What’s Intuition and What’s Mental Crap

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Seane Corn at the SF Yoga Journal Conference. Seane’s workshop on intuitive flow yoga

Seane asked everyone at the beginning of the session, “Who thinks they are intuitive?” There was a sprinkling of hands raised, but Seane dispelled the notion that only some people are intuitive. “Everyone is intuitive”, Seane said. “The thing that blocks us from intuition? Self-esteem. When we got caught up in self-judgement and insecurity we block that intuition that is innate in all of us”.

This theme really resonated with me since I am continually indecisive and uncertain and questioning what the right thing to do is, whether it’s deciding what to have for dinner or how to schedule my time or bigger questions about what I want my career to look like. I don’t feel like I lack intuition completely, but I have trouble identifying what it is.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that getting in touch with intuition can also be tricky if you struggle with any kind of anxiety or depression. When I’m totally anxious or depressed, my feelings feel like reality. The negative thoughts and worries are overwhelming and it feels very much like it’s intuition. Otherwise, why would I be having this kind of bodily and mental reaction? But anxiety and depression when taken to an extreme are not to be taken as clear perception. Just as you should be skeptical of feelings and behavior when you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you also have to be skeptical of life assessments made while there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to severe anxiety or depression. I can’t trust that when I have that I’m accurately assessing my wiser innate intuition during these times.

So it gets confusing. How do I know it’s intuition and not just me being overly anxious and insecure? How do I know I’m doing what I’m intuitively guided to do and what is skewed by my negative, depressed outlook?

Yoga practice is one way of practicing cutting through all of the mental “stuff”, if you will, and moving more into a state of feeling. We practice on the mat being guided by the breath as we move through poses and using our breath and feeling to gauge how far or not to move in a pose; how to make little micro-adjustments in the body, and settle into a place of challenge, yet ease in each pose. It’s a physical practice that’s a tool to find mental clarity by focusing our attention on direction to move the body (“Step the foot forward. Turn the toes in 30 degrees.)” and feeling with our breath (“Inhale into my tight shoulder. Exhale, drawing my shoulder down away from my ear).” By practicing keeping this feeling focus (easier said that done–I know I’m having to get out of my thinking mind repeatedly), we can get a better perspective having cultivated that internal connection.

I’ve been exploring the theme of intuition in the classes that I’ve taught to students this week. Based on my own experience, practicing with this intent, I’ve come up with some telltale signs of what is NOT intuition:

When the realization is couched in “shoulds.” “I should do this. I shouldn’t keep trying to do that when I’m not very good at it. I should be doing more.” Insights don’t come in shoulds. They aren’t conditional or based on the expectations of myself or others.

The decision stems from guilt. “Yeah, but I’ll feel guilty if I don’t.” “I feel bad if I don’t take this on.” Guilt that stems from violations of my personal moral code is one thing. Guillt that comes from obligation or concern over another person’s reaction is a sign that the decision I’m making is based on fear versus my internal guidance.

The guidance comes in a voice that isn’t mine. If it’s a parent, my spouse, a friend, a boss, or someone else other saying it, chances are it isn’t coming from inside me.

When the life assessment comes in a time of depression or high anxiety. When I’m in this state, it isn’t the time to make major declarations or decisions on my life. When I’m feeling better, that’s the time I can re-evaluate.

What IS a sign of intuition:

The answer is scary.
I think I often wall off from my intuition when what I’m feeling called to do is frightening and pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I’m not sure how others will react to it. My intuition isn’t likely to always make people happy, but it is likely to make me content and living in a way that is congruent to my values.

It doesn’t seem logical. Reason is the main way I try to assess my decisions. I like to have everything planned and figured out. I have to remind myself that I won’t ever know how things will go or whether they’ll go as planned. I have to trust that even if I don’t know all the answers or how things are going to come into place, but to instead trust that the universe will reveal itself in time if I keep taking the next intuitive step as best I can.

What about you? What helps you get in touch with that innate intuition? What are the signs of what it is or isn’t for you?