There is agreement in neuroscience literature that intuition is related to the unconscious.
Famed transpersonal psychologist Carl Jung described intuition as unconscious perception that taps into implicit processes and knowledge in the body and brain. We also know that intuition predominantly sits in the non-dominant hemisphere of the brain and is often derived from images, feelings, physical sensations and metaphors. In this first part of this article I will explore the nature and role of the unconscious mind and consider some ways in which we can access our unconscious to aid us in developing our intuition, including signs and symbols and dreams.
The Unconscious and the Higher Self
In psychotherapy, the conscious and unconscious minds are often referred to. When explaining hypnotherapy to a client, for example, I often talk about the conscious and unconscious minds in terms of an iceberg. The conscious mind is that part of the iceberg above the water; it involves our conscious awareness of what is around us and our conscious decisions. The unconscious mind, on the other hand, is like the greater mass of ice below the water. It houses our memories of past experiences, a great deal of knowledge and contains a range of unconscious beliefs that we build up during our lifetime about ourselves and the world. It also wants what is best for us and can guide us in connecting with and developing intuition.
Penney Peirce, a leading expert and author on the subject of intuition, refers to the conscious mind, the unconscious mind, and the ‘Higher Self’. She has the view that when intuition arises from the unconscious, it often comes through the five senses or in the physical body. The Higher Self is described as understanding the interconnection of everything that exists in time and space, so it can generate global perceptions and transcendent experiences. It is that part of you that contains a higher awareness and purpose. When intuition arises from your Higher Self, it is frequently experienced like a light is turning on in your head, involving a blending of all your senses and an all-over ’direct knowing’ often accompanied by a feeling of openheartedness.
Activities that can help you tap into your unconscious mind and develop intuition include being self-aware, practicing meditation and mindfulness, enjoying imaginative and creative activities (such as music, drawing and mandalas) and relating to others with awareness and empathy.
Writing is also a great way to access your inner wisdom and develop intuition. Do you have a problem that you want to reflect on and seek guidance with? Stephanie Dowrick suggests writing a letter about it in detail and then finishing with one of these questions: ‘The insight I most value is … ?’, ‘The action I need to take is … ?’ or ‘I am most grateful to see that … ?’
A number of psychotherapeutic approaches incorporate work with the unconscious mind, including NLP and hypnosis. Some of the techniques used are ideomotor finger signals and pendulums. With ideomotor finger signals, the therapist explains to the person in the trance state that communication with the unconscious mind can be set up through finger signals, and that the individual does not need to make any conscious effort to move the fingers. The index finger is allocated to indicate ‘yes’, the thumb ‘no’, and the little finger ‘not sure’ or ‘don’t know’. Sometimes the person will feel the movements like a twitch or feeling of electricity. Questions can then be asked and responses are given.
‘Developing intuition is an art, not a science. To become masterful you must practice every chance you get.’
Pendulums are often mentioned in texts on intuition. I was interested to see them used during NLP training. A pendulum has a weighted part (often a crystal or stone) attached to a chain or cord. The individual sets up ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses with their pendulum and, again, questions can be asked. I have found the ideomotor signals very useful in practice, but I feel less sure about the pendulum. Experience will tell!
Symbols and Signs
“Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images.”
– The Gospel of Philip
Sometimes our intuition emerges through signs or symbols, sometimes in our awake state and sometimes in dreams. This is certainly my experience in life. Have you had the experience of interpreting an occurrence in life as a sign or have symbols brought meaning to you? In the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, the elderly woman selling her house in Italy needed a sign to go ahead with the sale. This came in the form of bird droppings landing on the protagonist—a ‘lucky sign’. Symbols have occurred in all cultures and they express human nature, gathering meaning over hundreds or thousands of years. They have been used in ritual and prayer, art, psychology and marketing. According to Peirce, symbols convey a large amount of ‘encoded’ information in a powerful and meaningful way. Symbols can lead us. Consider, for example, a country’s national flag. And many corporations represent their identity with logos (or symbols). The following table highlights some common symbols and their meaning.
