How do you know when your intuition is speaking to you?

I have to make some decisions and would like to follow my gut -- but where is my gut?

Published July 29, 2008 10:45AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am at a crossroads in my life in what feels like all of the major categories. I am daily sorting through major issues in my relationship, in my career choice, in my decision to go back to school, and also where I want to continue to live, or where I would like to relocate. I've been grappling with most of these issues for three years, and I think it's safe to say I'm stuck. I'm not making any concrete decisions because God blessed me with a most infuriating skill. Cary, I have the ability to see the pros and cons of every situation to an extreme degree. I am an over-analyzer, I am the friggin' president of the Over-Analyzer Club. As soon as I am done arguing with myself about the all the reasons it would be highly beneficial for me to leave my current career, I just as easily switch to the opposite side and thoroughly convince myself of all the reasons to stay. It's insane and exhausting and as mentioned above, no longer productive.

I think part of the origin of this issue is that both of my parents were attorneys, and I grew up in a household where fierce debate was often launched for the mere sake of debate -- just to show you could pick a side, any side, and win. Also, we were a staunchly agnostic family and my parents taught me to value reason and logic above all. Faith and feeling were not a large part of any family dialogue, and I think this too has brought me to my current dilemma.

I'm not writing you today for advice on my specific problems. I'm sure your e-mail is crammed daily with people asking whether or not they should stay in their relationships, whether or not they should leave their stable jobs and follow their dreams. I have to figure these things out on my own.

I'm writing because I need you to tell me how to hear my own intuition on these matters. This is the advice most often dispensed to me by family and friends (and the mainstream media): Follow your intuition. I would absolutely love to follow it, I really would, but I think my own mind gets in the way. I'm having trouble hearing my inner voice through the loud, persistent voices of my neuroses.

How do you know when your intuition is speaking to you and it's not just another voice in the over-analytical, indecisive, insecure choir going on in your head? I imagine that it is accompanied by some sort of overall feeling of rightness, something that just clicks in your heart, body and mind. I've either grown so analytical as to have paralyzed this part of myself, or this inner voice I'm asking about operates in a much more subtle nature. If so, I'm missing it when it speaks to me. What does intuition sound like and feel like to you, Cary? I want to listen to my intuition, and I want to follow it. I just need some help in recognizing it.



Dear Intuitionless,

Here is a technique. Close your eyes and look. Do not listen. Look. What do you see?

Jot it down. Do not analyze it. Just jot it down. Take a few minutes and watch for more images. Write them down as they come to you.

Treat this information as essential.

Do this twice a day for three days. Close your eyes and jot down what you see without evaluating what it is. Do this in the morning and in the evening. It only takes a few minutes.

What you want will not come to you as instructions. It will come to you as a vision. It will come to you as what you keep seeing. What you need is not verbal. Your drives will not reveal themselves to you by speaking. They will come as images.

There are reasons for this and we could go into them. But you don't need more thinking and reasons. You need to drink from the well of what you want.

You think you don't know what you want but you do. You know what you want. You have reasons for not wanting to want it but you want it.

You may find that none of your choices appeal to you. It may be that you want none of them. That would explain why it is hard to choose. We want what we want even if we think we should not want it.

Perhaps you want to be a minister or a forest ranger. Perhaps you want to do sculpture. So let us clear the field and ask, what do you really want? You want an ice cream bar? You want a bathing beauty? You want a dog? What does this mean? Does it mean that at rock bottom our desires are somewhat crazy?

Yes. It also means that different people experience their inner life through different modes. Some hear voices, some see images, some hear sounds, some think abstractly.

Try this too: Visualize a time in your past when you were happy. Were you sharing, were you winning, were you alone, were you in a crowd, were you talking, were you working, were you perfecting, were you building, were you walking, were you reading, were you driving, were you swimming, were you smoking, were you eating, were you studying?

Also think of "bad" decisions you made. When we cannot see what our intuition is, it is helpful to look at things we did "in spite of ourselves." We find ourselves in situations in spite of ourselves. And we ask: Why?

Because by making "bad" decisions we are often meeting needs that we do not admit we have. For instance, you may think you want to be a lawyer and yet have made many "bad" decisions that now stand in the way of your becoming a lawyer. The truth may be that you do not want to be a lawyer. It might be the sensible thing to be a lawyer but that is different. So look at ways you have avoided doing what you think you should be doing. It may not mean that you are confused. It may mean that you really don't want to do the things you think you want to do.

This is not just silly talk. It is about motivation. If you want to know more, look into motivational psychology. See if you can meet with a motivational psychologist and discover your motivational profile.

Here is how this ties together. Last week I tried to write in a "straightforward" manner. Here is what I found: The energy in my writing comes from crazy. I can be reasonable but the energy comes from crazy. The longer I tried to write in a straightforward way, the less motivated I was. When I write, I reach for something crazy. That is what motivates me. It is a thirst for something new and strange.

Gertrude Stein spoke in a different language of English. I know now why. She wanted different. It was only different that charged her up. I'm that way too. I'm not imitating Gertrude Stein but I can see where she was coming from, how she felt.

This is what we strive for. This is why we sit here. We sit here and wait for a new bus. The new bus is yellow like the old bus except brighter. It comes around the corner happy.

It's what I am trying to say: Look at the images. In the images are the drives of the lower 48. You are up in Canada or Alaska. You need to go to Florida, Alabama or Texas. You need to go down where things are hot and slow. Look at your images. Put them on a map. Put your images on a map and see what state they land in. Do these tactile things. Transmute your language. Let the strange visions come. Follow them.

Do not be afraid. Your parents are crazy. They talk a good game but they are just as crazy as the rest of us.

More could be said but you get the drift. More could be said about the difference between intuition and motivation. More could be said about your preference for the visual and tactile over the abstract. More could be said. But you get the drift.

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