When I started studying intuition, in my quest for understanding what is real, I wanted solid proof. I wanted to experience something that could demonstrate without the shadow of a doubt that intuition exists. What I found is that understanding intuition, much like understanding beauty, art, or emotion, is about placing one’s attention and choosing a vantage point. There is no absolute, universal or all-around-right in intuition. ~ Alina Bas, Skeptics Guide to Intuition: How Developing Intuition Can Improve the Way You Live and Work (Difference Press, 2013)
In the Skeptics Guide to Intuition: How Developing Intuition Can Improve the Way You Live and Work, Alina offers an insightful perspective on a subject that has often been derided as woo-woo at best and criminally fraudulent at worst. But, there are times in life that we could all use all the help we can get, whether or not we understand its source. And who among us has not had an unexplainable hunch, a ‘gut-feeling’ or an unexpected flash of insight?
So, while Alina does not expect the reader to suspend judgment and skepticism, she does ask for an open mind to try to understand where intuition comes from and how it can be useful. She explains clearly what intuition is and what it is not and how you can benefit from it. She laces the book with experiments and exercises that are designed to help you to develop your own intuitive skills (which may involve some talent but mostly involves learning and practicing like any other skill) and provides a number of credible references.
I found this intelligent and thoughtful book to be engaging and enlightening. I certainly learned some unexpected and useful things about how a more conscious use of intuition could improve my life. I recommend it for anyone who has always had a closet curiosity about the subject but has been too skeptical to explore it further. After all, as Alina writes:
If intuition doesn’t exist, but you believe in it, the worst you can lose is the time you have invested learning about a subject that makes you curious. If intuition exists and you don’t believe in it, you are potentially forfeiting the benefits that you can reap from learning to read and use energy. It is, at the very least, worth your time to seek more information on intuition and then decide whether it is something that may be useful to you.
KM:You say in the book that your journey to understand and develop your intuition began a little over twelve years ago. Did something in particular happen in your life to trigger this decision?
AB: I was curious about intuition my whole life. When I was about 6 years old, I dreamt of having a magical tabletop-sized city of toy people who would live their lives much like real people do. I dreamt of having the ability to see what they need, and help them – carry them within their city faster than they could walk, get them something that they needed, but couldn’t afford, help them make friends with someone they might like, but wouldn’t meet on their own. It may sound like meddling, but my idea was more about deep understanding and facilitating the changes that needed to happen. Ultimately, this is the gift that intuition offers: perceiving without boundaries, and shifting energy to make things happen.
Having grown up in a family of engineers and programmers, as a child I heard of energy readers mostly in a negative context: stories of psychics who pretended to tell people’s fortunes, but really just hypnotized the unsuspecting customers and stole their money. It sounded like a fraud (and it probably was). Still, I was curious whether it was at all possible to have direct knowledge of something without having studied it - an accurate gut feeling.
As a young adult, I met several people who claimed to be psychics. They all said they’d inherited their supernatural powers from their mothers and grandmothers, and none of the psychic’s predictions ever panned out.
Around 1999, I attended a group class on intuition with Maria Papapetros. She gave me a very precise answer to a general-sounding question, sharing information that could not have been picked up from the question itself or from my appearance, and would not have been applicable to general population. Maria proceeded to share that intuition is a learned skill that anyone can master, much like any other area of expertise. It was the first time I’d heard anyone say that intuition could be learned, rather than inherited as a “magic power.”
Later that year, I combed through the shelves of Barnes & Noble and came across the book Practical Intuition by Laura Day, in which Laura shared hands-on exercises for developing and testing one’s intuition. I started studying with Laura in NYC, and the rest is history.
KM: You quote Dr. Marta Sinclair and Dr. Neal M. Ashkenazy's definition: "Intuition is a non-sequential information processing mode, which comprises both cognitive and affective elements and results in direct knowing without any use of conscious reasoning." This sounds very much like tapping into the right brain to me. Is there any evidence to suggest that intuition resides here in the same way that analytical, sequential thought resides in the left brain? And, if so, are we not simply using more of our brain when we take a “step to the right” as Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor so beautifully describes it?
AB: That’s an excellent question. I haven’t come across studies in which researchers looked at brain activity with the use of electrodes, while subjects were using (or seemingly using) intuition. Without such studies, we can’t give a definitive answer to the question of where in the brain intuition resides. Interestingly, intuition is often referred to as “gut feeling-” because we often seem to physically experience intuitive nudges from the pit of our stomach. Think of the solar plexus, or enteric nervous system - a vast network of nerves that is often called “a second brain.” So, if you are looking for a place where intuition “resides,” that could be the place to look, although without scientific peer-review studies, this is just speculation.
From my studies and experience, intuition is simply extending your senses - sight, hearing, taste, olfaction, touch - in space and time. In the same way musicians can train themselves to hear the differences between notes, and label them accurately, and in the way artists can train themselves to see a wide spectrum of hues that seem the same to an average observer, we can all train ourselves to perceive information that may currently seem indistinguishable to the untrained. I hope one day scientists will be able to say with certainty which part of our nervous system we use for intuition, and precisely how we use it.