Examples of Symbols & their Meanings
Symbol: Lotus plant, which grows in mud at the bottom of the pond, with the flower raising itself above the water to reveal its beauty.
Meaning: Growth and enlightenment
Meaning: In the East the dragon is a symbol of joy, dynamism and good health
Symbol: The butterfly
Meaning: The powers of transformation and immortality
Symbol: The lion
Meaning: Royalty, protection and wisdom
Symbol: The tree of life
Meaning: Harmony, rewards of spiritual growth (fruits)
Symbol: The fig tree
Symbol: The rose
Meaning: Light, love and life
Meaning: Perfection, immortality and magical powers
Meaning: Blue of the heavens, truth and contemplation
Peirce provides a meditation exercise to assist with your intuition, based on symbols. I have adapted it here. She suggests that you develop a personal relationship with your symbol, by looking out for it around you, or perhaps collecting images of it in your journal. I have adopted the symbol of an owl for myself, as there is so much to learn every day, so much wisdom to acquire and share.
Personal Symbol Meditation
Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Breathe and allow yourself to relax physically and mentally. Then ask your body and mind to bring you a personal symbol to assist you with your intuition development. Notice what image speaks to you. Let it come into your mind. If no image comes into your mind, that’s fine too. Perhaps you will become aware of it in coming days. Enjoy the relaxation. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes in the here and now.
Signs are subtler than symbols and rely on the individual finding meaning in them. I heard Madonna interviewed about a movie that she directed on the lives of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. She said that she was initially torn about whether or not to pursue the project, but a series of signs helped her to decide. In one instance, she heard the doorbell ring and answered the door to find no one there. However, a furniture removal truck was parked directly opposite her house, and the company’s name was the same as Wallis’s mother’s maiden name. She interpreted this as a sign from her intuitive mind to go ahead with the project.
“Signs are subtler than symbols and rely on the individual finding meaning in them.”
Gia, a counselor whom I interviewed for this book, asks herself questions in the morning and looks for signs during the day to assist with answers. Signs might come from ‘number plates on the road, books that catch [her] attention in the shops or online, billboards, movies, sounds, animals that cross [her] path’. I too have had some interesting experiences with signs. One night I was driving home to my house in the hills. I was going through a particularly challenging time and I spoke out loud to my father (who had died some years previously), asking him for a sign that things were going to improve. The next moment a white owl flew across the road in front of me — I saw him in the moonlight and the car lights. There was the sign! Owls symbolize wisdom. My father had plenty of that and he loved all animals, including white birds. I got the message that things would get better.
In her later years my mother had poor circulation and liked to always have socks on her feet to keep them warm. It is interesting that psychics giving readings will pick up on this sort of thing. I had a reading a few years ago and the psychic mentioned my deceased father keeping my mother’s feet and hands warm while she was in the nursing home. Just before Christmas, I came into my house after work, saw Mum’s picture and said out loud, ‘This is the first Christmas without you and I will miss you.’ Shortly afterwards I was putting the laundry away and I came across one of my mother’s labeled socks from the nursing home!
I don’t quite know how it got there. The next day, I took suitcases in to work as we were moving practice locations. One of the girls was packing things into the suitcase when she came across an item. She brought it in to me and said, ‘What are these doing in the suitcase?’ She was holding a pair of socks with my mother’s name on them. I just laughed!
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
– Carl Jung
There are numerous cases in history where people have credited dreams with helping them to compose music or finish an invention. Have you ever had dreams that have given you insights, intuitions or helped you find an answer to a problem? Or have you had dreams that perhaps involved premonitions? Dreams are vital to humans and as such, babies spend a lot of time dreaming, suggesting it is an important state for brain development. Dreams seem to involve the mind (conscious and subconscious) processing experiences, memories and feelings. They might provide constructive messages for us; for example, offering insight into how to deal with an issue. Have you ever been thinking about a challenge or problem, gone to sleep, had a dream, and awakened with more clarity the next day? Dreams can assist us to process how we really feel about things and offer intuitive insight into our waking lives.
