How to Know and Trust Your Inner Guidance
by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
Chapter One: What is Intuition and Where Does it Come From?
When we look at the world around us, we find a celebration of life in the universeshining through the stars, singing through the birds, laughing through children, and dancing with the wind in the trees. With all this beauty and diversity surrounding us, we sometimes yearn to feel more a part of it all. We want to sing in harmony with the "music of the spheres." What happens all too often, alas, is merely that we add discord by adhering adamantly to our own ego-generated notes.
We've all seen groups of little children singing. There's usually one child who has no idea of the melody being sung, but he or she wants so desperately to be a part of the activity, that he sings enthusiastically whatever notes he likes, adding charm, if not harmony, to the music. Perhaps less innocently than that child, we intrude our private wishes saying, "I want the world to be this way," or, "Come on, everybody, let's do it my way." In consequence, the world is full of disharmony, and we hear the cacophony on all sides.
How may we tune into the greater symphony of life? A friend of mine, when confronted with any new situation, approaches the problem this way: He asks, "What is trying to happen here?" How often do we insist, instead, on changing reality to meet our own desires? In the process, we lose sight of the over-all purpose. We struggle to make sense of life segment by segment instead of as an over-all flow. Viewing everything fragmentarily, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, no coherent picture emerges, no path, and no direction to guide our understanding.
There is a way for us to find that path, however•¿½to feel a part of that greater reality, and therefore to know what is right for us as individuals. That way involves opening ourselves and becoming receptive to higher potentials of consciousness within ourselves, and thereby of living in harmony with the world around us. It involves developing our own inner sense of intuitive guidance.
Intuition is the innate ability in everyone to perceive truth directlynot by reason, logic, or analysis, but by a simple knowing from within. That is the very meaning of the word "intuition": to know, or understand from withinfrom one's own self, and from the heart of whatever one is trying to understand. Intuition is the inner ability to see behind the outer forms of things to their inner essence.
We've all experienced occasional "lucky hunches," when we knew what street to take or what card to choose in a game without understanding how or why. This intuitive ability is latent within all of us. It can be developed consciously to bring clarity to all our decisions.
Intuition is neither feminine nor masculine. Sometimes we hear people talk about "feminine intuition," because intuition relates more to the feeling aspect of human nature, but, in fact, it is equally present in both men and women. I've observed, interestingly, that women are often more intuitive in their understanding of other people, whereas men are more so in the area of their work. But the truth is that intuition is calm, impersonal feeling. Women often experience life more by feeling in the form of emotions; men often tend to be more impersonal. A combination of the two qualities is what produces intuition.
For better or worse, every decision we make is influenced. It isn't possible not to be guided at all for the simple reason that we ourselves are fragments of a greater reality. We can say, however, "I choose to be guided by that which leads to my own and others' true happiness, rather than by that which ends in cul-de-sacs of suffering."
How are we influenced in the decisions we make? In part, it's our exposure to the mass consciousness of others around us, which affects us on obvious as well as on subtle levels. I'm not referring merely to the subliminal messages one receives while thumbing through a magazine or watching television. The influences I refer to are subtler still, and more powerful. We can't avoid them by shutting out sensory stimuli, because the very thoughts people think are all pervasive and deeply affect our consciousness.
Years ago in San Francisco, I had a very quiet apartment. At twelve o'clock noon it was as quiet as at three in the morning. It was interesting to note, however, that at three in the morning, there was a greater, pervading silence. I don't mean silence only to the ears, but to the mind, because people everywhere were asleep. The thoughts of those around you, even more than their words and the obvious messages they put out, definitely affect the way we act and think.
We can't escape these influences. We can, however, determine how they affect us, responding to those that lead to beneficial results of success in life and inner fulfillment. Influences that might bring less fortunate consequences can be filtered out by intuitive insight and recognized for what they really areseeming to proffer upliftment, while in the end, like opium, bringing devastation.
The Three Levels of Consciousness
We filter what influences us according to our habitual level of awareness. The totality of our consciousness is comprised of three levels: the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. These levels of consciousness represent differing degrees of intensity of awareness. As we move from one level to another, different kinds of influences will most affect us.
