Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Choosing the Less Worn Path of Intuition

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost—Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

Intuition is sometimes called “gut instinct” as opposed to using evidence-based rationality. Some describe it as the ability to see any event or object from a viewpoint of “the cosmic whole, from its culmination—the seed, the flower, the fruit—to the whole: the comprehensive grip of the principles of universality. A person who develops intuition can “know anything without the barriers of time, space and any other obstructions.” Inventor and founder of the Intuition Network Buck Charleston believed that intuition “comes from a source beyond consciousness itself.”

Carlin Flora in Psychology Today (Vol 40, Issue 3: 68-75, 2007) defined intution as "quick and ready insight." She added that intuition is "the act or process of coming to direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring." It comes from the Latin word intueri which means "to see within" and is a way of knowing, of sensing the truth without explanations.

The notion of an “autonomic non-conscious processes pervading all aspects of mental and social life” is a difficult truth for many people to accept, notes Yale University psychologist John Bargh. In his article, “Intuition: understanding the nature of our gut instincts.” (Scientific American Mind, June/July 2007) psychologist David G. Myers adds, “In reality, we fly through life mostly on autopilot,” making choices constantly on an intuitive level: when to cross the street, how to drive a car, when to pass a car.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman theorized that we have evolved mental shortcuts, called heuristics, that let us make efficient, snap judgments—often based on perceptual and contextual cues. Kahneman also suggested that learned associations, which surface as feelings that guide our judgments, enter from our great reservoir of experiences. For instance, when encountering a stranger, if they resembled a person who had previously harmed or threatened us, we might react warily—without needing to consciously recall the earlier experience. Professional expertise often becomes intuitive. For instance, a master chess player (who may have over 50,000 patterns stored in his brain) need only glance at the chessboard to decide her move. Two colleagues of mine who are IT specialists (both women, by the way) approach hard and software troubleshooting intuitively, often diagnosing a problem through a quick look or listen or feel, and come up with an answer that no one has conceived through the traditional decision-tree diagnosis.

“Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition,” asserts Nobel laureate psychologist Herbert Simon. Judging from his notions on art and artificial intelligence, I’m certain that he is talking about “pattern recognition”, the ability to take pieces of a whole and fill in the rest, based largely on heuristic knowledge. Sorry, Herb, but that’s too sparse and limited—if not parochial—for my taste (I am a writer and not, like Hemmingway, a minimalist writer—though, if I were a golfer, I’d be a minimalist golfer…LOL!). Simon’s notions on intuition suffer from over-simplification…unless his term “recognition” also encompasses more—I don’t think so judging from his views on creativity, wisdom and art and beauty, for that matter—between you and me, I don’t think he really gets it (see my earlier reference to beauty ). A Jungian would likely describe Simon’s ego functions in interpreting reality as “non-intuitive or sensory and thinking”. While “pattern recognition” may cover the more mundane day-to-day aspects of our intuitive life decisions, it does not address the most intriguing aspect of intuition: that of making the right important life decisions based on no prior experience. This is a different kind of “knowing” and not one we acquire through simple living. It is more like “remembering” how we fit into a larger whole, more than ourselves.

In her bestselling 1992 book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, scholar, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés provides this rich and evocative description of the process of intuition: “We call all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what there is to see, know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/Life cycles of all nature.”
Speaking of women, by the way, studies by Judith Hall of Northeastern University demonstrated that women have an edge in spotting lies, genuineness of expressions and in discerning whether a couple are genuinely romantic or are posed phonies. Estés ascribes intuition as “the treasure of a woman’s psyche,” and, ultimately, the primary instinctual power of the Wild Woman. “Intuition,” says Estés, “is like a divining instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is the form of The One Who Knows…the Wild Woman.”

Cognitive science shows us that human minds operate a two-track system: a deliberate analytical “high road” and an autonomic, intuitive “low road”. Life experiences provide us with intuitive expertise and we learn associations that surface as intuitive feelings, says Myer. To get a sense of someone’s warmth and energy, say psychologists Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, a mere six seconds will often do. “We’re finding that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second,” said Bargh. “Thanks to pathways that run from the eye to the brain’s rapid-response emotional-control centers—bypassing the thinking part of the brain, the cortex—we often feel before we analyze,” says Myers. There is presumed biological wisdom to such instant feelings, adds Myers; for instance, when our ancestors encountered a stranger and relied on their by speedy and accurate distinction of anger, fear, sadness and happiness.

“Intuition communicates with us through symbols, feelings and emotions. It usually does not speak to us in clear language,” says Explanations usually come along with messages on a "need to know basis". Trust that when the bigger, more important messages need to surface, they will. That is also part of intuition: trust and faith. And it all starts with the realization that most things are not as they seem…

Ancient philosophers deemed that intuition was the power of obtaining knowledge that could not be acquired either by inference, observation, reason or experience. They called intuition an original, independent source of knowledge, designed to account for knowledge unobtainable through other means: knowledge of necessary truths or moral principles, for instance.

Intuition provides the spark that fires the genius of excellent art and, what calls, soulful living. It is the vehicle of a purposeful life and finding one’s place in the world. To exercise the courage to reject what is in the realm of rationality and heed one’s intuition is to unlock the inner wisdom of one’s subconscious mind—and universe—and to listen to one’s heart and “recall what one has always known”.

Intuition cannot be explained through biology, neuro-science or psychology; they can partially describe it, but not fully explain it. Intuition defies explanation because it does not need to be explained; it is to be used on faith. Intuition lies in the realm of God. It is a divine gift. To open to it is to “know” God.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

A great description of intuition, one of the unknown aspects of the mind.