KM: You've written about intuitive “hits and misses” and the difficulty with determining whether a prediction was really wrong just because it failed to play out the way the psychic predicted. And, at any given moment we have many potential futures and any single action can change the outcome. Indeed, there's no point in making any change if it's not going to affect the future. Why, I wonder, are we so quick to scoff at psychics for getting it wrong but let the weatherman get away with being wrong just as often, if not more often, using supposed scientific tools and methodology?
Ha-ha-ha… I love your questions. J I would say that meteorologists use well-researched methods that are generally understood and accepted in the scientific community. These methods can be taught consistently and reliably, using measurable, verifiable facts related to weather conditions. Meteorologists can be wrong because weather-related facts and situations continue to change.
In contrast to meteorology, there haven’t been well-researched and scientifically accepted methods of teaching intuitive abilities. Also, there seems to be a struggle to consistently measure and verify facts on which intuitive ability training is based. Of course, one could keep a journal and such, but ultimately, I believe that a scientific approach is needed in order to determine causation vs. correlation, or coincidence.
Having said that, I don’t believe we must wait for research to catch up before trying to study and use intuition. Observing and experimenting with intuition, as well as documenting our observations, make a great start to the study of any subject, including intuition. We don’t have to draw conclusions quite yet - just allow the possibility that we can learn to use our senses in new ways, consistently and reliably. Laura Day is doing a tremendous job teaching her intuition students to extend their senses in order to retrieve information or impact our surroundings. I’ve also seen my analytical, skeptical, left-brained students make great strides in getting useful information from their gut feelings. So, I know it can be done. And I believe that science will catch up, with a well-tested and researched system for learning and using intuitive skills.
KM: Hm. I'd still like the meteorologist to be right a little more often! Let's move on to the type of intuitive that has had perhaps the most scorn heaped upon it. The medium! Mediumship has gotten a bad rap because, you say, mediums have been badly misrepresented. The way you describe their work, it sounds to me a lot like extended empathy to me. Would you elaborate?
AB: Yes and no. By definition, empathy implies one’s ability to recognize the other person’s emotion, and respond in a caring way. Empathy also requires presence of certain cues: observing the other person’s behavior, learning about his beliefs, or being privy to a situation that one can adequately interpret based on previous experience.
From my experience, mediumship does not require any of these conditions. An experienced medium simply needs to be keenly aware of her own experience of being herself (you’d be surprised how many people are unaware what it really feels like to be in their own bodies), and a clear target. A target could be a person, a place, or even a situation such as a business deal, for instance. A medium would embody the target, which means that instead of experiencing the feelings in her own body, the medium would experience what the target experiences, using her own body, and describe her experience to the client. The intuitive reader could then use empathy by looking at her target “from the outside,” sharing with the client what it feels like to be the target, and what the target may need, in the context of the client’s question.
The thing that seems most unusual about mediumship to a logical person is this: in the absence of information about the target (often, the only information that the reader gets about the target is an initial), where in the world does a reader get information from? From my experience, I believe that getting this information is a developed skill. Everyone can at least try to develop intuition, just to have an understanding of new ways for using one’s senses.
KM: There is no harm in opening one's mind! What final thoughts would you like to leave us with?
Intuition could be a fantastic source of information, especially when we feel stuck while overanalyzing a situation. We can either learn to receive intuitive information and use it in conjunction with logic, or we can deny intuition’s existence until science catches up and offers undeniable proof of it. I urge you to err on the side of allowing a possibility of intuition, and learn to use it as one of life’s navigation tools. I am not advocating giving up logic, so really, we have nothing to lose by adding intuition to our tool set.
And in the same way one can’t learn to draw by reading about drawing, and one can’t learn to play an instrument by reading about music, one has to allow himself to experiment with intuition in order to learn to capitalize on it. I hope every reader will allow for the possibility of intuition as a useful tool, and watch as the (seeming) miracle unfolds.
KM: What's next for you, Alina?
AB:Many of my executive coaching clients are highly analytical thinkers. As a left-brainers myself, I meet them where they are at, and at the same time I'm starting to integrate intuition into our work together when clients are open to it. We approach this either by helping clients develop their own intuition, or by me getting intuitive information For them (or both).
I would like to bring intuition into corporations as an expansion of my Organizational Development and Leadership Development work. It is my experience that whenever leaders learn to understand how their gut feeling signals, they notice an improvement in their decision-making ability, deep engagement, and overall sense of well-being.
I will continue offering workshops on the subject of Intuition for Skeptics and Left-brainers, custom-designing for specific groups as well as teaching hands-on workshops that are open to the public. My next program, Intent & Alignment: Using Intuition to Make Things Happen in Your Life, will be held in NJ on Wed, 6/25, 9-10:30 p.m., catering to busy professionals. You can learn more about this workshop at http://intuitionleap.com/events/
KM: Thank you. Alina, for a thoughtful and informative book and a lovely interview. You've certainly renewed my interest in intuition!