The first level, the subconscious, is relatively dim in awareness: it is the stuff of which dreams are made. We may think of it as the repository of all remembered experiences, impressions left on the mind by those experiences, and tendencies awakened or reinforced by those impressions. Every experience we've ever had, every thought, every impression of loss or gain, resides in the subconscious mind and determines our patterns of thought and behavior far more than we realize.
The subconscious, being unrestricted by the rigid demands of logic, permits a certain flow of ideas. This flow may border on intuition, but if the ideas are too circumscribed by subjectivity, they won't correspond with the external world around us. When we dream at night, we are mainly operating on the subconscious level. I remember a dream I had once many years ago in which I was flying. I thought, "This isn't what people do! How can I be flying?" Then the thought came to me, "Maybe I'm dreaming!" So I decided to think it through carefully: Was I awake? Or was I asleep? Reasoning it through logically, I decided on what seemed to me a perfectly rational conclusion that I was awake: I was only doing something out of the ordinary. A moment later I woke up: What was my surprise to find that in actuality I'd been asleep all the time!
Animals operate primarily on the subconscious level. In their fluid awareness, they have a certain degree of intuition. People who ride horses often find them responding instantly to their thoughts. A horse will often know as soon as you get in the saddle, if you're a good rider or not; it immediately senses who's in control.
I heard a story (related as true) about a cat that lived with a family in Wisconsin. The family had to move to Washington State some 1500 miles away. Deciding they couldn't take the cat with them, they reluctantly left it with a neighbor. They settled down in their new home and were there several months when, one morning, the cat appeared on their doorstep. He'd been able by intuition to follow and find them. You certainly can't attribute that to a developed sense of smelljust imagine the cat sniffing its way along the highway! Something else was at work: the cat's intuition!
When we're talking about animals, and even unaware actions of human beings, it's a mistake to speak of the "unconscious," as psychologists have done. There is no such thing as "unconsciousness." A universal consciousness, or God, has produced everything in existence. Even the rocks have consciousnessgranted a low degree of it, but the least germ of consciousness exists in every atom.
We can think of ourselves as atoms evolved finally to the level of self-awareness. At our stage of evolution, it's natural for the awakened consciousness in us to reach out with more dynamic awareness to even higher levels of consciousness. At first in this process, however, we may be only dimly aware that this is what we are doing.
The subconscious mind can all too easily intrude itself on our conscious awareness, tricking us into thinking we're getting intuitive guidance, when actually we're merely being influenced by past impressions and unfulfilled desires. The subconscious mind is in some ways close to the superconscious, where real intuition resides. Both represent a flow of awareness without logical obstructions. The subconscious is therefore more open to the intuitions of the superconscious, and sometimes receives them, though usually mixed with confusing imagery. To be really clear in the guidance we receive is difficult, but very important. Calamitous decisions have been made in the belief that one was drawing on higher guidance, when in fact one was responding only to subconscious preconditioning.
The next level of consciousness from which we receive guidance is the conscious state, the rational awareness that usually guides our daily decisions. When we receive input from the senses, analyze the facts, and make decisions based on this information, we are using this conscious level of guidance. This process is also strongly affected by the opinions of others, which can cloud our ability to draw true guidance.
Dividing and separating the world into either/or categories, the conscious level of awareness is problem-oriented. It's difficult to be completely certain of decisions drawn from this level, because the analytical mind can see all the possible solutions. But ultimately it doesn't have the ability to distinguish which one is best. If we rely exclusively on the conscious mind, we may find ourselves lacking in certainty and slipping into a state of perpetual indecision. We may find ourselves constantly wondering, "But what if this happens?" or "Perhaps that other way would have been better."
I've noticed a certain habitual response from people who primarily use the conscious mind in decision-making when they come to me for advice. If I offer a possible solution, their usual reply is, "Yes, but . . . Well, maybe on the other hand. . . ." If I suggest the answer they're seeking may lie in one direction, they'll counter with the possibility of other alternatives. They go around in circles and never seem to find a clear course of action.
