Practical Wisdom: Developing Your Intuition

using intuition in ayahuasca integrationThe intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” — Albert Einstein

Intuition is the art and science of direct knowing—accurate insight that arises immediately and instinctively within, without us having to figure out a thing. Its workings may feel uncanny, even mysterious, but intuition is a natural ability we all possess. A finely tuned intuitive sense enhances both our thinking and our emotions, offering valuable information regarding work, relationships, decision-making—all aspects of our lives.

Working with ayahuasca, we are using our intuition all the time. Intuition is a channel through which understanding can flow, whether it’s in the form of a vision, a sensation, or a message. Think of some of the traditional uses for ayahuasca: finding lost objects, discovering if your partner’s cheating on you, communicating with the dead, divining the qualities of a particular plant that’s been cooked with the ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is used as a way to gain information, from worlds both seen and unseen. It works through our intuition, opening the doors of perception to understandings, sudden knowings, that transcend rational intellect. The more grounded and flexible our intuitive capacity is, the more easily and deeply ayahuasca can work with us.

So What is Intuition?

Intuition often works through feelings, images and symbols, rather than words and thoughts. It’s a body-based, right-brain thing. In a left-brained society like ours, intuition is often ignored, or worse, scorned. But ideally intuition complements rational thought, providing insight into situations that reason alone can’t comprehend.

Our rational mind makes deductions from the past. Intuition sees and feels directly into the future. Intuition doesn’t have to think; it just knows. Call it inner guidance, gut sense, instinct, hunch, ‘just a feeling’—intuition is your connection to your subconscious mind. And your subconscious knows a great deal more about things than your conscious mind does.

When we tune into our intuition, we begin to sense the underlying patterns that run like invisible threads through our everyday existence. Intuition is in part an ability to read these patterns, “a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance,” as Einstein said. Working with dreams, images, and intuitive practices like the Tarot and I Ching are ways to tap into the world of intuitive meaning embodied in myth, archetypes, and symbols. Dipping into this rich inner realm can amplify our own inner wisdom.

“How Do I Know It’s True?”

A common question people have is, ‘Is this my intuition speaking, or just a random thought/worry/fantasy?’ Only practice will help you discern this for real, but it can help to consider some of the qualities of intuition: It’s spontaneous, often appearing in a first impression. It arises immediately and often unexpectedly, perhaps as a body sensation – a tingle down your spine, a sense of lightness in your head, a gnawing in the pit of your stomach. Intuition can show up as an inner voice, the quick flash of a message, a fleeting thought or inspiration. Suddenly you just know something, without knowing how you know. Intuition “leaps straight from the problem to the answer,” says Robert Graves, without the need to analyze.

Rational thought can clamp down on intuitive stirrings, seeking a justification for the feelings, but never finding one, because there is none. The intellect may write off intuition as illogical, but intuition is a different species altogether.

It’s like a secret superpower you can tap into—your personal GPS, guiding you unerringly to the truth of a situation. Cultivating intuition increases your wisdom, your sensitivity, your understanding of your life’s purpose. It cuts through confusion, provides an added layer of protection in dangerous situations, gives a more complete perspective. And, finally, it’s fun. The sudden shiver of knowing—and the thrill of realizing that that knowing is correct—is a feeling to savor.

Ways to Cultivate Intuition

You likely use your intuition daily, in more ways than you may realise: deciding what to wear, for example, or what to order at a restaurant, as well as the bigger gut-sense decisions like which car to buy, which house to move into, which person to marry. Developing it even further, however, requires time and attention, like any relationship. Here are some ways to nurture intuition in your daily life:

• Spend quiet time free of conversation, media, and earbuds. This can be meditation practice or just sitting gazing out the window, but it can also mean gardening, swimming, cooking, sanding a door, brushing the cat. In fact, intuition usually shows up when we’re doing something else.

• When faced with making choices in your daily life, drop down into your body and sense which option you feel most drawn to. What color sweater to wear, which kitchen faucet to buy, what kind of soup to make … simple decisions are fertile soil in which to cultivate intuition.

• Use your sleep: Before you fall asleep, bring to mind a situation or problem you’re dealing with—not in an obsessive, worried way, just with open awareness. Ask your subconscious to work on this for you while you sleep. Then track your dream and sleep realisations for potential information on these issues. Read more about Dreamwork here.

