I feel that since the moment we became tiny beings newly earth-side, we’ve been taught not to trust ourselves. Not to believe that inner voice that is the true connection to our self. I’ve seen it – and lived it – many times over. A well meaning parent (myself included) will redirect a child: don’t do that you’ll fall; don’t run you’ll trip; put that down there could be a spider in there… of course these warnings are given not with the intent to harm but rather the opposite and often out of love. However, recently I’ve come to wonder what the ongoing impact of these well intended yet undermining words have had on our long term wellness? By wellness I refer to our all-encompassing wellness: mind, body and spirit. What impact has the undermining of our natural curiosities had on our abilities to trust in our own knowledge and thoughts?
Let me step back and dissect this for a moment… How is it that we come to possess our knowledge: how is it that we come to know what it is that we know?
It was back in 2004 when undertaking my first ever postgraduate study that the theory of knowledge came across my path. I was required to write an essay on Carper’s (1978) ways of knowing in nursing vs intuiting knowledge. Oh, if I could find that essay now, this post would be done! That was the first High Distinction grade I’d ever received for a written assignment and the first time that I actually understood the reasoning behind the theory… I just got it. I will admit, sometimes my mind sees more (and faster) than I can put into language, but I found myself fascinated with the concept of having different ways of knowing stuff; and the concept of intuiting this knowledge. You see, I decided that instead of arguing that we either drew from our knowledge or used our intuition when making decisions, that they were actually one and the same. Bear with me.
Looking around the vast array of information on knowledge theory readily available on the web I can see that Ms Carper’s “Ways of Knowing in Nursing” is not far from current philosophical schools of thought on the origins of knowledge; although many sources have broken the concepts down further into eight ways rather than four. To make it easier, and because it is familiar to me, I will use Carper’s four ways of knowing (Empirical, Personal, Ethical, and Aesthetic) here and relate it as best I can to broader life.
Empirical knowledge refers to the things we know which are factual – they can be verified. Often scientifically, and always faultlessly. We know we need food to eat. We know we need to sleep to be well. We know the grass is green, the water is wet, that there is night and there is day. Our personal knowledge comes from our own understanding of what is; our core values; our own experiences; and to some degree our ability to experience empathy. Ethical knowledge comes from our own intrinsic value systems and understanding of morality. And aesthetic knowledge is what we can see, hear, feel or touch in the entirety of the current moment or situation: what is the here and now?
All of these four things make up the ways in which we know all of the things we know. Some things are instinctual – a newborn babe knows the feeling of hunger and that the breast will satisfy them. The rest we gather throughout our life journey. We unconsciously file this knowledge away for when we might need it.
But what is that feeling we get? That inner voice or that sense that something is right or wrong? What is it that tells a mother that her child is in trouble before the cry is heard? What is it that tells us to leave a dangerous situation, before the danger is even evident? What is that yearning? I’m sure you’ve felt it. The longing for change, for something different. Travellers call it the wanderlust. Some people experience it when they need to be by the sea, the bush, the city or the country. That feeling we sometimes get about an acquaintance where you just know something is not quite right with the interaction.
Most people call it Intuition.
I think it is fair to say that the general definition of intuition is knowledge that appears in our consciousness without being able to pin point the reasons for it being there. We are not consciously aware of the empirical, personal, ethical, or aesthetic reasoning behind an intuitive thought. Intuitive thought could be described as instinctual, like breathing, eating, drinking, seeking shelter. Believe it or not, humans are born as inherently instinctual as most of the animal world – in my work as a midwife I have seen women who are labouring undisturbed reach deep into their inner being and birth with instinctively driven, raw and primitive behaviours. I have seen fresh born babes crawl toward their mothers breast displaying rooting behaviours, searching tirelessly for the nipple and the first quench of their thirst. These are not learned behaviours. These are instinctive behaviours. Drawing from my empirical and aesthetic knowledge of our ability as a species to act on instinctive behaviours, I know that we as human beings are capable of acting on the knowledge we intuit. Is intuition not then a part of our instinctual behaviour?
I know people who call this inner voice God. Some feel it is spiritual. The semantics don’t matter: I personally think intuition comes from our inherit knowledge. I think it is our inner self, our intelligence working for us, drawing from all the things we have come to know over the years: guiding us by our knowledge. Innate knowledge, God, a spiritual connection: by whichever name you’d like to call it, why do we so often dismiss instinctive intuitive thought?
If our inherit knowledge comes from empirical, personal, ethical and aesthetic ways of knowing… it is reasonable then that I suggest that these ways of knowing work together on a subconscious level to inform our intuition, a form of instinctual thought processing. In this way it feels like we just know… we don’t know why we know, we aren't aware of which way of knowing has informed our intuitive thoughts, our mind is working in the back ground using the network of things we know to react instinctively, sending us protective intuitive thoughts. Yet we so often ignore our intuitive thought, our gut, our hearts.
Think back to the first paragraph… how many times as children were we told not to trust our instinctual curiosity because it was unsafe? How often was the urge to run, jump, play with rocks, sticks, in the long grass, or with fire stamped out of us, and dismissed as dangerous? Is this the way we unlearn our instinct to trust our intuition? In this scientific world where proof in the onus on all, perhaps we have lost faith in our intuitive selves?
You must know what I mean… how many times has something not turned out how you wanted and you’ve said to yourself “I knew that would happen”. How many times have you had a “bad” feeling about something and did it anyway and then regretted it? How many times did you know you should speak up, did not, and then regretted it later?
For me, so many times. All of the times. Over and over again. And each time I say to myself: “I knew it, and I didn't listen”.
So the next part of my journey toward authenticity is finding the skills to relearn how to trust myself as I tune back into my intuitive side. Surrendering to the journey. Some of you may may call this prayer. Some of you may call it meditation. Some of you may simply call it thinking… I’m not going to impose any particular belief system on you. I think these are simply different terms for the same thing: loving ourselves, trusting that we know and living authentic lives. Because if we don’t learn and grow from our knowledge, what is the point of it?
Reading list if you feel so inclined…