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Intuition is what?

July 9, 2010

Photo of intuitive cat

Photo: Federico Stevanin

People are very interested in increasing their intuition, and there’s a fascinatingly mistaken idea about intuition in many circles, which is that intuition has nothing to do with thoughts or emotions — that it comes from another place altogether. In point of fact, intuition isn’t otherworldly or extrasensory; it’s clearly an empathic skill that we all possess, and it comes directly from our emotions.

In my post on the gifts of sadness, we learned to channel sadness and access the gifts of relaxation and revitalization it brings us. It is fascinating to me that many meditation systems utilize the gifts of sadness without realizing which emotion they’re using. This confusion about emotions is universal; we’re trained from our earliest days to see emotions as troublesome, or negative, or as the opposite of rationality, intuition, relaxation, or spirituality.

None of that is true, but these ideas get repeated so often that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. When we treat our emotions as problems, they become problematic. However, when we can learn to see them with more clarity, we can find the gifts, messages, and skills they bring us.

Luckily, empaths have the capacity to work with emotions in clear ways, so let’s bring some full-bodied clarity to the intuitive emotion that we’ve all been taught to view with suspicion.

Channeling Your Natural Intuition

For this exercise, you’ll need a quiet place where you can sit or stand comfortably.

When you’ve found your quiet place, lean your body forward a little bit, and try to hear the quietest sound in your area. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears; good posture helps your hearing. You can also open your mouth a little (relaxing your jaw creates more space in your ears) and gently move your head around as you pinpoint the quietest sound and filter out the more obvious ones. Keep your eyes open, but rely on your ears for now.

When you’ve located your quiet sound, hold still for a moment. Stand up and try to locate the sound with your eyes, then move toward it – recalibrating as you near your sound. Time may seem to slow down somewhat, your skin may feel more sensitive (almost as if it’s sensing the air around you), and your mind may clear itself of anything that isn’t related to your quiet sound. When you pinpoint the sound, thank the emotion that helped you find it. Thank your fear.

Surprising, isn’t it? Healthy and free-flowing fear is nothing more or less than your instincts and your intuition. When you need it to, your fear focuses you and all of your senses, it scans your environment and your stored memories, and it increases your ability to respond effectively to new or changing situations. When your fear flows nicely, you’ll feel focused, centered, capable, and agile. Thank your fear.

Your free-flowing fear brings you instincts, intuition, and focus. If you can rely upon this form of fear when you’re confused or upset, you can access the information you need to calmly figure out what’s going on; you don’t need to feel afraid to access the gifts your fear brings you. This is one of the specific things I’ve brought to the understanding of emotions, which is that each emotion comes to us in a form we haven’t learned yet to identify, because it doesn’t feel like the mood state of the emotion.

Because I’ve been working to understand emotions since early childhood, I’ve been able to focus on emotions in deeper and deeper ways as I’ve matured. Living with and in and around emotions for so long, I’ve learned to articulate them into their free-flowing states — which most of us don’t even realize are emotions, because we’ve been taught to identify emotions only when we’re in an obvious mood.

Each emotion brings you specific gifts in its free-flowing state. With sadness, the gift is a sense of relaxation and rejuvenation that helps you let go of things that aren’t working for you. With anger the gifts are honorable boundary-setting, a healthy self-image, and the capacity for healthy detachment. Shame, the partner of healthy anger, brings you integrity and the strength you need to change your behavior and make amends. And contentment brings you the gifts of satisfaction, renewal, and healthy self-esteem, among other things.

Fear is no different; it brings you very specific gifts, because that’s what emotions do; they’re irreplaceable aspects of our intelligence, and we can’t survive without them. This is what makes accessing emotions empathically so much fun. When you know what your emotions are and what they do, you can work with them easily and in ways that truly add to your intelligence and your quality of life.

The Gifts of Fear

Fear helps you focus on your internal knowledge  while it connects you to your surroundings. So it’s different from sadness, which focuses you inside yourself and on what you need to release in order to relax and let go of things that don’t serve you. With fear, your focus helps you stand upright in your body and lean forward a bit, to bring your instincts and your intuition to the present moment.

