What is intuition? What does it feel like? What function does it have?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly after speaking on a panel recently that explored these very questions. Each of the women on the panel had contributed to collection of essays and other works called Happy If You Know It, wherein each voice explores what it means to trust your intuition.
When we were asked to define intuition, to articulate where it comes from, or how it manifests, I was fascinated to hear how different each response was:
That it is instinct. That it is physical, visceral. That it sometimes comes in the form of a mistake. That it can remain an undefined, unformed relationship, perhaps being a function that is always slightly out of reach.
When I’m connecting with others through tarot and astrology, particularly when I’m teaching others how to use these tools, the word intuition often gets connected to the act of divining, of picking up on underlying messages or energies based on a blend of symbols, images, patterns, and archetypes.
Intuiting messages through a divinatory practice – whether you are doing predictive readings or self-reflective ones – is often a creative, interpretive process. It causes your mind to work in a different way, as you are actually reading things that transcend language.
But accessing your intuition in this way isn’t necessarily an everyday act. And it’s not where the necessity of intuition begins and ends. Nor are these things a practice anyone must undertake in order to use their intuition.
Intuition isn’t about “picking up” on random things. It’s not about having a passing thought and believing it is truth, or prophecy.
Sometimes, I meet people who say they just pick up what other people are thinking or feeling, or they try to. Often they end up being really, really wrong because they have no grounds for what they are believing. They confuse assumption or misperception for reality.
And once in a while, they come across as deluded, completely out of touch with what the people in front of them are putting forward as fact.
Intuition is not always a magical act, or a psychic act. And it is not always something that lets you get into another person’s head, or perceive things that may not yet be known by anyone else.
Since I spend so much time talking about intuition within the context of interpretation, I think it’s important to talk about what else it is within its everyday functions.
I do believe that intuition is a muscle, and an instinct. That it is an inner voice, and an inner knowing. That it often tries to get you to pay attention to the things that might be good for you, or right for you.
It is the part of your mind that helps you to make decisions that suit your needs. It comes in the words that rise up at the back of your throat when you want to say, “no” to the wrong people, places, or things.
You might not always use your intuition. Throughout my life, I certainly haven’t. I can list numerous incidences when I knew exactly what I needed to do, but did something else instead.
But after paying attention to the patterns behind some of my biggest mistakes, I realized how important it was to have faith in myself.
It can be hard to listen to our own voices when we are all constantly surrounded by people who think they know what’s best for everyone else.
The word “should” lingers like a ghost, sometimes. Even when you have a good idea of what’s right for you, “should” creeps in to scare you a bit and push you down the wrong path.
But what if you can’t do what your intuition is telling you to? I struggle with this myself.
I have certain relationships with family members that my entire body rebels against. Every time I have to make a visit, or even a phone call, to certain individuals, I dread it for days. My body tenses. A knot forms in my chest. And when it’s over, I’m exhausted. A message runs through my head, taunting me: “This was not a good use of your time.”
And yet, there is no way around it. There are things I must maintain. At least not right now. Or at least not that I have figured out yet.
Sometimes, we do still have to override our intuition. That may be part of its instinctual nature. If it is something primordial within us, it will kick up that fight-or-flight response. It may not always be rational, or social, or compassionate.
Instead, it might be raw, and difficult to articulate. You might not know why you feel what you feel, just that you do, and it’s a feeling so strong it’s hard to ignore. That’s why it can become exhausting when you have to go against it.
And what if it steers you wrong? What if you listen to your intuition and you make a mistake anyway?
It happens. Sometimes I have been so sure about something – an idea, a relationship, a decision – only to have it blow up in my face later. But could I have made a different choice? No way. In the moment, it made so much sense.
But following your intuition isn’t equivalent to attaining perfection. (Which I don’t believe is possible, anyway.) Like any muscle, it will have days when it’s super strong, and others when it’s weak and needs to rest.
Fitness is a big part of my life, and as someone spends a lot of time at the gym, I can tell you that’s exactly how muscles work. One week you’re stronger than ever, and the next you have a few off-days. It doesn’t mean that everything is broken, though, or that your strong days were all a fluke. It’s just another one of life’s ways of reminding you that everything ebbs and flows.
The important part is that you validate yourself as often as you need to. Take a chance and go with your gut. Listen to yourself, and learn to take your own advice.
Say no when something doesn’t feel right, but recognize the difference between self-preservation and self-sabotage. Fear of success, comfort, or happiness is not the same as feeling like something is too good to be true.
And it’s not always about fear, anyway. Your intuition can come through in the form of a great idea or epiphany, saying, “Hey, look over here. Look at what you can do.”
It can come in the form of a hunch to check out a new job posting, or to call up an old friend out of the blue. These little things can lead to your next career move, or to a conversation you didn’t know you needed to have.
And remember that living intuitively doesn’t mean you need to suss out every single detail of your day. Your intuition isn’t always going to be on over-drive, but it will be there when you need it most.
Until next time,