Sometimes even the most “put together” people can get thrown off course and get swept up in the tide without even realizing it at first, me included. Recently I found myself being pulled in different directions between work, family and relationships and with so many “shoulds” running through my head, I felt the pressure – and desire – to keep up with obligations and others’ expectations of me and not really knowing how to make it all happen.
The other morning I did the best thing for myself that I’ve done in a long time. I created space for my intuition and invariably I find that it’s always, always the right thing to do. I had to get back to basics of course because it seemed that I’d been ignoring intuition for a while. In my yoga practice that morning, I allowed my body to dictate my needs. Before this I had been feeling the need to accomplish something – to push myself in some way that I didn’t necessarily want to be pushed. But something told me to stop. So I listened. I began to stretch my body in gentle, non-traditional yoga poses and while one voice in my head was saying “yeah, but this isn’t really yoga” I could also hear another compassionate voice echoing the encouragement of the more nurturing teachers who have said “it’s ok, do what your body tells you to do, just trust and listen.” And I can say that thankfully I have access to the latter and it worked. This gentle compassion led to a more fulfilling yoga experience that left me feeling satisfied and nurtured in a way that I’m sure I would’t have felt otherwise.
It’s sort of ironic to think that the intuitive path is less accessible at times you are faced with outside pressure, as judgment and comparison thoughts scream through one’s head. It seems that intuition may abandon us at times when we need it most. But maybe it’s the opposite – that we’ve abandoned it. So often we’re given the message that pushing through is the best approach, or the only approach, that we can’t even hear the wisdom of self-compassion when it knocks on our door.
But my belief is that as a life rule, it will always be important to take time to nurture and enhance intuition. And what are the benefits of listening to the the intuitive voice within? For one, I think it creates longevity – how many times has the pushing, punishing voice started you down a path only to have it falter and send you reeling backwards? I think intuition guides you to the best available path that life has to offer. I think that in the long run it makes life easier, not harder.
I write this because I know that so many women out there don’t have access to intuition in this way. So often life circumstances can lead to self-denial, impulsivity and/or self-doubt that intuition sadly gets left by the wayside. My belief though, is that we all have an inner voice that can guide us back to a healthy path and intuition, and that intuition can guide us towards a more fulfilling life.
Maybe to start, you can begin to take a look at where those pressuring voices come from in the first place. The push voice might come from well-meaning teachers and coaches. It might also come from a misguided concept of tough love. Maybe it comes from the critical voices of family or peers. If you listen, can you hear who is saying those words to you – or maybe who is implying those words to you? Does it really come from within? I think it’s important to question that. When part of our brain – the amygdala – is actually built to detect danger as part of basic survival – including in social survival – it’s really not so surprising that this part can feel so much louder. “If you don’t do well in the game/match/race/performance then you will let your team down!” “If you don’t get an A on this test then your peers will surpass you and you’ll be left behind!”
Not to say that pushing through doesn’t have it’s time and place, because I believe that it can and does. But how do you know which way to go? When you’re in recovery for an eating disorder, there may be times when pushing through is a life-saving necessity and even though it may feel like crap, you can remind yourself that it’s temporary as you take steps to nurture healthy intuition all over again, or maybe for the first time.
I get that recovery can feel like all control is being taken away and that maybe the loss of control is one of the things you most feared to begin with. I believe you can still enhance intuition while you bring intention to work through recovery.
Next, try to identify your strengths, embrace them and build on them.
Let go of expectations and work with what is there in front of you.
Gradually you can learn to approach something instinctively rather than with conscious reasoning, because that’s literally what working intuitively is all about.
Nuances matter the way that brush strokes matter or the way composition matters through the lens of a camera.
Do this through mindfulness as you consider nuances in each part of your body, how it feels and how it works. As you consider your environment and take in what supports you and what doesn’t. As you consider your thoughts to identify what is helpful and what isn’t. As you look in the mirror and verbalize the things you can admire in all that you are and do in physicality, character, and style.
Do this through art making. Just because we can’t draw like Renoir, it doesn’t mean we can’t engage in self-expression that resonates with who we are, and open our eyes to what markings are still beautiful in their own right. Where would we be without people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem De Kooning, and Ralph Stedman – artists who’s art might be considered perfectly imperfect? What would happen if you allowed yourself the same consideration?
Take watercolors for example, which can be one of the most frustrating mediums to work with. It’s only because I’ve learned to embrace all the nuances they have to offer that I’ve come to love the process. Painting on wet paper is a completely different experience than painting on dry, especially as you watch colors bleed into one another; when you allow water to create natural movement. Or when you learn to direct the water to concentrate flow and have pigment follow its path. Or when you allow one part to dry only to come back to it to later and create a sense of shadow and depth. To make each brushstroke thick with pigment or watery and translucent. To manipulate pigment with media like rubbing alcohol or sea salt. Watercolor is my favorite “letting go” medium because there are so many factors that contribute to unpredictability and yet you can still create guidance within that realm that can feel so satisfying. It’s as though you let go of control while gaining a sense of control at the same time. It’s not about becoming a master watercolorist (though it may happen for some), it’s about paying attention. When you apply a similar approach to almost any other medium, it only gets easier. I know for me at least, that once I start practicing intuition with small decisions, I find that the big decisions can move intuitively as well.