Jung was fascinated by dreams and saw them as a means to bring our psyche into balance. He explored their meaning, suggesting that some individuals are able to access the ‘collective unconscious’ through dreams. He also talked frequently about ‘archetypes’ appearing in dreams. These he defined as innate behavioral patterns or ways of responding to human experiences such as death or relationships. Examples are ‘the Miraculous Child’, a symbol of new possibility or growth, or ‘the Great Mother’, a symbol of rebirth and service to others.
As far as dream symbols are concerned, it is generally believed that they can have multiple meanings. Most symbols seem to have a more personalized meaning, depending in large part on our unique life experience. A house, for example, might symbolize a place of shelter and safety, but this will depend on your experience with houses in general or even a particular house. Jung saw that dreams had to be worked through with the individual to determine their meaning, and this is the approach that I take if clients ask about their dreams.
When I was in my early twenties, I visited the United Kingdom to work in a psychiatric hospital for several months and to travel. While I was there I went to a workshop on dreams. We were asked to take a recent dream and recall it in detail. This involved talking through the dream several times. It was fascinating how much detail came to mind through repeated recollections. Once the detail was there, we focused on the emotions involved in the dream. I had dreamt about going down a flight of stairs and into a room. This led to another room in which an elderly person was sitting with a rug over their knees. The person felt alone. As we worked through the dreams, we learnt that each aspect of the dream was about ourselves; I certainly felt alone at times in the UK, going to work and then home to a bedsit, not really knowing anyone nearby. In this way, I was able to develop intuitive insights about the dream and its meaning for me.
Can intuitive dreams tell us about our futures? Many authors seem to think so. Jung apparently worked with a businessman who became involved in mountain climbing. The man dreamt about stepping off a mountain into the air. Jung is reported to have warned him about the nature of his dream, but the man ignored him and later died mountain climbing. I have had some interesting dreams over the years but those that stand out are related to intuitive premonitions. These dreams were particularly vivid and seemed so real that I was always shaken by them. The first one I really paid attention to was when I was about seventeen years of age. I dated a young man for several years and was close to his family, in particular his younger sister. One night I dreamt that I was holding a baby and the baby died in my arms. I remember thinking that I didn’t usually dream of death or babies. The next day I had lunch with his mother and older sister and I said that I had had this vivid dream and feared someone was going to die. I was unaware that the younger sister had been diagnosed with cancer. She died three months later.
Becoming more aware of your dreams and interpreting them is seen as an important part of developing intuition. To raise awareness, it is best to record your dreams as soon as you wake up. When I undertook the dream workshop, the facilitator suggested keeping a journal and a pen by the bed. On awakening, you lie quiet and still, focusing on recalling the dream(s). Then you write down in detail what you recall. You will find that by doing this regularly, you will recall more about your dreams. World renowned psychotherapist Dr. Judith Orloff suggests that you pay attention to and record images or symbols in your dreams to which you are especially drawn or that move you. The next step is to meditate quietly and hold the symbol in your mind, asking to be shown its significance. Then pay attention to any intuitive images, scenarios, memories or physical sensations that arise, as they will assist in understanding the symbol. She also suggests writing a question in your journal before you go to sleep and then reflecting on the answer via your dreams the next day.
The Keys to Accessing Your Unconscious Mind
1. Intuition taps into knowledge in the body and brain, and is often derived from images, feelings, physical sensations and metaphors.
2. The unconscious mind can guide us and help us to develop intuition.
3. The ‘Higher Self’, or inner wisdom, is described as capable of generating transcendent experience related to your purpose.
4. Activities that assist include meditation, creative activity, awareness and empathy; some therapeutic techniques also work with the unconscious.
