“I have been a seeker and still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teachings of my soul.” -Rumi
Time and time again my voice within is the strongest and the wisest. Not because I am a sage or have superior intelligence or am all knowing. It’s because I’ve learned that I have a higher self, a wise self, a self who knows what is best for me at all times, and who I can access if I just stay quiet and listen. Those times when I have ignored my voice within, in favor of another, perhaps because it was louder or seductive in some way, or because I was uncertain and forgot to remain patient and listen in, I have always regretted it.
Many times my wise inner voice tells me something very different than everyone around me. This can be confusing and has made me second-guess myself. I remember a highly popular book that came out about seven years ago. Oprah endorsed it, it sold millions of copies worldwide, and everyone talked about it as powerful and enlightened, words we should all follow. I bought the book with excitement and high expectations, but felt disappointed within the first few pages. I found it to be disingenuous and self-indulgent. It simply did not speak to me. But because there were people in my life who were inspired and spoke highly of it, I read it anyway. While I didn’t deny to myself how I felt about the book, my feelings made me an outlier, and I hesitated just a bit before saying to myself, “this is how I feel, this is my wisdom, this is not the book for me.”
And on a larger scale, my journey as a physician has been fraught with experiences when I’ve struggled to hear my own voice over the many loud voices around me. Shifting paradigms from the conventional medicine that I was trained in to the medicine that I practice now, inspired by the science of Functional Medicine and body-mind wisdom, has demanded, time and time again, that I dig deep to listen to my own inner wisdom about what is true and necessary and what makes more sense to me about what constitutes healing and how we care for our patients. But the old voices are so loud! It has taken a great deal of practice for me to discover and trust my own inner wisdom, to continue to hear it, and to honor it enough to let it guide my actions.
There have also been times when my wise inner voice has been very clear and accurate about what is going on, but has lead me in an uncomfortable direction, like confrontation, and so I’ve consciously set it aside. Many years ago I had a co-worker who, at first, was wonderful to work with. She was eager, humble, a team player, and kind and gentle with our clients. As time went on I observed how she had conflict with key people in her life, then completely cut them off and blamed them, demonizing them in some way. When she did this with another coworker I called her out on it. She had excuses and promised to work on the relationship. But in time, she became increasingly negative, hostile and petulant with me, and it was uncomfortable to be around her. I knew what was wrong and I was clear about what I had to do. But taking action meant facing having to ask her to leave, perhaps hurting her feelings, or inciting her rage (which I had experienced before!). I avoided action for a few months, then called her in for a meeting to address what was going on. She blew up at me. Her response to me completely validated what I had been observing, but I should have taken action on my inner guidance sooner. My hesitance to take action contributed to how her toxic energy impacted all of us at the office, including patients, who stepped up to tell me after she left. I managed to help her leave quickly and there was immediate restoration of the positive energy of our sacred work space.
We are truly wired for intuition.
We all have it. It may be dormant because we aren’t used to listening in. Or we may hear it but are not sure what to do with it. We can all discover it and learn to trust it, through practice, and make it the clear, wise voice of our daily lives. When we hear our intuition, it is important that we let it guide our actions, as this important form of wisdom knows what is best for us and our lives.
Five Steps to Discovering and Strengthening Our Intuition:
- Get quiet and listen in. This is the key. The wisdom we are seeking is already within us and we must actively listen to hear it. There is a beautiful passage in the old testament of the Bible (1 Kings 19, verses 11-13) in which Elijah goes up to the mountains to listen for the voice of God. He listens to the winds and to the storms but does not hear God. It is not until things are peaceful that he hears the “small quiet voice” of God. Likewise, J. Phillip Newell, in his writings on Celtic spirituality, speaks of “listening to the heartbeat of God.” He writes that to hear God one doesn’t need to look for the booming voice from above, but listen for the quiet presence within and all around each of us. Intuition and guidance may be subtle. We must actively listen through writing, meditation, going for a walk, or whatever quiet, contemplative practice works best for us.
- Be on the lookout for the guidance that is all around us. Guidance may come as advice, books, or ideas that present themselves to us in curious ways, just when we need the information. Or perhaps it’s an idea or suggestion that presents itself to us several times in a short span of time. If I see or hear something three times, it definitely has my attention.
- Ask for guidance. We can invoke our invisible “helpers” by specifically asking for guidance. For millennia people across cultures have relied on their muses, angels and guides for wisdom and inspiration. Asking also engages our own internal resources to respond to the challenge. Our brains and inner wisdom are poised and ready to assist us. The answers we receive may come through as thoughts or strong feelings that engage our attention or somehow resonate with us. We must not hesitate to ask.
- Cultivate curiosity. A strong sense of curiosity may lead us to a website, book or a person who has just the answers we need. Curiosity energizes the question. The actions we take will lead us toward the wisdom we need.
- Practice. Intuition is not a passive process. This is an active practice that we can learn: be curious, ask questions (out loud or to yourself), invoke helpers, get quiet, listen for inspiration. When the answers or understanding come, we must embrace them and take the risk to act upon them. This leads to positive change in our lives and builds trust in ourselves.
How does your intuition come through?
When have you known the truth but second-guessed yourself?
KARYN SHANKS MD
Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the science of Functional Medicine, body-mind principles, and wisdom gleaned from the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-five-year career. Her work honors each individual and the power of their stories, their inner wisdom, and innate healing potential. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves. She is the author of Liftoff, a manual of energy recovery and healing through essential self-care practices.