Intuition – devine intervention or natural, physical process?

A good friend and ex-colleague, Rachael Beesley, asked for my thoughts on intuition. Best write them down before I forget!

This post is quite long at nearly 1500 words but is actually a very brief review of my thinking. There is a lot packed into a small space. It contains no referencing, it being a collation of my thinking from my experience, reading and musing over the past few years on many and varied topics. Whilst short, it will serve to start the discussion. Future posts are bound to revisit this fascinating subject.

I will start with where I think intuition comes from. I will then bring together various facets of the human condition that I think contribute to the creation of intuitive insight.

These facets include the prolific amount of subconscious thinking that is actually directing our conscious thoughts and actions. Within this subconscious activity is the ability to sense others’ thoughts, feelings and intentions. There may also be the ability to sense the life stories that I speculate may be encoded in all our genes, passed on through the millennia.

I will discuss language and how its use betrays our inner lives. Through using language to share information with others, I will discuss how this ‘dialogue’ acts to create new meaning and new realities for all parties such that new discoveries, made in the moment, are mistakenly thought to be revelations from times past.

I will close this post with my thoughts on how human presence, being attuned to the moment, helps oil the wheels of intuitive thinking and sensing; how it sharpens the ability to listen to these intuitive messages and offers the courage to act upon them.

Let’s start with my view of where intuition comes from.

Intuition, for me, is primarily a process whereby subconscious mental processes are raised into conscious awareness through feelings or thoughts. The conscious impact can be visceral or cognitive, or a combination of both.

Subconscious ‘thinking’ dominates our mental processes. Neuroscientists are finding that the vast majority of our mental life occurs at the subconscious level and conscious awareness is generally an after-the-event occurrence.

Linked to this is the fact that our sensing of the world around us and of our own inner-world takes place subconsciously. Much of what we sense is not revealed to our conscious awareness, otherwise we would be overloaded. This doesn’t mean that this subconscious processing is going to waste. Decisions are arrived at through complex comparisons, exchanges and trade-offs between linked areas of the brain.

Our ability to sense our outer and inner worlds helps with an important ability, to read others’ minds. Theory of mind is the phrase used to describe the ability to read others’ intentions. This isn’t referring to reading minds telepathically. A great deal of research is underway into how humans (and other mammals), read the intentions of others and how they make assumptions about others’ thoughts. Reading someone’s intentions or assessing their emotional state is carried out at a subconscious level, utilising the sensing processes mentioned above. The data utilised in this sensing comes from facial, body, movement, environmental and language cues.

These language cues can be particularly powerful. What is said and how it is said can infer much more meaning than originally intended by the speaker. This inferred meaning is often not in the speaker’s conscious awareness. Language is abstract and metaphorical, designed to transmit information, but in the process creates meaning. This meaning-making is primarily a subconscious process.

Meaning-making in the moment can then become our perceived reality as we delude ourselves into thinking what is new is in fact old. Being delusional is a well documented human trait. There is a great deal of evidence pointing to the fact that our memories can be influenced and changed to suit current needs. This can happen in the moment, such that meaning-making, through dialogue, can alter our perception of the past and of our current reality. If two people are exchanging information, creating new meaning and then sharing that meaning, each can create new realities for themselves, backed up by memories that, when recalled, have been tweaked to fit.

As well as meaning-making, language transmits our life stories or narratives. There are only so many narratives in the human condition. Over our lifetimes we become consciously aware of the majority of these narratives, because we either experience them or see them being experienced by others. We also utilise them for entertainment. Movie directors, authors and playwrights utilise life narratives and, for centuries, philosophers have mused over them.

I speculate that these narratives, whilst available to us at a conscious level through experience or learning, may also be available to us in our genetic coding. Twin separation studies have revealed that much of our personal narrative is genetically encoded. Not every human experiences every narrative, but it may well be that all possible narratives reside in our genetic codes. In simple terms, some narratives are switched on, whilst others remain switched off. If this is the case, then perhaps the whole range of possible human narratives, encoded in our genes, influences how our brains are constructed. This construction may offer us subconscious access to these narratives, supporting our ability to empathise with others’ alternative life narratives.

Summarising my musings thus far, we see that our (mainly) subconscious mental processes are (primarily) designed to help with sensing and decision making. These processes are incredibly complex and rapid, with only a tiny minority of outputs reaching our conscious awareness through combinations of feelings and thoughts. We have an innate ability to sense others’ feelings, thoughts and intentions through the (mainly subconscious) observation and interpretation of body and language cues. Language often contains hidden meaning, or creates meaning for us that was not intended by the speaker. Once revealed, this meaning can become the reality for both parties, even if it wasn’t before. There are only so many human narratives and we have access to them through experience and, possibly, through our genetic coding and, therefore, the sense-making and decision-making processes that inform our subconscious mental processes.

If the above is accurate (much is evidence-based, some is speculative), humans have access, at a subconscious level, to an incredible amount of sensed and assumed information about someone or about a situation. This is the data that I believe informs intuition. However, there is one final ingredient needed. This is the ability to listen to one’s intuition.

I believe that the development of presence allows subconscious processes to work more freely, less cluttered by our own narratives and more in tune with others and our environment. Presence also gives us the courage to listen to our intuition and to act upon the messages that reach our conscious awareness. Presence is the conduit for intuition.

Imagine two people engaged in dialogue. The first is sharing their worries, ambitions, hopes and fears. The second is sensing the first’s life story, partly accurately, partly inaccurately, utilising the complex subconscious processes described above. When the second person shares their insights with the first, new meaning is created for the first person as they see, perhaps for the first time, their life story laid out before them. New insights begin to reveal themselves to the first person and so the sharing of intuitive insights continues, to and fro. Those insights that were inaccurate might be rejected, but they might equally be taken on board as accurate through the deluded, memory tweaking process, I discussed above. Both parties are learning about each other in the moment. Some of what they discover is accurate when compared with past experience, some ‘becomes’ accurate as past realities are created.

Remember my friend and ex-colleague, Rachael? The one who asked the question about intuition? Well, it so happens that Rachael, as well as being skilled in various coaching tools and techniques, is an incredibly intuitive coach. I believe she demonstrates this talent partly because of the physical processes at play in her subconscious and conscious minds, but primarily because she has the presence that allows her to listen to the signals that are made available to her by those processes.

Finally, where does the divine come into intuition? Well, for me it simply doesn’t in terms of physical reality. However, in terms of metaphor, it offers a useful platform for the expression of intuitive thoughts and feelings, the sources of which are often unknown and seemingly created out of thin air. I can see how a process that takes place below the surface of our consciousness and is the result of a breathtakingly complex interweaving of human faculties, can appear to be ‘gifted’.



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