With fear, it’s almost as if you’re listening to the quietest sound inside yourself – to that voice that’s having a hard time being heard. Unlike flowing sadness, flowing fear has a forward, listening, sensing capacity that helps you interact with your environment and other people. If you can rely on fear’s calm, listening, sensing stance, it will help you read people and situations empathically.

In The Language of Emotions, I focus on improving our very poor emotional vocabulary, but when we get to fear, wow, it’s as if we lose our voices altogether! When most of us think of fear, we tend to think of anxiety, worry, panic, and terror — but very few of us think of the focused, articulate watchfulness that fear brings to us. It’s a wonderful emotion, but all of them are! They’re like a treasure chest full of magic, which is why it’s so wildly sad that we’ve been taught to distrust our emotions.

9 Comments

Gina Vance July 10, 2010 at 1:40 am

You’ve rocked it and knocked it – out of the park. Yeah!

What’s so funny ’bout “negative” emotions? « Karla McLaren July 15, 2010 at 3:26 am

[…] Fear is another bad boy of the emotional world, but fear is also totally necessary — not just for your survival, but for your social viability as a friend, mate, or parent. You feel fear when you sense change in your environment, and when you sense threats to your physical survival. Fear brings you the instincts, the intuition, and the street smarts you need to make it through in one piece. However, you’ll also feel fear when you see another person’s life endangered, and you may do crazy-brave things that will save the other person’s life. Fear can engender totally pro-social behaviors, and it’s positive when you need it. […]

Is it a feeling or is it an emotion? « Karla McLaren August 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

[…] of it are not strongly connected, and they don’t even realize that they’re fearful, or angry, or depressed. Their emotional state has to become so persistent that it drags them into […]

Creating our emotional vocabulary « Karla McLaren September 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

[…] fear is our intuition — it’s the emotion that tells us when change is occurring, when we need to orient to […]

Critical thinking skills for your emotions « Karla McLaren January 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm

[…] ways. You’ll also know how to behave when other people feel angry. When you know that fear exists to help you identify change and alert you to possible hazards, you’ll learn to listen […]

Jacki Whitford May 29, 2011 at 3:27 am

Hi there –

I am taking a course on creating new habits and I just wrote in our forum about your book Language of Emotions – especially the part about fear since that is the usual roadblock people hit when making changes in their life. Thank you for continuing to create books that help us use our emotions as allies instead of seeing them as paralyzing parasites.

Karla May 30, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thanks Jacki. I was talking to someone last week who is moving, changing jobs, and changing towns, and she’s feeling a lot of fear. We talked about how correct that fear is, because she’s dealing with change, novelty, and the constant surprise of all the new things she’ll encounter. We said, “You know, if you weren’t feeling fear, we might need to worry about you!” Knowing that the emotion is doing its correct job helps people calm down about it, and then it’s not a problem.

And fear should certainly come up when people are changing habits, because the situation is all about change and novelty. Another emotion that helps with change is sadness, because it helps people let go of the thing that isn’t working and needs to be changed. It’s difficult, though, because people avoid sadness as much as they do fear. Whoops!

SocraticGadfly April 30, 2012 at 2:34 am

The problem is, dealing with ongoing anxiety-fear in today’s economy, such as, when a job is bad, but one can’t immediately find other work, as is my personal situation.

Karla April 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Steve, in that situation, there’s still good work to be done with the anxiety so that it doesn’t become troublesome. There’s a specific skill called Conscious Questioning for Anxiety, and there’s research supporting the practice of utilizing language to help alleviate anxieties here: http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct06/talking.aspx

There’s also the trick of writing out all of the issues that one is anxious about. This study suggests that becoming fully aware of anxieties rather than just letting them simmer actually helps with performance. So even if an emotion has to keep coming up because the troubling situation is ongoing, you can create a practice so that you can remain emotionally aware without becoming emotionally overloaded.

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