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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]The 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[/mk_blockquote]
We’d come down to the wire. In order for our son to be placed in university housing, a decision had to be made. Being fortunate enough to choose between his two favorite schools had suddenly become a sticky spot. As he’s never been a decisive child, I went to work researching the available programs of study at each school. I called friends with kids at the schools. I scoured the two websites. I created lists and spreadsheets. Bearing the fruits of my research in a stack of papers, I joined my husband and son at the dining room table after dinner on Sunday night.
Before either my husband or I could say a word, before we could show him a single line of a single spreadsheet, my son rubbed his head and shut his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Look, could I go to Temple? I just like it better there. It feels right.”
I could have laughed with relief. Setting my pile of papers aside, I smiled. “Buddy! That’s a decision! You did it! Congratulations!” And with that, he booted up his laptop and enrolled as an incoming freshman in the Temple University Class of 2019.
The beauty of my son’s decision is that he trusted his gut. He went with what felt right to him. While he didn’t spend the two weeks preceding his decision as I had, up to my eyeballs in statistics, course catalogs and comparisons, he hadn’t come to his decision in the dark. He’d been to both campuses several times. He’d sat in on classes in his chosen field of study. He’d met with professors and students. He’d chatted with fellow prospective students at his two auditions. We even made it a point to return to both schools to take a second tour and spend some time walking around to experience the “feel” of the campuses once he’d been accepted. In short, like me, he was filled with information.
In an article on Oprah.com, Helen Fisher, PhD, explains intuition as a function of the mind. “That little voice that nudges you when you’re stuck between two choices? It’s real. … While intuition may seem to arise from some mysterious inner source, it’s actually a form of unconscious reasoning – one that’s rooted in the ways our brains collect and store information.” As we accumulate knowledge and life experience, we begin to recognize patterns. We store these experiences in our brains organized in “chunks.” As we live and learn more, we link more and more patterns. “When you see a tiny detail of a familiar design, you instantly recognize the larger composition – and that’s what we regard as a flash of intuition.”
While I concur with Dr. Fisher in her explanation of the way that our minds process intuition, I believe there is an added dimension that is less easy to explain. I believe in the conscience. As defined by Google’s dictionary, the conscience is “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” Dictionary.com takes it a step further and says the conscience is common to all men. Walt Disney brought the conscience to life as Jiminy Cricket in the film Pinocchio. And while most of us can’t see our conscience as clearly as Pinocchio did, when we listen, we can all hear the voice of conscience as loud and clear as Jiminy Cricket’s whistle.
The trouble arises when we allow the deafening roar of the world around us – the statistics from our research, the compelling (and constant) marketing messages that bombard us from our radios, televisions and computers, not to mention the loving and concerned (and sometimes quite bossy) voices of our peers, colleagues, parents and mentors – to drown out our inner voice. As Albert Einstein states so beautifully, we’ve all received the gift of intuition. Though it can feel counter-cultural to do so, let’s be sure to put it to good use. Doing so consistently requires the same practice, repetition and experience that Dr. Fisher credits with helping to create a stronger sense of intuition.
Practicing yoga is one way to deliberately reconnect with our inner voice. We actually begin this process by learning to listen to our body. We tune into physical sensations for the first time in what could be years. Some of these sensations are aches and pains. Some are exquisite releases of tension. Some make us sigh with pleasure. Some require us to take a deep breath just to endure them.
Our listening evolves as we begin to get better at sensing more nuanced physical reactions. When faced with a challenge, we can suddenly tell when we really aren’t ready to try something and when we’re just fearful. When faced with a strong sensation, we begin to be able to tell the difference between damaging pain and the at times powerful sensations created by a changing body. We even get better at discriminating types of fatigue – that which is real vs. that which is simply a flash of laziness. Each of these instances is an opportunity to act on the guiding messages of our inner voice. And each time we do, we gather more experience and more knowledge to rely on in the future.
As we practice this awareness, we find we are able to determine whether it’s right or wrong for us to try a new posture or to go deeper in an old one; to rest or to forge ahead; to honor a fear or to challenge it; to respect a sore muscle or to gently work with it. As we maintain our awareness at this level, suddenly listening to our bodies blurs into listening to something much deeper. There are many names for this. For me, it feels like I am tuned into the voice of my heart – the same voice that Disney depicted as a cheerful, whistling cricket and that we call our conscience, intuition or gut. Steady, regular and deliberate practice on our mat helps make listening to this voice second nature. In short, practicing yoga helps us get better at listening to and trusting our intuition off our mats.
A yoga practice is not necessary to developing a healthy relationship with your intuition and conscience. After all, my son reached his decision without setting foot on a mat. That said, as we practice recognizing and working with our intuition on our mat, it becomes easier to stay focused on our inner voice when in the throes of a difficult choice. When we’ve seen the gifts of tuning into our intuitive mind day after day on our mat, it is a whole lot easier to trust the effectiveness of doing so off the mat and in life.
This practice helps us even when the intuition (or gut) that we’re trusting in the moment is not our own. In my case, my practice allowed me the opportunity to confidently recognize and validate my son’s intuitive choice of where to spend the next four years of his life. To borrow his words, it just feels right.