In a recent interview, I was asked, “How do you recommend people learn to trust their intuition/heart?”
I contemplated that a while, and penned this response:
In spiritual circles, many speak about “the voice.” We all have a voice in our head that keeps talking and talking, and many of us are completely absorbed by it. This is the voice that tells you why you aren’t good enough, that keeps you fearful or keeps you in analysis mode so you never end up making a decision. That is the wrong voice to listen to.
When I suggest you learn to trust your voice, I am referring to your inner voice: the voice of truth that is always trying to get you to listen. There are many expressions for the idea of an inner voice: intuition, inner guide, sixth sense, gut feeling, soul, spirit, heart, voice of God, etc. I will use them interchangeably in this chapter. This is the voice that is trying to get you to live your purpose.
The important questions are: Can you hear it? And if yes, do you listen to it? Learning to trust your inner voice is an integral part of healing. Intuitively, your body knows what to do to repair and self-heal. The problem for too many of us is that we don’t trust it. Instead, we remain in doubt, fear, depression, anxiety and indecision. Lack of confidence, indecision and self-doubt are all symptoms of depression that cloud our judgment and make it difficult to trust our intuition.
I now know that my inner voice is the only one to listen to. I no longer feel paralyzed by angst when making decisions. It may be hard to understand why I’m following the voice, but I don’t argue with it. What you have to gain from learning to trust your inner voice is peace of mind, inner strength and joy. It also protects you from danger. Just as animals use their senses to protect themselves from danger— for example, fleeing to higher ground in the event of a tsunami—we have our own inner intelligence.
It is that voice that says “Don’t accept that drink” or that feeling inside that says “Go left instead of right.” Your intuition is a built-in security guard.
To learn to trust your inner voice, follow these steps:
1. Be silent.
I often say to patients that it is difficult to hear the voice of God if you are always talking. While prayer is a useful tool for many, it is still thought-based. To hear your inner voice, silence is required. Developing a regular breathing practice sharpens your awareness skills. It is through silence, stillness and an aware presence that your inner voice can be heard. The more you practise the Seven Rs of working with problematic thoughts and breaking the thought–emotion cycle, the more clearly you’ll hear your inner voice.
2. Reconnect with your body.
Our bodies are always talking to us. That is why descriptive terms to describe your intuition include things like “gut instinct” and “spidey sense.” I can literally feel tension around my stomach and heart when my intuition is trying to get my attention. A simple exercise to help you trust your inner voice (versus the voice of fear) is to start having a conversation with your heart. For example, in any given situation, you can pay attention to the response your body gives you when you ask Yes or No to a question you have or a decision you are trying to make. If you notice a warmth or softening in your body, then the answer is Yes. If you feel a contraction, heaviness or closing, then the answer is No. The key is to figure out how your body communicates with you. Different people have different ways of tuning in to their inner voices.
3. Listen to messages from the heart
A common concern is differentiating between the voice of the heart and the voice of the mind. If you aren’t used to tuning in to your gut feeling and trusting it, you might doubt its message at first. It would be nice if we could just call 1-800-DOUBT for assistance. Since that hotline doesn’t exist, we end up calling someone who knows us for help and advice, often a parent, sibling, best friend, colleague or therapist. By talking to someone who knows us, we hope to get clear answers. The key is to learn to trust yourself for the answers versus searching outside of yourself.
When it comes to “matters of the heart,” the answer resides in you. It requires listening. Start by having a conversation with your heart around simple decisions, such as: “Tonight, would you like brown rice or quinoa for dinner?” Slowly work your way up with these small decisions so that you can build your confidence when it comes to making bigger life decisions.
I encourage you to check in with your heart for the small decisions you make every day, such as what to wear, which route to take when driving, what to order if you are eating out, what to watch on TV or what to cook for dinner. For any question, consult your heart and it will give you an answer. Learn to listen. Most importantly, learn to trust the answer.
