How deceiving our senses can be–yet how revealing, too! We step out into summer’s greens and blues and rainbow hues, and we feel immersed in it all. Yet, in reality, we’re actually only seeing and sensing less than 1/100th of the electromagnetic spectrum, and all while standing on a speck of dust within one of trillions of galaxies in an infinite universe.
As Kabbalah teaches, we live in the 1% realm: the pinhole view of reality that our five senses allow us to perceive. As for the 99% realm, we know it’s out there (and in here, too). Meanwhile, our intuition lies somewhere between the two. And when it strikes, logic and reason may be challenged. Experience may seem inconsequential. Still, we are moved to act, with intuition at the wheel.
Take the story of Eileen McMahon, who’d been planning to visit Istanbul. Just before the trip, she felt a hunch–an inner push–to cancel her flight. Only later was the wisdom of this choice revealed. Just as she would have arrived, the massive earthquake of 1999 decimated the area, killing and injuring thousands.
Others have been guided in positive directions through unseen urgings. Einstein called intuition a “sacred gift” that helped inspire some of his best ideas. Oprah Winfrey claims to have “trusted the still, small voice of intuition [her] entire life.” And countless more have credited intuition for helping lead them to the right jobs, the right partners, or the best decisions in any number of situations.
So what is intuition? Rather than being the opposite of logic or reason, recent studies suggest that intuitive thinking is an adjunct skill that can be developed and sharpened. According to clinical psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, intuition operates through the entire right side of the brain–the side that perceives patterns and gestalt “big picture” perceptions–as well as through the hippocampus and the gut. As for those “gut” feelings we talk about? Our digestive tracts are in constant communication with the brain via the estimated 100 million neurons lining them. Clearly, intuition is a whole-body experience!
Dr. Orloff also explained the idea of “women’s intuition” from a physiological perspective. Because the corpus callosum (the white matter connecting right and left brain hemispheres) is thicker in women, they can more easily integrate the analytical mind with emotional and “gut” feelings.
I’ve learned this firsthand, many times, both as a mother and a daughter. When my father was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor years ago, I flew in to be present during his eight-hour surgery. Although I’d planned to return home on Friday, my intuition told me to stay–which would mean spending Shabbat in the hospital. (I hadn’t spent a single Shabbat away from Michael and the kids in eight years!) Difficult as it was to follow, my hunch was right. Not long after this, my father’s dementia set in, followed by his slow downhill battle. Even now, I feel a sense of peace knowing that I stayed. And that we truly connected.
As with almost every other skill, the more we practice our intuition, the better we become at recognizing and using it. In fact, the U.S. Office of Naval Research is currently working on methods (such as virtual simulations) to help build soldiers’ intuition in high-pressure scenarios.
Here are a few ways the rest of us can better recognize and grow our sixth sense:
1) As the maxim says, “Know thyself.” The Rav often shared a teaching he’d learned from his own mentor: the idea that our soul is meant to direct us in ways we can’t imagine. Therefore, it’s important that each of us does the inner work necessary to clear our own pathway. A broken thermometer can’t give us the correct temperature, nor can our intuition guide us effectively unless we are in touch with our desires and aligned with our highest purpose.
2) Ask for guidance; then pay attention to the messages you receive. Sometimes the guidance will come to us through symbols, dreams, or other people, even ones we don’t think can guide us. Often the answers accompany physical symptoms–which leads me to the next tip…
3) Listen to your body. Feeling a happy flutter in your chest? A queasiness in your stomach? That “needles on your neck” sensation that signals danger? Or are you feeling relaxed and engaged? Heed those messages. The mind/body/spirit connection is always speaking to and through us!
Honing your intuition needn’t keep you from using logic. Or reason. Or experience. These are trusty informers, but there’s so much more! Kabbalah reminds us that everything already exists in the spiritual world in great abundance. The answers to all our questions, the wisdom of all the ages–all of these and more are always present in the hidden wholeness of creation.
So above all, stay tuned to the frequency of YOU. This is the “station” through which we resonate most purely with the universe, where the full spectrum of life’s possibilities await our notice and influence… just as we do theirs.