Journaling is an excellent way to release inner messages and insights and delve deeper into your subconscious mind.

• Listen to your hunches, and be brave enough to risk trusting them. The only way you’ll find out if they’re right is to act on them. Be prepared to make mistakes along the way; don’t beat yourself up, and don’t quit practicing listening to and acting from your intuition. Over time you’ll learn to discern genuine hunches from anxiety or wishful thinking, and you’ll refine your ability to respond more quickly and skillfully.

Intuitive Practices

“The only real valuable thing is intuition.” — Albert Einstein

Guessing Game: Play this anytime, anywhere, alone or with another person. How much will the restaurant bill be? How many petals are on that flower? What’s the color of the next car around the corner? What song is coming up next? Don’t think about it; just let an answer arise. The point is not whether it’s right or wrong; it’s to develop your capacity to connect with your intuition on the spot.

Navigating by Signs: Pay attention to subtle messages and signals you encounter in the course of your day. These can show up as billboard messages, license plate numbers, newspaper headlines, placards on a passing bus. Or they could be overheard conversations, snippets on the radio, the song blasting out from a passing car, animals or people crossing your path. Remain open to how these messages might apply to a current issue you’re dealing with. Example: Woman contemplating whether to invest in a business drives past sign that blares It’s a Whole New World. Man fantasizing about a potential love interest turns on radio and immediately hears “Has anyone asked the bride?” The immediacy and accuracy of such messages is often amusing, sometimes astonishing.

The practice of bibliomancy is a subset: Go to a bookstore and scan the shelves, sensing which book wishes to reveal something to you. Or open a magazine or book to a random page, and read the word or paragraph your finger lands on. Do this three times, and put together a story from the sequence.

Tarot: No one really knows the origins of this ancient system, which nowadays comes in a multitude of different versions—angelic, mythic, Druidic, Native American, pagan, feminist, and the classic Rider-Waite deck. The 78 cards depict different archetypal images, encoded in symbolic language. Tarot can be used as a tool for self-reflection; it also develops your ability to see patterns, as you explore details within images and relationships between cards. Find a deck that speaks to you and begin to work with it, by doing formal spreads, or by drawing a card every morning and seeing how the message shows up during the course of your day.

Astrology: The ancient wisdom of astrology goes far deeper than the simplistic Sun sign columns of newspapers. Astrology sees the cyclic passage of planets through space as influencing us through a synchronistic unfolding of patterns and connections. Astrology is a profound art/science based on mathematical/musical principles, and its interpretations can offer deep insight into one’s character, personality and the meaning and significance of events.

I Ching or Book of Changes: This 2,500-year-old Chinese oracle is composed of 64 hexagrams, each with a particular meaning. You can toss coins or yarrow stalks (broom straws might be handier) or use an online version or an app to obtain a reading. The complex wisdom of each hexagram offers insight and advice on specific situations, helping to clarify your state of mind and guide your actions in the present moment.

More Resources

Frances Vaughan, Awakening Intuition
Classic work on the subject, combining spiritual and scientific perspectives with exercises and practices.

Nancy Rosanoff, Intuition Workout: A Practical Guide to Discovering and Developing Your Inner Knowing
Easy-to-read little volume with a full program of practices to develop intuition.

Dina Glouberman, Life Choices, Life Changes: Develop Your Personal Vision Through Imagework
Fun and useful book on getting in touch with your inner knowing and playing with imagery. Full of good visualization exercises that apply to different areas of your personal life. Here’s a pdf of the first chapter, with lots of exercises:

Laura Day, Practical Intuition
A NYT bestseller, with easy-to-do exercises and tips on developing intuition.

Richard Wilhelm, The I Ching or Book of Changes
The classic translation of the ancient Chinese divinatory system.

Brian Browne Walker, The I Ching or Book of Changes: A Guide to Life’s Turning Points
A more modern look at the oracle; there’s also an app available.

Emily Peach, Discover Tarot (also called Tarot Workbook)
Useful workbook format takes you through the entire deck, discussing cards, suits, spreads and more.

Sasha Fenton, Super Tarot
Lots of little exercises to build up card reading skills, using examples from many decks.