How to know yourself without having any answers

I frequently hear myself jabbering on about ‘inner wisdom’. I’m more and more convinced it’s a real sense. How do you reach it?

apple and core

The head and the heart. © Laura Lloyd 2015

When decision-making is an agonising tangle

What university should I go to? Should I take history or psychology for my humanities subject on the IB? Should I stay with my boyfriend even though he cheated? Should I leave my job? Should I retrain as a ————- (yoga teacher? florist? marriage guidance counsellor? investigative journalist? illustrator)? Let’s make a baby tonight! Hold on, maybe in about three months. Maybe I should do an MA quickly! Should I keep my maiden name or change to my married one? Should I prioritise blogging, eating meals slowly, or fitting in enough siestas?

“You think too much”, says my friend. I have done all my life. I do. But how else are you supposed to make all the fiddly decisions in life, other than turning your head into a flow-chart machine that names goals, works backwards, extrapolates forwards, tests all possible outcomes.

Think with your heart

Inner wisdom is the part of you that knows what’s right for you, without really having to think about it at all. It’s a deep, unscientific, intuitive, heartfelt way of knowing. A being way of knowing. A peaceful way of knowing, that just kicks in when you show up with a clear head in a situation, without any advance decisions having to be made.

Bypass your scaredy brain

The most wonderful description of how inhibiting our minds are is laid out elegantly in Lisa Esile’s supersimple and fun download Seven Secrets Your Mind Doesn’t Want You to Know. It’s been a stonker of a successful free download – it must have touched so many people – she’s now working it up into a book commissioned by Penguin.

In it, she says that the brain is frightened; that it is constantly scanning the past; that it’s a computer that lacks intelligence and actually just tries to make predictions and anticipate consequences; that it’s a power-hungry policeman that resists change and tries to control and protect you against everything, whilst still convincing you that it’s really open to change.

How?

Dr Amy Johnson, psychologist-turned-psychospiritual-life-coach, is fond of saying that your thinking is ‘like the weather’. You just have to wait for the gaps in the clouds, and use these clear spots to take action.

You don’t have to ‘clear your mind’ of thought, or retrain your thought. You just have to be calm, and patient, and have the awareness to notice the uncluttered moments of presence when they come.

Is this something to do with Mindfulness?

Yes, mindfulness has brought me to believing in inner wisdom. If only because it’s slowed me down. And it’s made me see that there’s a part of me that’s busy being alive, that’s hearing my thoughts but is not my thoughts. Consciousness.

If you’ve done the first ten free meditation sessions available on Headspace, you might remember the lovely little animation about the traffic? In it, a man watches his thoughts like watching passing traffic.

Bodies hold wisdom

When I wonder: what’s the difference between an urge to eat and a real appetite? How will I, or anyone else, know the difference?

The answer is that your real appetite is your body wisdom speaking to you. The more you listen to it, the more clearly you can hear it. The urges are just loads of other mental clutter. You can listen to them too, but you probably won’t feel deeply satisfied afterwards. Try satisfying them and then listening.

Take yourself into the situation and see what you do

A few weeks ago I left my children in my husband’s care for two nights and flew to the UK to look at a plot of land in a small village in Cornwall. We’ve been probing for over a year, with an idea to build a house in that part of the world. Flying there was pretty impulsive, but I felt strongly that if I went there, I’d know if it was right or not.

It was definitely the right thing to do, and the land spoke to me, or I spoke to myself in a calm happy way about it, and I felt that it was indeed the right place. Even though I don’t know how to build a house. Even though we didn’t know the answers to a thousand logistical and financial questions.

Wait for the gap between the clouds of thought – the moment of clear feeling

That’s the bit you can trust. The feelings of rightness weren’t there immediately. We parked the van, and I had a lot of thoughts about whether we’d got the right place, and whether it would live up to my hopes and expectations. I wasn’t even sure if I would feel strongly either way about the place, having come all that way I might end up just as confused, and that anxiety was there too. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see it. Was I in the right frame of mind?

It was strange being in a real space after looking at the plans on paper. For a start, the garden sloped upwards from the area where the house would be built, whereas I’d imagined from diagrams that it would slope downwards. The level area was a patch of rubble, a negative space – how would I feel anything about that?

There was music drifting up from the valley – the village was coincidentally having its annual ‘fun day’ and there was a steampowered Dutch organ playing wurlitzer music down on the playing field below. It was very sunny and dragonflies were whizzing around.

When I climbed the overgrown steep garden, there was a rope swing attached to an oak tree, and when I looked at my dad on the rope swing, I suddenly realised what a fantastic view there was behind him, which made me exclaim out loud. The valley could be glimpsed, with a viaduct. Gosh! That’s when I knew: in the moment when surprise jumped over my questioning, jolted me into awareness.

I’m not in control of the outcomes and answers

But the decision-making was my responsibility, and I did that.

Five weeks later and it seems quite possible that our purchase agreement on the plot of land might be slowly sliding into another sad gazumping/UK property purchase loopholes story.

But the thing is – and I take huge solace in this in these times of property-transaction-stress – we felt very sure of our decisions. And that was worth learning, or having, as an anchor for future conundrums.

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What’s the most intuitive decision you ever made? Did it turn out for the good? Dig into the comment thread below.