How to listen to your intuition

Indigenous cultures have kept wisdom that western society has ignored for a long time until recently. Not the wisdom of the intellect, but of the heart and gut, otherwise known as intuition.

The Australian Aboriginal word ‘Dadirri’ translates to a “state of deep listening,” it describes listening to our whole body, not just the mind. It’s said we only use 10% of our brain, so perhaps the remaining wisdom we’re yet to call upon is our intuition.

Otherwise known as a gut feeling, intuition is something that science has begun to acknowledge in recent years. In his book The Mind-Gut Connection published in 2016, Dr. Emeran Mayer writes, “After a long period of neglect the enteric nervous system has been recognised as the ‘second brain.’” Western science is now discovering what indigenous cultures have known for an eternity; that our heart and gut are better guide to navigate our lives when compared to the mind.  

“It’s wrong to assume that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision making.” 

The problem with ignoring our intuition

When I was travelling Sri Lanka, a friend shared a story that made my jaw hit the floor. In 2004 her friends mother booked tickets for her family of five to go to Thailand. Shortly before they were due to leave, her friends mum had a bad feeling about going, and cancelled the trip. Her friend thought her mum had lost the plot, until news broke that a Tsunami had hit Thailand on the exact dates they planned to travel there.

Our mind as a tangled fishing net

In ancient cultures, intuition is taken just as, if not more seriously than the mind. Sharing what he learnt while spending time with an indigenous culture, English explorer and TV personality Ed Stafford discovers the word ‘Nandipiru,’ used to describe both the human mind and a tangled fishing net.

“They said that the reason western people confuse life so much is that they live in this logical brain, it’s a tool,” Stafford says “Everything is meant to start in the gut. They were trying to tell me that the more you live in your heart the more problems and anxieties and doubts you’ll have, but the moment that you come from an instinctual place, all of that just evaporates.”

He goes on to describe how daily decisions start in our gut and are filtered through the heart before reaching our logical mind. Author of Descartes Error Antonio Damasio similarly states “it’s wrong to assume that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision making.” 

The gut makes faster connections than the brain can, which explains why it can seem illogical. But listening to our seemingly incoherent gut feelings can in some cases save us from real danger or a bad decision.

“There are 100 million neurons and every class of neurotransmitter in your gut used to process external stimuli and send signals to your brain,” says Damasio. It’s an intelligence similar to that of wild animals that sense a storm or natural disaster coming way before we can.

So how do you know if you’re listening to your intuition or fear?

As I explored the topic of intuition deeper, I was worried I’d get fear and intuition mixed up.

After reflecting and comparing the feeling of fear and my previous experiences of a gut feeling, I found that fear feels presents as a knot in my chest and throat, while a gut feeling is deeper, subtler sensation in the lower belly or evenly throughout my whole body.

After a bit of research, I found others make the same differentiation between the two. I love this article as an example, by The Fearful Adventurer. Torre Deroche writes that the mind can feel like you’re in a room with several radio stations on at once and it can be hard to know which voice to listen to. One station might be playing the news and the other hard rock. Meanwhile, a sports commentator and gentle blues plays in the background. Deroche continues; “Given the urgency of the first three stations, which track do you think will be the easiest to ignore? That’s right. Al Green. Al Green is your intuition. Your intuition is soothing, loving, nurturing, undemanding and dressed in a brown tweed suit. He’ll never be untrue. He loves you – whether times are good or bad or happy or sad…”

How to listen to your intuition

Send your awareness to your body

Unlike the mind, the gut gives definitive answers that can at times seem irrational. We don’t know why we feel this way about a certain decision, but we just do. Becoming more in tune with our gut takes practice and we can do this by sending our awareness to our body more often. In meditation, connecting to our physical body is also a technique used to ground into the present moment. After your awareness is settled there, ask a question and notice if there’s a reaction of some kind in your stomach or around your heart centre. It might sound esoteric, but sayings like “it just felt right,” or “I should’ve listened to my gut” are deeply engrained in our language, even despite the fact we’ve lost this wisdom.

Also, try listening to your gut with small, every day decisions. Studies have shown that shoppers feel better about big purchase decisions when they listened to their intuition rather than slowly working through the pros and cons of buying in their logical mind.

Release your worries

Entering the English language in 1810, the word ‘strategy,’ came about to describe Napolean’s success on the battlefield that made him the emperor of Europe. In his book On War, Carl von Clausewitz boils down his strategy in four steps. First, take examples of experienced and studied history and keep them in the back of mind. Second, free your mind of all preconceptions about the problem you’re solving and what solution might work, this is called ‘presence of mind.’ Third comes the flash of insight itself where a new combination of examples from history connect to give birth to a new solution. Fourth, is the part where you to take action on the new strategy that your intuition has gifted you with. In other words, learn stuff and then it let go so you can make room to be in the present. Presence (a mind so preoccupied with this moment that it isn’t worrying about the past or the future) is the necessary ingredient to call upon our intuition.