5. Intuition may come through symbols and signs.
6. Dreams can provide us with useful information and we can develop our understanding of dreams by journaling them.
One practical measure we can put into practice each day is to tune into our body. In this day and age, we are often more aware of what is going on in our heads or outside ourselves than in our own body. We might work in offices or at home, spend a lot of time on computers or watching television and not much time doing physical activities. Listening to your body is a positive way to apply intuition in life and stay true to yourself. I tune into my gut-feelings when I meet new people. I find that I get an impression quite quickly about them. At times I have doubted this feeling, worrying that it is judgmental or inaccurate, but I have learnt to listen to it as most times it’s proven to be right. This is a very useful life skill that can help us to avoid many problems in relating to others.
Orloff talks about noticing what the body is sensing and the corresponding signals it sends us as an important part of developing intuition. Our body will tell us if we are comfortable with a particular place, person or choice in life and if it is truly in our highest good. Have you had the experience of just knowing that a new job, house or relationship was right or not right? Recently, I was watching a British television show about people looking for a house in the country for a sea change. A young couple was looking at old farmhouses and when they went into the last house the husband expressed that he did not feel comfortable with the layout. He couldn’t put his finger on it but it just didn’t feel right to him. His wife liked the house but respected his reaction to it so the house was off the list for them.
“Our body will tell us if we are comfortable with a particular place, person or choice in life and if it is truly in our highest good.”
We can have the experience of ‘knowing without knowing how we know’ about a person, place, job or decision. Many clients have shared with me their gut-feelings about these things. Sometimes they are surprised by their reactions, whether it is a positive reaction or negative. They may feel a sense of excitement and notice goosebumps or they may have a sense of anxiety or dread that they notice as a sinking feeling in the gut area. Sometimes they listen to these feelings and sometimes they don’t. Continue to pay attention to the messages your body gives you and you’ll soon find that you become more in tune with your body’s responses and your intuition in general. At the start it can be helpful to journal your impressions.
Pay Attention to Your Thoughts and Inner Voice
We talked earlier about noticing your thoughts. Sometimes a thought will pop into your mind out of the blue and hold special meaning; for example, my experience when looking for a new home of having a thought that was not characteristic of my usual ones. Or, when conducting therapy, a thought might pop into my mind that is on a different track to the current discussion but turns out to be pivotal. I have noticed these thoughts have a different nature—it is almost as though I am witnessing them. I have also found that a solution to a problem I have been pondering over can come into my mind some time later. For reasons such as this, it is important to pay attention to thoughts that enter your mind that are a bit different to your usual ones. My friend Gia told me a story of driving home one day and being at the traffic lights near her parents’ house, when she heard her father’s voice in her mind. She recognized that he needed assistance and so changed her route and went immediately to their house. Her father was not well and their phone line had suddenly died. They could not believe it when Gia walked in and was able to help them! Paying attention to and heading these flashes of insight is an important exercise for developing your intuition.
Guidance through Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation have been referred to in earlier chapters as an important step in developing intuition. We can extend this to applying intuition in your everyday life. Apart from practicing mindfulness or meditation each day, various teachers speak about asking for inner guidance in life through meditation. This can be helpful when you are seeking answers or exploring different directions in life. Whenever accessing your intuition, it is important to have a process of clearing and grounding. The following meditation by Peirce involves a process of clearing and centering your focus, and grounding to the earth, as well as a sense of expansion. Become familiar with this process so that you can use it or something similar at the start of any meditation.
Meditation on Light
1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your palms resting on your thighs. Close your eyes, breathe evenly and bring your attention inside your body. Draw the energy from above your head into the center of your head. Imagine a point in the middle of your brain—let a pinprick of light break through right there. Through that white hole, allow light to emerge and form a small ball of light. Imagine the light radiating through your brain in all directions, clearing away old thoughts of fear, doubt and confusion.
2. Now shift your attention to the base of your spine and imagine a spot just in front of your tailbone. At that spot, let a second pinprick of light break through. Again, allow the light to emerge and form a small ball. Let the light spread, filling your pelvis with light.
