Everyday Intuition

May 5, 2022

by Jim Blackmann

‘A man was walking through a dark alley in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. A youth in a leather jacket approached him from the other direction. The youth had his head down and was walking with a swagger. The man saw trouble, and so he put his own head down to match the young man’s swagger. As they passed, the youth looked up, and the man saw a look in the young man’s eyes. Instantly he knew the swagger was an act; it was the youth who was afraid’.

People are not always as they seem. They can hide fear with a show of aggression, cover depression with a cheery smile, or mask their debts with a display of wealth. Quite apart from people, life is not always as it seems. A bargain can turn out to be cheap for a reason, a promise can turn out to be only a promise, and a justified fear can prove to be unfounded. If life was as it seemed, we could take the world at face value and never have to think. But, of course, we can’t.

When things are not as they seem, we first pick up on it intuitively. Intuition will tell us when there is an underlying tension in a walk, insincerity in a smile, or when an offer is, in fact, ‘too good to be true’.

Logic can deal with the known world, because we can label and define what we know. But to deal with what is unknown – whether it is a hidden motive, an unknown outcome or an underlying mood – we need intuition.

It is for this reason we use intuition to make some of our biggest decisions and judgements in life. We use it to decide whether we should begin or end a relationship, or whether we should start a business venture, trust a stranger, change jobs, or decide our life is something we can live with. All of these decisions are made intuitively, and yet for all of this, we know very little about intuition or how it works.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that intuition itself is difficult to grasp. It hasn’t got the precision of logic or the clear-cut methods of mathematics. We feel guided by it and yet, if we were asked, we would not be able to say why. The psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) had the following to say about the study of intuition:

‘Because, in the main, intuition is an unconscious process, the conscious apprehension of its nature is a very difficult matter’.

Quite apart from its nature, the subject of intuition is largely ignored in school. We are taught to think logically through the exam system. A multiple-choice exam provides us with a question and a list of possible answers. We work through them and find fault with them until we find one that is without fault and choose that as the correct answer. The method is fine for passing exams, but not much use in life, which is often complex and messy and where none of the choices are obviously right.

We are born with a natural degree of intuitive ability. The philosopher Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) defined intuition as a refined instinct, and for the most part we leave it at that level. And yet just as a child born with a musical ear can learn to play a musical instrument, or a person with an athletic ability can become skilled in their chosen sport, so too can we improve our natural intuitive ability through practice and training.

There are three elements commonly associated with intuition.

Gut-feeling:

Gut-feeling occurs whenever we are about to make an important decision in life and we have too little information to know whether it is the right one or not. D. T. Suzuki (1870 – 1966), who wrote extensively on the subject of Buddhism, said the phrase ‘Ask your belly’ is used in China and Japan whenever a difficult problem comes up.

Gut-feeling will point to what is often indefinable in a situation. It will tell us when there is a bad mood in the office, when a friend is acting out of character, or when an enjoyment has become an indulgence. In each case, when we are dealing with something we can’t see directly, gut-feeling alerts us to this hidden element.

Silent Observation:

We like to think we see the world as it is, but often we colour what we see with our own prejudices. These can be both positive and negative; when we are falling in love we see only the other person’s good qualities, and when we are falling out of love, we see only their faults. To see the world as it is we have to silence the logical mind – at least for a while.

In the East, this silent observation is called ‘Tathata’, which means ‘to see things as they are’. If we learn to observe silently, we will see not just the obvious, but also what is unobvious. It is as though, in the silence, another voice speaks.

Insight:

If we hold off our prejudices and observe silently, we may find ourselves in receipt of insight. Insight is when a thought suddenly occurs to us, instantly and without any prior reasoning. The physicist Fritjof Capra wrote about his own experience of insight in the book The Tao of Physics (1975):

‘We are all familiar with the situation where we have forgotten the name of a person or place, or some other word, and cannot produce it in spite of the utmost concentration. We have it ‘on the tip of our tongue’ but it just will not come out, until we give up and shift our attention to something else when suddenly, in a flash, we remember the forgotten name. No thinking is involved in this process. It is a sudden, immediate insight’.

If we take these three elements of intuition – gut-feeling, silent observation and insight – and learn to employ them on a daily basis, we may find that not only does our intuition improve, but that we learn to recognise its voice when it speaks.

Attend:

We pick up on moods through gut-feeling. If we learn to attend to the mood in everyday things – the mood in a park, the mood at a dinner table, or the mood of a newspaper article – we can become more aware of how they influence our thinking and judgement.

Observe:

Silent observation can tell us more than logic will allow. We can take an everyday item – an apple, a wildflower or a pebble – and try to observe it silently for a short period of time. We may be surprised at what occurs to us when we do.

Listen:

Insights can occur to us at odd moments. We may be doing something mundane, like ironing or washing up, and suddenly a thought will come to us out of the blue. Intuition is like Echo whispering to Narcissus; if we listen carefully, we will hear it when it speaks.

Such practices are well-known in the East, and play a role in Mindfulness and Yoga practice, but for those of us living in the West – in the midst of modern life – and who do not have the option of retiring to a monastery, everyday life can provide the opportunity to practice and develop our intuitive ability. We use intuition for some of our most important decisions and judgements in life, and we can either leave it unattended, or practice it deliberately. The better our intuition, the better our decisions and judgments, and – after all – we are the ones who have to live with our decisions and judgements.

About the author:

Jim Blackmann is a writer and musician. He grew up in Canada, and travelled widely, before finally settling in the south of England. He began writing a series of magazine articles about intuition in 2012. This led to the books The Intuition Test – from gut-feeling to insight (2016), Intuition in the West – a history of intuitive thinking, and a novel, The Witch & The Skeptic – a tale of science, magic and tea (2021). All available through www.jimblackmann.com


Posted by: Gwen Jones