Anonymous said...

Left Handed people -they are the ones in their Right Mind.

Quite a few years ago I a guest speaker delved into the brain and how it thinks. He posited that the brain can be thought of as having 4 quadrants and that people tend to be biased towards a given quadrant. One of the goals of the talk was to lead us to more Whole brained thinking.

See this blog by Gregory Allen Butler

The right brain - the visual / symbolic brain has been attributed as the Idealistic / Intuitive side.

"Think" about it: When you use your left brain to work out a problem, you can easily describe how you came to your conclusion such that others will understand.

People who have dominant right brain quadrants, will usually come to similar conclusions but will not be able to describe how they got there - the process was via images and relations of those images. Such a method is described 'intuition'.

Many women are able to discern finer details in faces as more women than men are in touch with their right brains.

I know that I am at my most creative when my left brain turns off (late at night with nothing logical to work on). Right brain jumps up and takes over. The few times when I have come up with a decent guitar solo is when the right brain takes over.

Of course, from birth our right brain is observing images, music and motions. Taking it all in. Then later in life, when left brain gets stumped, right brain says - Oh! try this. Observers ask "Gee how did you know that" and you respond, I don't know (really meaning - I can't describe in words and logical steps).

Call intuition or tapping in to the Cosmos.

To me, it's just using your whole brain!

La Grande Frommage,


Nina Munteanu said...


Nina Munteanu said...

...I guess it then comes down to how you define the mind vs. the brain (whole-brain thinking or no...) ... whether you position yourself more with Descartes, Freud, Jung or even Sheldrake and other scientists and philosophers (e.g., Clark and Chalmers on "active externalism") who posit an "extended mind"(see this link:

Is the mind truly confined entirely by the physical brain? Are we really that simple?

Anonymous said...

An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

Karim - Mind Power

Nina Munteanu said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Karim. It is a subject worth discussing and pondering

Unknown said...

Intuition is actually part of our Heavenly Father communicating with us directly, which is something that those who do not want to believe that we were created will summarily reject. Tragically, even most amongst those who have no problem with the idea of us being created beings have a lot of trouble with the notion of being in direct contact with our Creator for a multitude of religious reasons. I was raised that way, and it came as a great shock when our Heavenly Father started making Himself real to me back in 1993, and part of that was opening my eyes to the fact that He had been talking to me all of my life.

Part of that was what is often called intuition. For He sometimes just gives us a feeling about something, and other times He actually speaks to us, mostly through our thoughts.

Since the devil and his demons are also allowed to mess with our heads at times, it would do us all well to not just go with some thought that may come to mind without at least trying to confirm where it came from. Becoming as familiar with our Heavenly Father's Holy Scriptures is crucial in this. For they were given to serve as written confirmation of what He Himself wants to personally reveal to each and every one of us, on an individual level and without exception.

Another thing that our Heavenly Father has given me to say about this is that it all depends upon what He wants to accomplish in and through someone that determines when, and to what extent, He will allow and enable them to enter into His absolute truth. Therefore, it should not be assumed that someone should know better just because they are of a certain physical age. For it may not be until just before they take their last breath in this world that our Heavenly Father will allow and enable them to know and understand what He wants them to, but the very sad thing is that most do not want really know what He wants them to.

Please forgive me if this sounds like a bunch of Christian nonsense to you. On the other hand, if you would like to further this discussion, I would be thrilled--even if you have no intention of ever considering the possibilities.

Nina Munteanu said...

Thanks for sharing, FishHawk...I appreciate your humility and faith. Although I may not agree with your definition of God (who determined that God is a He, for instance? Why limit God's existance and presence to a "third-person singular" male entity?), I do agree that we are "guided" by "more" and intuition (and listening to it) plays a large part it that. But, why should that "more" be limited to a Christian male god? Why limit our interpretation of divinity?

The differences among us (and how we accept and treat intuition) lies in how we define "God" (if we believe in God) and how we define ourselves and our relationship with God, whatever we call God(does God dwell inside us?)

And it comes down to our acceptance of what mind, matter, energy, consciousnous, intelligence and intent are -- their limitations and where they reside.

It comes down to whether we are ruled by science or use it as a tool. It comes down to whether we blindly listen to dogma and follow the pack, whatever that may be. It comes down to whether we are ruled by fear and rely on some crutch, whether it be physical, chemical, religious, political, or tyranical...

It comes down to how we use our mind and hearts...

I want to share with you something Rupert Sheldrake (an English biochemist and plant physiologist)said about the concept of "extended mind" and the soul of the planet (yes, the soul of the planet! And I'm an ecologist!): "Descartes believed the only kind of mind was the conscious mind. Then Freud reinvented the unconscious. Then Jung said it's not just a personal unconscious but a collective unconscious. Morphic resonance shows us that our very souls are connected with those of others and bound up with the world around us."

Some would say this is God in action...

Food for thought, eh? (oh, I'm also a Canadian, eh... :)

Unknown said...

When He makes Himself real to you, there will be no mistaking just who you are dealing with, but He gives us the freedom to either accept or reject Him. For instead of it being that we were placed in this world so that we could prove ourselves worthy of His favor, the absolute truth of the matter truly is that it is He who wants us to accept Him--despite all of our considerable doubts about just how good He really is. For even what we would naturally consider to be the most wonderful of lives in this world is absolutely wretched in comparison to the worst of lives in His Kingdom of Heaven. Be assured that He will pour out His gratitude for all of eternity upon all who will do so. (By the way, I will not hold it against you for being a Canadian. LOL?)

Nina Munteanu said...

Thanks, FishHawk! LOL! And I won't hold it against you for calling God a HE either... :)