3. Allow that light to drop straight down from the bottom of your spine into the earth below you. Watch it reaching down towards the center of the earth, forming a column of clear light, merging into the clear light at the center of the earth. Energy starts to rise up from the earth’s core into your body. Feel the energy entering through the bottom of your feet and flowing up through your legs into the rest of your body.
When it comes to asking for inner guidance, Dr. Orloff suggests asking yourself in meditation, ‘What do I need to be aware of or know right now?’ Then notice the thoughts, feelings or images that appear. She points out that the response might be delayed; for example, you might be wondering about an issue and sometime later you come across an answer—in a TV program or book, or someone you know says something related to it and the answer comes to you. I’ve certainly had that experience, both when working with clients and in my writing, particularly when looking for ideas or inspiration. An adaption of Orloff’s meditation on accessing your intuition follows.
Accessing your Intuitive Mind Meditation
1. Make yourself comfortable in a quiet place and let your eyes close. Breathe and relax a little more with each breath out. Let your thoughts drift out of your mind, like clouds floating across the sky.
2. Center and ground yourself then focus your awareness on the body. Allow your awareness to settle in the area of the solar plexus. Breathe into this area and deepen your sense of relaxation. As you breathe into this area, find a deep and quiet place within yourself. You naturally have access to your own intuitive guidance. As you rest deeply within yourself, get in touch with this inner wisdom. Ask it, ‘what do I need to be aware of or know right now?’ Be open to the response. You might have thoughts, images or feelings. Be receptive to them and accepting. Or you might just feel deeply relaxed right now, and the response will come later.
3. Again, when you are ready, notice your breath, gradually have a stretch and come back to the room.
Sometimes we want assistance in making decisions. We can ask the mind for intuitive guidance by using ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions in meditation and noticing the feelings and images that come to mind. You might have the feeling of being pulled towards ‘yes’, perhaps with feelings of joy or relief. Images related to a ‘yes’ response might include flowers or a bird taking flight. Music might come to you. In contrast, a ‘no’ response might involve feelings of shutting down, numbness or a sense of dread. Negative images such as an ominous storm or an airless room, or maybe a snippet of somber music might signal ‘no’.
“When asking for inner guidance, Dr. Orloff suggests asking yourself in meditation, ‘What do I need to be aware of or know right now?’ “
Rosanoff takes us through a meditation on getting in touch with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses in relation to a particular decision. Once you understand your responses, then you can ask for guidance in meditation. I have adapted Rosanoff’s meditation here.
‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Meditation
1. Make yourself comfortable and let your eyes close. Take a few moments to focus on your breath and let each breath relax you more deeply. Allow your hands to rest on your lap, with your palms facing upwards.
2. Now think about the decision you need to make and imagine that in one hand you are holding the word ‘yes’, and in the other hand you holding the word ‘no’. See the letters and feel their weight, sense their texture. Take a few moments to focus on the word ‘yes’. How does it feel? How do you feel? Do any images or sounds come to mind? Now take a few moments on the word ‘no’. How does it feel? How do you feel? Take as long as you would like to explore all the sensations, feelings, visions or music that go with the word ‘no’.
3. When you have a clear sense of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, you might want to ask questions of your intuition in your mind and sense the response. Explore this idea for a while. Then, when you are ready, you can open your eyes and come back to the room.
4. When you are finished, take a few moments to breathe and think about what your intuition has been communicating to you about your decision. The ideomotor signals described earlier or pendulums work in similar ways and you might find these useful. Another meditation to assist with decision-making, based on different paths, is adapted here.
1. Make yourself comfortable and let your eyes close. Breathe and relax and let go of the thoughts or distractions of the day. Imagine yourself walking down a path and feel the ground under your feet. Take a few moments to notice what is around you and notice that the weather is just right for you.
