I went to a very earnest, down-to-earth Catholic school in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. One day in tenth grade, our teacher gave us photocopies of a chart. “Are you a Head, Heart, or Guts person?” the handout asked. And I remember thinking, ‘Religion class is such a waste of time,’ and ‘Of course I’m Head, Heart, then Guts, in that order—but mostly Head.’ I knew what it was to make rational decisions; I also knew what it was to feel swayed (rather violently) by teenage emotions. But at 15, I hardly knew what it meant to follow your guts. It sounded somewhat untidy and undignified, the images of intestines and a hyperactive thrill-seeker conflating in my head. By contrast, a person guided by intellect would be logical, luminous, and calm.
More than ten years later, I now know that I’m Guts, Heart, and then Head, in that order. This didn’t come about overnight—rather, I gradually realized that leading with my head was precisely what made life such a struggle for years. Trying to lead a rational, reasoned life sounds like a great idea, but it sets you up to have a false sense of control. If all goes as you planned (graduate from a certain school, go into a certain field, get married, and have 2 perfect children by 35), that’s fantastic. It’s probably awesome. But at the most critical moments in my life, I felt utterly helpless to have things go my way. Even though I planned ahead, sacrificed a lot for my goals, and had genuinely good intentions, I felt like fighting an uphill battle.
The biggest epiphany came when I fell for the wrong guy. All signs pointed clearly that I should stay away. But I reasoned with myself that it was okay to see him. After all, he was exactly what I thought I wanted, in terms of looks, presence, manners, and accomplishments. Months later, I despaired not only of the ugly breakup, but of the disappointment that I led myself down the wrong path. How could I have been so blind? I realized then that had I not been so hard-headed, and followed my intuition instead, I would have avoided the emotional crash-and-burn.
To “follow your guts” means listening not just to the instincts residing in your core, but also to your intuition—your inherent wisdom. In yoga this is represented by your sixth chakra, ajna, located between your eyebrows. Instead of imposing your will on the world (as I did, trying to change the guy I wanted) following your intuition allows your true path to manifest itself. Living this way can lead to paths that are at once inevitable and extraordinary—imagine the salmon traveling thousands of miles from the ocean, returning to the streams of their birth. The most extraordinary journeys of all are guided not by itineraries and maps, but by the compass of your intuition.
Are you ready to live more intuitively? Here are ways that you can put this into practice.
1. Follow your instincts when it comes to the big decisions: Looking for the quickest route to the airport? Baking a birthday cake? Use your head (and a measuring cup). But if you are choosing between jobs, thinking of marriage, or confused about your life’s purpose, listen to your intuition. What makes you think, this is it?
2. Acknowledge the “baser” feelings: Instincts are not complicated emotions–rather, they are instant and often felt physically (i.e. fear, anxiety, disgust, or relief). Recognize and examine these reactions without judgment. For instance, what does it mean that you feel dread right before going out? Perhaps it means you are exhausted and need a relaxing night-in—or, maybe your friend has been self-centered and draining for the past few months, and it’s time to re-evaluate your friendship.
3. Awaken your third eye: Bring awareness to your ajna chakra with deep breathing. Sit in lotus position, your hands resting palm up on your knees, eyes closed. Inhaling slowly through your nose, imagine your breath travelling from the base of your spine to your third eye. Pause and hold the breath. As you exhale, imagine releasing the breath from the third eye to the base of your spine. At the end of each exhalation, pause and dwell in the moment’s peace. You may also try meditating on the color indigo, dedicated to ajna. To bring intense awareness to this chakra, you can also practice Nadi Shodana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing).
4. Use the power of your imagination: Making rational decisions is about the process of elimination—which means narrowing down until you reach the best option. By contrast, making intuitive decisions is about opening your eyes even to the choice that’s not immediately apparent. To do this, imagine yourself in your bliss moment when you were most truly peaceful, fulfilled, and happy—maybe when you were on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or when sat by the fireplace with your family on Christmas. Then ask yourself: What kind of choice would this person make?
Being guided by your intuitions doesn’t mean abandoning reason—it means allowing your perception to balance your consciousness. Since I’ve begun living more intuitively, so many things changed. After feeling like a floater for most of my life, I found my home, sweet home in an upper-west corner of New York. I left my secure but stressful job to the most fulfilling, fun, and rewarding job: Peaceful Dumpling. Most importantly, I met someone when I was completely off-guard, at a bar where no respectable relationships are known to be born—and yet, I knew in my core that he was the One. I’d never planned for any of these things to happen. But my intuition lets me know that these blessings were just meant to be.
Also see: 5 Ways to Get More Joy Out of Your Day
Photo: John Massie via Flickr/ Peaceful Dumpling