Between the conscious and subconscious minds, dividing but also uniting them, lies a third level of awareness: the superconscious. This state begins at the fine dividing line between sleep and wakefulness. If you can catch your mind just at the moment when you are falling asleep, or at that fleeting instant before your consciousness rises to full wakefulness, you may find that you can slip gently into semi-superconsciousness, or enter into full superconsciousness.
Intuition and heightened mental clarity flow from superconscious awareness. The conscious mind is limited by its analytical nature, and therefore sees all things as separate and distinct. We may be puzzled by a certain situation, but because it seems unrelated to other events, it's difficult to draw a clear course of action. By contrast, because the superconscious mind is unitive and sees all things as part of a whole, it can readily draw solutions. In superconsciousness the problem and the solution are seen as one, as though the solution was a natural outgrowth from the problem.
Though the state of superconsciousness is latent in every individual, it's still unrealized in most people. By contacting it, we can become aware of our interconnection with everyone and with all life. Paramhansa Yogananda, a master in the science of yoga and meditation, could enter the superconscious state at will. He wrote a beautiful poem in which he describes this state of oneness with all as knowing the "thoughts of all men, past, present, to come."
In his Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda also described this state as "Center everywhere, circumference nowhere." When we reach our own inner center, we realize that the center of all beings is a part of our consciousness, and that nothing exists outside of that. Our intuition can effortlessly perceive the essence of any problem and the appropriate solution when we tap in to the superconscious state. Far from cutting us off from needs of others, superconscious awareness reflects the realities of all. Everything we do, then, is in harmony with the symphony of life, and in some way results in benefit for all.
Modern Western history largely reflects the predominance of logical, scientific over intuitive, superconscious perception. Today scientists presume to understand the universe by logic alone, because they assume that its laws are discernible exclusively by logic. But can logic alone create a poem or a symphony, or even bring a scientist a new discovery? The answer to this question is "no."
Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest scientific mind of our time, said that any true scientist needs a sense of mystical wonder and awe before the universe if he hopes to understand it. While yet a young man, he made his discovery of the Theory of Relativity based on an insight that came to him in an intuitive flash. He then struggled for many years to explain it logically to others, so that they too could understand it.
Similarly when we read about the great discoveries of science throughout history, they've all been based primarily on intuition. Perhaps the scientists followed a logical process from A to B to C, but then suddenly there was an inexplicable leap from C to Q. They try to explain the discovery rationally because they believe in the logical process, but ultimately it's intuition from the superconscious level that made the breakthrough.
An Exercise to Tap into the Superconscious Mind
Superconsciousness has its bodily center in the frontal lobe of the brain. The conscious state operates from the middle part of the brain; and the subconscious, from the lower brain. Thus, there is a kind of linear progression of awareness from subconsciousness toward superconsciousness. We can develop the ability to pass at will from one state of consciousness to another. A helpful practice in this regard is to ally your state of consciousness with the position of your eyes.
You will find, when you look down, that the mind tends more easily to drift into subconsciousness. When you look straight ahead, it is easier to shake off sleep's lethargy. And when you look up, it is easier to soar into higher consciousness and to feel higher guidance.
Practice this exercise:
1) Look down, closing your eyes. Feel yourself drifting downward as if sinking through waterthrough forests of waving seaweedever deeper into a green, misty world of fantasy. Enjoy this pleasant sense of freedom from earthly responsibility, from demanding projects, from fears, from worldly ambitions. Affirm mentally, "Through slowly drifting waters, I sink into subconsciousness."
2) Now, with a quick burst of will power, open your eyes and gaze straight ahead. Shake off the last clinging tendrils of passivity. Affirm, "With a burst of energy I rise to greet the world!"
3) Remain in that state a few moments. Then look upward and affirm, "I awake in Thy light! I am joyful! I am free! I awake in Thy light!"
Practice alternating between these three states of consciousness, accompanying them with a corresponding shift in the position of your eyes. Gradually, you will gain the ability to control your states of consciousness at will, and choose the level of guidance you receive.