Embodied Intuition

Image by James Merrill from Pixabay

The Resources

The fifth guidepost in the Gifts of Imperfection is cultivating intuition and trusting faith. First up, part of me wants to argue that faith is actually trust and nothing more. We don’t trust faith, we trust and that is faith.

So, the decision to trust is not so much about launching ourselves into the unknown with a framework of belief in ‘what is unseen’, but actually about trusting the ineffable reality of Love – that which is both experienced and known, and is beyond our capacity to fully know or name. The fullness, the immense calm and joy which we can open to, allow into our awareness through inner stillness and trusting surrender – that experience is what we trust to be true and present even when we are not.

Even when we are anxious, fearful, and/or caught in ego reactivity, we choose to trust that peace, love and joy are present and active in us, and so the inner resources we need to be present, to live fully and wide open are there for us and will sustain us. When you regularly (faithfully) show up in a meditation/contemplation practice and experience the flow, the spaciousness that is always there, you learn to rest in it, to trust it is.

So I guess I want to modify this guideline to cultivating intuition and practicing trust and the practice of trust is in part about taking in the experience of joyful, peaceful Being so that in the experience of loss, fear and sadness you remain tethered into the deeper reality and can return to it for solace, for courage and connection.

Pause for reflection

Brene acknowledges that she and many of us grew up with faith and reason in opposite corners and as adversaries. The very human need for certainty and desire for assurance has us reaching either for reason to supply concrete foundations to work from or for faith to supply concepts of belief to explain reality. We are meaning makers. We search for significance to make sense of our lives and the world – hence the rather hackneyed expression, “Everything happens for a reason”. I have heard this said by people of no particular faith and by devoutly faithful Christians, although I suspect that they meant rather different things by it.

What is your response to the idea that "everything happens for a reason"? How does that offer you comfort? Where does that fall short of making sense in your life or in the wider world? What happens in your body when you think about those things?

Brene suggests that it is the fear of the unknown and fear of being wrong that cause the majority of conflicts and anxiety. I’m not sure this is a universal truth – fear of being wrong isn’t something that everyone struggles with to the same extent, if at all. Fear of offending others, fear of appearing weak, fear of being stuck in a bad situation, fear of abandonment, rejection or anger are also major causes of conflict and anxiety – ironically, sometimes even the attempt to appease and thereby avoid confrontation creates conflict.

If you reflect on your experiences of conflict and anxiety, what would you identify as being the most likely underlying issues for you? Where in your body do you experience uncertainty or being faced with the unknown, and how does that show up for you? Can you tune into those sensations with gratitude and offer a soothing gesture and comforting words?

Trust [Brene says Faith] is essential when we decide to live and love with our whole hearts in a world where most of us want assurances before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt.

Gifts of Imperfection

I think this is so true, the thing that is important though, is who/what are you trusting and what is the expected outcome of your trust?


Intuition as a movement of the soul

The section on intuition has Brene forging a new definition from the data about what this word actually means. She begins with an idea that is probably familiar to many of us – that intuition is a gut knowing, kind of a body wisdom and she’s not sure that fits with the dictionary definition that identifies intuition as a direct perception of truth or fact independent of any reasoning process. And then she trawls through the data to craft a new definition that supports the experience of those she interviews who use the term about what steers them towards wholehearted living.

What we end up with is a blended ‘information gathering’ strategy that leads into ‘knowing’. It’s partly the capacity to listen to the uneasiness and then to listen beneath that. It’s partly the courage to follow a ‘gut’ feeling. It’s also a bit of drawing on past experience, a bit of totting up pros and cons and a bit of a willingness to step into uncertainty. The blended process of complementary information and insightful resourcing that she comes up with is definitely a legit thing, but I think enneagram teacher Uranio Paes offers us a deeper insight into the nature of true intuition.