2. While you are walking, go over the decision you have to make in your mind and consider what the options are in relation to this decision. Then number them. You might have two options or even more. As you are walking, a little way ahead the path breaks up into several paths. It splits into as many paths as you have possibilities in relation to your decision. When you come to the place in the path where the road divides, stop for a moment and notice that each path represents one of your options. Number the paths in any direction that is comfortable for you and let those numbers correspond to the numbers of your possibilities.
3. Take your time and take a medium breath in and out. Then slowly travel down one of the paths. Notice how you feel. Where does the path take you and how comfortable are you on this path? Does it feel right? Take as long as you want to explore this path. When you have finished, go back to the place where the paths meet.
4. Choose another path and explore it as you did the first one. Continue exploring until you have experienced each path. When you have finished, take another medium breath in and out. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes, back in the room.
5. Now take a few moments to reflect on your meditation and what you experienced. Contemplate which path felt most intuitionally ‘right’ to you.
Another way to tap into intuition in our everyday life is to write. We talked earlier on about paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and sensations related to intuition and the usefulness of writing to heighten this awareness. You might keep a daily journal and record your experiences or reflect on life. You might want to make your journal special — perhaps by finding an attractive journal to use or decorating a notebook. At the start of your journal, you might consider writing about ‘what you love’. According to Choquette, writing about this enables us to get in touch with our spirit. Your journal is about you and your life, so I suggest reading your entry about what you love before you write in your journal each time, to open up your mind and spirit to joy and possibilities. Or consider doing a brief meditation before you write, clearing the mind and asking your intuition for guidance.
Several authors refer to writing as a means of accessing everyday intuition, either through journaling or by asking specific questions and then responding to them. You could write the questions that you want to address at the top of the page. These might relate to past events, work, money or relationships. Consider doing a short meditation and ask that you be guided by your intuition in your responses. Then go about answering the questions — trust what you write, just let the answers flow. You can ask about decisions in this way too. Some people ask the questions with their dominant hand and answer with their non-dominant hand as a way of accessing and developing the intuitive and creative part of the mind.
The Keys to Applying Intuition in Your Everyday and Working Life
1. Nurture your everyday intuition and listen to your body, as it gives valuable information about people, places and decisions.
2. Pay attention to thoughts that pop into your mind or that are a bit different to your usual thoughts, as they may give you valuable information.
3. We can access and develop our intuition in meditation. There are specific meditations in which you ask your mind questions and there are meditations that can assist with decision-making.
You might have noticed that the word trust has appeared a number of times in this text. The most important aspect of developing your intuition is developing trust in yourself and in your intuitive capabilities. How many times have you had a gut-feeling and not paid attention to it? I still get caught out! Those who are intuitive often differentiate ‘head versus heart’. The former refers to use of the rational mind and logical thinking, and the ‘heart’ in this context refers to emotions and intuition. We must learn to listen to both and to trust rather than discard our intuition.
“How many times have you had a gut-feeling and not paid attention to it?”
Several people whom I interviewed for the book emphasized this, in particular Liz, who practices as a psychic; Lynn, an art therapist; and Sandy, a Reiki Master and counselor. Here are some of their comments regarding trust.
As a child Liz would have strong intuitive feelings, but she did not understand what they meant. She had a major accident at nineteen and a ‘near death experience’. Since that time she has become more spiritual and has had psychic experiences. She now does psychic readings. Liz said, ‘Everybody has intuition … [the key is to] have confidence and trust.’ We must ask, trust and believe.
When she was a child, Lynn would know when things were going to happen but others would not listen. She also had an accident at the age of seventeen and noticed that her intuitive abilities developed after that. Lynn now works intuitively as an art therapist and she has learnt to trust her feelings.
Sandy said that we are all basically intuitive, but we have to learn to listen to the information that presents. How you get in touch and reconnect with your intuition, and in what area of your life intuition manifests, is different for each individual. However, people become so busy in their lives that they ignore what their body is trying to tell them and become disconnected from their intuition.