It is one thing to differentiate your inner voice from the many other thoughts coming from your mind, another to trust it, and still another to act. The more you listen and act, the easier it gets. Learning to act despite fear is what is necessary. A book that helped me with this is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. The goal isn’t to eliminate fear, but to trust your heart in the face of fear and understand that fear is part of the process.
How to listen to your intuition
It took me a long time to listen to my intuition. I hope I can make this a little easier for you by suggesting these tips:
1. Observe and discern between the physical body sensations associated with a yes or no response to your questions.
2. Practice listening to your inner voice with small daily decisions.
A practical exercise you can do to build your intuition is to leave the house with no plans. You can step out for an hour or make it a whole-day adventure. Either way, tune in to your feelings and allow them to guide you about where to go. The key is to not have a pre-set agenda—just enjoy every step you take and follow where your intuition guides you. Be completely present and notice what happens and where you go. If you like, you can set an intention before you leave and see what transpires.
Learning to trust my intuition has been a work in progress for me. I can tell you that every single time I didn’t, I ended up admitting that my gut instinct had been right in the first place.
The heart exercise, developed by Mastin Kipp, has been helpful for me, and I use it with patients to initiate a connection with one’s intuition. You can either have a friend read the questions below or you can close your eyes and say them to yourself.
Place your hands on your heart and pay attention to how you feel around your heart. Say out loud, “Heart, show me where you are” and notice if there is a sensation, feeling, colour or word that comes up. If there is a sensation, breathe into it and stay focused on it as you ask the next questions. Repeat the question out loud and verbalize any answers that come up for you:
1. Heart, will you ever lie to me? Yes or no?
2. Heart, will you always tell me the truth? Yes or no?
3. Heart, have I always followed you? Yes or no? If the answer is no, ask
your heart how it feels when it recalls that you haven’t always followed it. For example, if the response is “sad,” the next question is: Heart, why do I feel sad right now? The response may be something like “Because you’ve betrayed me” or “You don’t listen to me.”
4. Heart, can you forgive me for not always following you? Yes or no?
5. Heart, can you help me forgive myself for not always following you? Yes or no?
6. Heart, is it possible that you are God, grace or my intuition dwelling within me? Yes or no?
You can have a conversation about anything. The heart answers in very simple terms: yes, no, stop, go. The mind is complicated, but the heart is simple. It will always give you the right answer. If you start doubting or feeling fear, ask, “Heart, is that you speaking, or is it my mind?” as the mind wants a say.
This self-inquiry is free and available to you always. When you do it, you will find that your anxiety calms and events feel less stressful. You are silencing the mind with this exercise.
Let’s be clear about the role of the mind: you need your mind to help you figure out how to do what the heart wants. If it is the other way around and you use your mind to lead the way, you may stay stuck or run into obstacles. I find this quote by Joseph Campbell helpful to remember:
“The heart must usher the mind into the zone of revelation.” I interpret this to mean that we must lead our lives from a heart-centred place. The heart will give you answers that will freak out the mind. Ultimately, part
of the spiritual journey is learning to trust the heart’s response and follow through even if it scares us.
- How do you let go of guilt, overwhelm, worry, judgement (negative mind chatter) and people pleasing?
This has been challenging for me. As a recovering people pleaser, overachiever and perfectionist (a dangerous trio let me tell you!) it has been difficult for me to learn this. To be honest, I am still working on this. The solution I have found to negative mind chatter is a practice called the 7 Rs of working with problematic thoughts and breaking the thought emotion cycle. The 7 Rs are:
- Recognize: Recognize your thoughts
- Refrain: Refrain from following your thoughts
- Relax: Relax into the breath
- Resolve: Resolve to repeat this process
- Rephrase/Reaffirm: Rephrase the thought you recognized
- Repeat: Repeat this process
- Reward: Reward yourself
One of the key spiritual lessons to get in order to break the people pleasing cycle is that “other’s people’s opinions of you are none of your business” which is a quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer. For most of us, this is a hard lesson to learn. We want to be liked and loved. The tricky part is to learn to put your opinion of you ahead of other people’s opinion of you.