up for you. Perhaps you feel uneasy or have a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, or maybe you feel a resounding “yes” in every cell of your body. Whatever it is, connect with this physical feeling and explore it. Is it coming from your intuition or from fear?
Channeled writing can also help you connect. Write a question on top of a piece of paper, take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, and then put pen to paper, waiting for the words to start showing up in your mind. Once they do, start writing. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t try to read or make sense of what you are writing while you are writing. Just write, as fast as you can, until the words stop coming. One critical component of connecting to your intuition is to trust that what you are hearing is valid and that your intuition is focused on helping you live your highest good. Sometimes the answer you get is not the answer that you want. Part of trusting your intuition is being honest with the message that is coming through for you.
When you learn to trust your intuition, you become better at decision-making. Your decisions are usually faster and are aligned more closely with what is best for your life journey. You reduce the stress and anxiety associated with decision-making because you no longer need to agonize over all of the options, trying to figure out which one is the best one for you. Instead, you have a method that gives you near-instant feedback in your body about what is the best decision for you.
Putting it Into Practice
Let me share a scenario with you. Let’s say you are thinking of changing jobs and you don’t know what you want to do. So, start first by thinking about the situation. Allow yourself to fully explore the feelings, fears, anxiety, dreams, etc. associated with the situation. So for our example, you would think about your current job. What is your work environment like? How does it align with your career goals? How do you feel going to your job every day?
Then fully define the “problem” that you want insight on. Once you have that clarity, come up with some possible solutions to that problem. In this case — should you stay or should you go? And if you do go, what option is best for you — working for another company? Working for yourself? Being a full-time employee or a contract-based employee?
Write down each possible solution and then connect with your intuition to get guidance on which is the right one for you. So, for each, start by looking at how each answer feels to you? What feelings come up in your body? Your body is a great barometer for you because your body doesn’t lie. Your mind can make things up and try to convince you of something, but your body cannot. What sensations do you feel? Do you feel relaxed, relieved or peaceful? Then that answer is probably a yes — whatever it is that you are thinking of doing. Or does your body feel tense, anxious or stressed? In that case, your intuition is probably telling you that the solution you are considering is not the right one for you.
If you still aren’t sure, imagine yourself going forward and implementing each answer. Our minds don’t know the difference between reality and what we are imagining, so when you do this, you can get real intuitive feedback without any risk because you aren’t actually acting. Really visualize this — imagine you are doing solution one — what do you need to do? Imagine yourself taking each step you need to take. How do you feel during each step? Are you fearful yet excited? Or do you feel a sense of dread or reluctance for each one? Each feeling is a guide for you from your intuition. Go through each possible solution and note which one feels best to your body. If it helps you, takes notes on each feeling and sensation so that you can more easily compare solutions.
Then spend time looking at each and determine whether any of your reactions are fear driven rather than intuition driven. Remember, when something is fear-driven, it tends to feel heavy and constraining. If you feel that, spend time determining what it is that you are afraid of. Explore the fear. Allow yourself to feel it. What is it that you are afraid of? Really dig deep here…often the initial fear may not be the real fear. Get to know your fear and then come up with a name for it. Ask yourself if the fear is rational or irrational. There are some fears that are completely valid — such as being afraid if a wild animal is charging at you — and should be honored and acted upon accordingly. But other fears are more irrational. They may be based on a tiny bit of fact, but that fact is not true all of the time. Or they may be based on a limiting belief you have that also is not completely true.
Once you’ve named and sat with your fear to determine whether it is a valid fear or not, spend some time thinking about how you protected yourself from that fear in the past. What were the shields, masks or other ways that you protected yourself from your fear? How did they help you? And — more importantly — how has this fear held you back from living authentically? See with clear, self-loving eyes the decisions you have made and how they have impacted you. Don’t beat yourself up — we are all human and we are all here to learn — just recognize any patterns you have used in the past around this fear and then, if it feels right, consciously choose to walk through that fear.
As you learn to connect with, feel and act on your intuition, you’ll find that your life decisions become clearer and easier.