The thing that very often gets in the way of trust is fear. It is a natural and protective part of being human, designed to keep us safe. However, it can stop us from doing things, including listening to our intuition. Intuition involves neutral thoughts or feelings, but our reaction to them can be fear. The aim is to defuse this fear, but to do this we need to understand ourselves and look at how the fear gets in the way of us expressing ourselves.
Much of this is about getting to know yourself better. Consider these questions: Has fear impacted on your ability to express yourself or listen to your intuition? Where does this fear come from? Why is it so hard to have faith in our innate abilities and ourselves? Well, we are influenced by society and all that it involves, including our family and our friends, our peers, education, religion, culture, media and government.
Because of these influences, growing up in Australia is different (not better or worse, just different) from growing up in China or the United States. These influences shape our underlying beliefs about ourselves, the world and our future.
“The thing that very often gets in the way of trust is fear.”
When you think about it, in our society we are taught to follow rules, to think logically and to achieve. Children are often intuitive and some are very sensitive. They might be told to stop being sensitive and ‘develop a thick skin’ to survive. The media constantly bombards us with images of trauma and destruction. We do need order in our society and logic but there can be a downside. We can retreat into fear, lose touch with our creative and intuitive sides, lose sight of our dreams and not believe in our own self. My son always loved drawing and painting when he was young and I was often setting up his easel and paints for him. He went to a fabulous school that encouraged him in many areas. By high school, however, he expressed that he did not enjoy art at all. Why was this? I wonder if it was because the classes were all about drawing techniques rather than expression. He was taught how to produce paintings using the skills of Picasso or Van Gogh, but what he sometimes wanted to do was to create his own.
I remember too that when my son was heading into his teenage years, a teacher asked him what he wanted to do when he finished school. He replied, ‘I want to be a rock musician.’ The teacher said that was not a career and he should think about something else. I couldn’t resist and chipped in that it was great to have a dream and that if he wanted to pursue a career in music that was fine. Interestingly he is now pursuing his dream and studying to compose and perform his own music. He recently said, ‘I don’t know when it will happen, whether it is in one year, five years or ten, but I will have a band and travel the world.’ I believe that he will.
Teacher and educational innovator Loris Malaguzzi describes beautifully how children are taught to not have dreams or be creative:
“The child has a hundred ways of thinking … a hundred worlds to dream, but they steal ninety-nine the school and the culture.”
As a result of such influences we can also develop a negative or critical voice in our mind, which perhaps says that we are not capable of different things, including being intuitive. We learn to look outside ourselves for answers (to experts) rather than within ourselves. In addition, we look outside ourselves for reinforcement and approval. So many of my clients refer to themselves as ‘people-pleasers’. Can you relate to this?
As mentioned earlier, I find Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) very useful in my work and for developing intuition. Based on the view that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are inter-related, CBT invites you to notice your feelings and your thoughts. We often mix up our feelings and our thoughts, perhaps saying, ‘I feel as though I’ve made a mess of things.’ This is actually a thought; the feeling might be sadness or disappointment.
We all have fairly constant streams of thoughts, often automatic in nature, which can impact on our feelings and behaviors. In CBT, the therapist works together with the client to guide them through strategies such as identifying which thoughts are helpful and which are unhelpful, and then learning to challenge and correct the unhelpful ones. In addition, underlying beliefs are examined. A number of unhelpful unconscious beliefs drive our thoughts. Such beliefs include that we need to be loved and approved of by everyone or need to be highly competent at everything (the basis of perfectionism) or perhaps in control all of the time. These beliefs work for us in some ways, in that we aim to do our best and put in effort to achieve, but it is not possible to fulfill them perfectly all of the time, and so they can also push us around in negative ways.
“We need to trust in ourselves and let go of our expectations.”