Uranio is careful to point out the difference between the ‘gut’ knowing of body wisdom, which is instinctual and engages the five bodily senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. This is a large part of the blend of information that the brain spontaneously collects and scans – mostly without our awareness – and we add to that some stories from the past or about the future, plus any other information we can throw in to help us get a read on the situation and so get a sense of what to do next.

Although Brene won’t like it, all of that is still, essentially, body based and instinctual rather than intuitive.

Intuition is, in fact, the sixth sense – a spontaneity of the soul, a knowing that arrives from beyond the body and can feel like a download or a deposit. As such, intuition can arrive through auditory or visual means, including in dreams; it can also arrive through sensory channels or arrive as a ‘knowing’ that isn’t sensory at all.

So it seems to me that what Brene is identifying as intuition is actually a blend of the body wisdom of instinct and the rational processes of the mind. It’s great that she’s encouraging us to trust and attend to the instinctual wisdom of your body since she/he has so much information, insight and wisdom to offer you….most of us don’t listen to our bodies much and a lot (but not all) of us prefer to rely on our heads alone to guide us.

Pause to reflect

What is your experience with intuition? What is your sense of the difference between instinct and intuition? Would you trust either of them?? How might you grow an openness to trust yourself in either of these capacities?

The Practices

Stilling the soul to receive – a creative montage.

Both trust and intuition require inner stillness and receptivity – what does that look like for you? Sometimes the expectation of outer stillness to match the inner stillness means that we think it’s out of reach for those of us who find it hard to be physically still; sometimes the cultural messaging around receiving imputes a sense of weakness, indebtedness, vulnerability or obligation which make it a deeply unappealing position to be in.

Gather a selection of magazines and clip out images and words which speak to you in positive and attractive ways of inner stillness and receptivity, then create a collage or montage of these images to put in the place where you sit for meditation or contemplative prayer. You might also consider using a stilling/opening mantra for a while, if this is not a common practice for your prayer. Something like:

Breathing in: open mind; Breathing out: open heart. I find it helpful to also visualise a column of white light rising with the inhale from the base of my spine to the crown of my head, and with the exhale the light flows down to my chest, through my heart and out into the world.

Wanting nothing, getting everything

‘I had found myself staring at a faded cyclamen and had happened to remember to say to myself, “I want nothing”. Immediately I was so flooded with the crimson of the petals that I thought I had never known what colour was before’

Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Spend some time experimenting with the idea of letting go your expectations of how people or situations must be (to console you, gratify you, reassure you, limit you). Start by imagining approaching a flower without any expectation of how it should smell or feel.

Now imagine approaching someone you know well, without any preconceptions: as though this were your first moment of meeting. Now imagine entering a familiar situation, ‘not knowing’ what will follow.

Re-create being alone in your mind free of past associations of what ‘being alone’ means to you. Imagine it as an entirely new experience you are eager to try.

Write down what arises from those imaginative explorations – note your resistances also! Many people dread ‘not knowing’ – are you one of them? It may help to remember Marion Milner’s phrase “I want nothing”.

I am loving. I am trusting

Try doing this short meditation often through the day and when you are lying awake at night, too.

Bring your awareness to your heart and repeat the words “I am loving. I am trusting.” You can say the words quietly, sometimes though, you might want to sing them, or dance them or shake your body as you roar them.

As you say them, move your awareness around your body:

  • I am loving in my toes
  • I am trusting in my ankles
  • I am loving in my calves, I am trusting in my thighs…my groin…the small of my back…my belly….my chest…my spine….my armpits….my shoulders….my arms….my wrists….my fingers….my neck….my throat…my tongue….my face….my eyes…my brows….my hair… and so on.

You can move your awareness through your body and your senses and your mind; I am loving in my memories, I am trusting in my intentions, I am loving in my laughter…

This is a powerful meditation so you may want to give time to write about any feelings that arise or for any grief that may occasionally accompany your awareness, as well as joy and expansiveness you will feel.

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