Perhaps you recognize this conversation with yourself: “I really have to upgrade the operating system on my computer and bring my car in for an oil change, but first I have to get my taxes done. Why did I ever file an extension? I won’t have enough time to cook a decent dinner, so it’s pizza again. I’m such an idiot about money. I have no trouble losing money, but lots of trouble losing weight. What a loser! No wonder I don’t have a successful life!”
That nagging, self-deprecating voice is your internal judge and jury—the narrative you have going that reflects the way you internalized your parents, teachers, friends, therapists, and lovers, and all the others who contribute to your social conditioning. It’s sort of like an annoying reality show on TV that you can’t seem to shut off, with each character playing a part in your inner drama.
There is another voice inside your head, a voice that tends to speak softly, rather than shout at you. It’s the Jiminy Cricket voice, the gently nudging of your conscience. “You shouldn’t have told that lie. Things are going to get complicated. You should really go back to her and admit the truth.” Its promptings are ethical, and it pays to listen to this voice.
But there is still another voice that is the expression of your deepest wisdom. Sometimes it comes from your heart, other times from the gut. It definitely doesn’t come from your thinking mind, the one that is so often overrun by mindless chatter. What is inner wisdom? It’s not the stuff you learned in school. It has nothing to do with logic. The “voice” of inner wisdom may not even use words. It’s more like that feeling in the pit of your stomach that says, “Leave now. This place isn’t safe.” Or “this is the apartment for me.”
Research has shown that our intuition is accessible on a body level long before our awareness catches up. Scientists in the UK and at the University of Iowa have done studies on body wisdom versus the thinking mind by using decks of cards, some of which were rigged. Very quickly, the players’ heart rates dipped when they went near the decks that were rigged. Another study measured perspiration on the card players’ palms. The players started getting sweatier palms within ten cards, but they couldn’t say that the decks were rigged for sure, from their logical mind, until they reached the 80th card.
Do you try to hear your inner wisdom when you have an important decision to make, or when you’re embroiled in challenging circumstances and don’t know how to deal with it? How can you tell which voice is coming from your inner wisdom? Try this. Write the very first answer that comes to you about a question you’re having. When you read it, does it make you feel calm, peaceful, relaxed? If so, it’s a wise response. If it increases your tension and amps up your anxiety, it’s likely coming from your less wise linear mind.
Of course, the best way to get in touch with your inner wisdom is through a contemplative practice like meditation or prayer. After you have sat in deep stillness, the answers you seek can rise like hot air balloons into your consciousness, quietly giving rise to the aha! of true understanding.
For many people, learning to listen to their intuition means trusting their gut feelings. Sometimes literally. An assessment of eating habits of female college students at Ohio State University found that those who listened to their body cues of hunger and fullness had a much lower body mass index than the women who tried weight control through counting calories. Intuitive eaters spend more time thinking about how their body feels and functions rather than what their body looks like to others. Try to listen to your stomach’s signals, the deep wisdom of what your body actually needs, and stop eating before you feel stuffed.
Yet another way to learn to listen to your intuition is to write down a problem and think about it just before you go to sleep, and your solution will often be within reach when you wake in the morning. Or the answer may even come in a dream, where we aren’t hampered by our logical conscious mind. Dreams have long served as warnings about health issues or other situations that your mind hasn’t yet grasped.
Sometimes our inner wisdom can explode in a flash of insight. You meet someone for the first time and you know he’s the one. Or you’re walking down the street and suddenly know you have to go into the restaurant you just passed. You’re not hungry, but something is compelling you. You go in, and there’s a friend you haven’t seen in years who desperately needs your help.
Whatever way is easiest for you to connect with your intuitive inner wisdom is the best way for you. There are no rules. No matter if your signals come from tingling fingertips, or from an ache in the gut, or from a sudden flash of insight, listen to what your inner wisdom is trying to reveal and you will have a happier and healthier life.