Through my work in this area, I have often reflected on my own thinking and underlying beliefs. My beliefs have helped me to achieve my aim of being of service to people, but there have been costs. At times I have given myself a hard time for not always achieving my very high expectations. I’ve also worked far too hard at times, exhausting myself mentally and physically in the process. I reflected once on where these beliefs came from in my life and I found myself thinking about being six years old at school. Each Friday we had a test and we would then be put in order of our results for the following week. Those who did well would be placed at the back of the room and those who did poorly were placed at the front! On one occasion I was sick and missed the test; I was very upset at being put at the front of the class the following week!
We need to trust in ourselves and let go of our expectations. We know ourselves very well (better than anyone else) and we have many innate abilities, including intuition. So let go of any doubts or negative thoughts and trust your intuition.
To begin this process, Peirce suggests that we:
1. Write down our fears or what we feel negative about and see if these are focused on the past.
2. Replace the words in the statements with positive and loving words, such as acceptance and forgiveness.
3. Consider how our actions might be different with this more positive outlook, what our actions would be and how outcomes might be different.
Let’s use the steps above to work through an example.
Step 1: My boss upset me—I applied for a pay rise and she said she could not see any reasons for it. She does not recognize the value in what I have been working on. This isn’t the first time in my life where I have not felt valued.
Step 2: She has a different background and worldview. What she sees as important is not what I see as important. I can accept this and let go of the old hurt.
Step 3: What is important is that I recognize the value of my work and my own self.
Rebecca Rosen, author and intuitive, has suggested another useful exercise for letting go of fears that could easily be adapted to intuition. She suggests aligning the following affirmations in your mind with each breath out:
Affirm on the first breath: ‘I am willing to let go of all past thoughts and fears that are holding me back.’
On the second breath: ‘I am willing to let go of all my thoughts and fears that keep me from being fully present.’
On the third breath, ‘I am willing to let go of all future fears and anxieties that may stand in my way of becoming all that I am meant to be.’
I regularly refer to the following meditation with clients when we are working together on developing a greater sense of self-worth or when they perceive that there are issues for them to let go of (such as some of the beliefs mentioned above). Again, you might like to try the following meditation and apply it with the aim of developing your intuition.
Instilling Positives and Letting Go of Negatives Meditation
1. Make yourself comfortable and let your eyes close. Focus on the breath and relax. Using all of your senses, imagine being in the countryside or at the beach. Find a spot to sit or stand near the water, and notice there are some pebbles or shells on the ground around you. Gather some of them up and feel them in your hand, see their colors and feel their textures.
2. Your mind is like the water: the surface is like the conscious part of the mind; underneath the surface is like the unconscious.
3. Now take your time and attach positive meaning to each of the pebbles or shells. One might represent confidence or trust in your intuitive abilities; another might represent looking after yourself. Then, one by one, toss them into the water. Know that they will penetrate the surface of the water and float down until they settle on the bottom. In the same way, these ideas will settle into your mind.
4. A small distance away is a sailing boat tethered to the shore by a rope. This is not a boat to go sailing in. it is for you to use to let go of any negatives you choose to. On the sand are some sponges and pieces of driftwood. Gather some up and, this time, to each attach something you would like to let go of: perhaps self-doubt, inaction or fear. Then toss each one into the boat. When you are finished, untie the rope and toss it into the boat. Magically the boat will sail far away, where it need not be of any concern to you.
5. You have instilled positives into your mind and let go of what you want to. When you are ready, gradually open your eyes and return to the here and now.
About The Author
Dr. Cate Howell is a GP and therapist, researcher, lecturer and author. She has over 30 years of training and experience in the health area, with a special interest in mental health and assisting individuals experiencing life stresses or crises. Cate holds a Bachelor in Applied Science (Occupational Therapy), a Bachelor of Medicine, a Bachelor of Surgery, a Masters in Health Service Management and a Doctor of Philosophy (Medicine). She also has a Diploma in Clinical Hypnosis and has trained in Couple Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Interpersonal Therapy. She has travelled internationally to present research findings on depression and has been published in a number of academic journals. The author of three books, in 2012 Cate was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to medicine, particularly mental health, and professional organizations. Learn more about Cate at: drcatehowell.com.au.
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