Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Do We Know?

When things don’t go the way we’d hoped in our lives we often wonder, “What was I thinking?!” It is both the curse and the blessing of being a writer that I can actually go back and find out exactly what I was thinking and feeling- because I wrote it down!

So I recently pulled out the journals I’d written during the first year of my relationship with my now ex-husband. Please understand me: I was not trying to determine if I could have avoided the pain of separation by not going into the marriage. Nor was I looking for a foolproof way to only make risk-free choices in the future. I am a human being, and I am old enough not to waste energy trying to be something else.

I did want to learn as much as I could- for myself and those I work with- about how we know what we (think/feel we) know and what determines whether or not we are true to or abandon our own deepest knowing. I wanted to know if I’d seen what was coming and ignored it, or if I hadn’t foreseen it at all. It was hard to know what to hope for- the former would mean that I’d gone unconscious and ignored what I knew, and the later could mean I just hadn’t been very aware, or that, as is always the case- a great deal is unknowable.

And, as these things can pretty much be predicted to go, it turned out it was a little of all three, although the thing that surprised me most was how much of what had been hard and ultimately made continuing together impossible, was there in those early journals. Alongside the record of the heady ecstasy of falling in love and my intermittent flashes that we might not share as many core values as I’d hoped, were my rationalizations for ignoring inner misgivings- arguments that dismissed my uneasiness as understandable nerves (I had been down this road before), that I was too picky and needed to learn to stretch emotionally, to trust more deeply, to accept the other as he was and let go of my attachment to things being a certain way. (Sadly, I did not extend the argument for acceptance to myself and what mattered most to me.)

Reading the journals raised a couple of important questions: How do we know what we think or feel we know? How do we know if the sense of a seemingly clear “Yes!” or “No!” is the voice of intuitive-instinctual wisdom or if it’s what Jungians would call one of our “complexes”- clusters of emotionally charged and emphatically clear aspects of our unconscious, usually clustered around old wounds. How can we tell when we are tapping into the trustworthy instinctual-intuitive wisdom of psyche (soul-heart knowing) and when we are being driven by the emotionally skewed perspective of unconscious and unhealed wounds?

I do not have any foolproof checklist, but I have found a few clues, indicators that might help us discern when we may be “off” about what we think/feel we know:

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing comes most clearly when we are aware of the body-self, because it is the wisdom of embodied soul. So, if in doubt: do something that pulls awareness into the body-self (go for a walk, lie down on the earth. do some yoga breathing and postures, dance.) And if you don’t know what brings you into your body-self awareness- experiment, find out. In contrast complex-ridden certainties tend to take us away from body-awareness, are heady- often presented as rational arguments in circumstances where logos it is not particularly useful (for example, when considering personal preferences and what has real feeling value for us.)

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing tends to be relatively simple, straightforward and instantaneous- a quiet and clear “yes” or “no.” Justifications for complex-ridden decisions tend to be convoluted and complicated (and often very entertaining!) only revealing the “right” choice at the end of lengthy argument (if only with ourselves.)

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing does not need to be justified. I know it because I know it. Questioned it does not become defensive or self-justifying. In contrast complex-driven decisions tend to become highly charged when challenged by inner or outer voices, and an air of self-righteous justification arises quickly and emphatically.

• Instinctual-intuitive knowing does not claim to know things it cannot know- like future outcomes or divine purpose. It is most often based on a sense of knowing the next step of the journey. Period. Complex-riddled decisions often claim to know what we cannot know: that our decision is being guided by if not dictated by a divine purpose or a “higher” power; that the outcome will be pain-free and wonderful on all levels for everyone involved. These kinds of claims ought to make our antennae tingle!

• Complex-driven decisions tend to push for speed to avoid imagined disaster. When this sense of I-must-choose-fast rises it’s a pretty safe bet that the choice being made is at least in part being driven by old fears and wounds. So, buy some time. Tell anyone else involved, or yourself, you’ll sleep on it, journal about it, dream with it. Take a beat. Give the quieter instinctual-intuitive wisdom a chance to find you.

You see the pattern, the flavour difference between the two? We each have to find our way of discerning between these two. It may take a lifetime to sense with consistency and will no doubt never be one hundred percent clear. But the taste of the two is decidedly different because they each serve a different master: one serves the soul’s agenda of expansion into and offering the world more of who and what we are; the other serves the agenda of the often frightened smaller self, seeking safety and the perpetuation of an illusion of sovereignty and control.

If we want to make our choices from the place of the soul’s priorities we have to develop the ability to discern the difference between the knowing of psyche/soul and the knowing that arises from old survival strategies. It’s a work in progress. It’s why we are here. And we do this, not to avoid pain or challenges, but to weave the one bright thread that is ours- the one that mirrors essence in the particular shape of the man or woman we are- into the collective tapestry of this shared dream.


  1. Profound, Oriah and I believe you've come close to unravelling this complex differentiation. I'm not sure most people will be as discerning with their life choices though. If it were simple, there wouldn't be as much heartache as there is. Maybe, in spite of our deepest level of intuitive wisdom, we want to test ourselves?

  2. Really appreciate today's blog, Oriah. Amazingly on key with where I am at this morning!!!! And those are wonderful distinctions that I will certainly reference in times of confusion. really happy to see those points on paper, they make a lot of sense.

    A couple things come to mind for me-
    I've recently ( for the first time in my life) decided to start listening to myself and do what i want, even if it may go against the grain, or most disturbingly, go against what somebody I care about wants. This is a real challenge for me, but it is incredibly fulfilling and pushing me to grow up and take responsibility for myself. YEA!

    However, I find that I keep needing to remind myself of the reasons why I made a certain decision. The emotional feelings keep coming back and I suffer from it greatly. I wish I could make a decision, deal with the pain and then move on. Unfortunately its not that simple! I've thought about this and what ive come up with is that I get so wrapped up in the emotion (maybe the heady stuff you were talking about)and it blinds me from my truth. If it's a really potent situation, I feel like I could whither away from not being strong enough to bear the feelings of hurting or disappointing somebody else... then that leads to doubting my choices and could easily slip back into the role of submission and people pleasing, etc. Or start apologizing for the things ive done, when really, i dont need or want to be doing that. Thankfully i am building a nice new garden of supportive people to remind me, and help keep me grounded, people that are working on themselves and their truth like i am, which is extremely helpful. i think i am really scared to fall into that role again, I get lost in it and cant see clear.

    I felt the need to bring this up, (actually, i feel a lot of things surfacing from todays blog) and now that I am writing this out I can sort of see the distinction on justifying and of reminder, and i feel this is an example of some of that grey area that you wrote about. Wondering if you or anyone have any thoughts on this.
    Thank you so much oriah!!!

    With love,

  3. What an interesting and helpful post.
    Many years ago, I too kept journals during the last few years of my own marriage before it fell apart. I think in re-reading these, the truth of my own heart was very apparent in the pain that I was describing, but I was definitely doing a lot of the self justification and arguing that you describe, Oriah, in order not to have to reach the conclusion that was later forced upon me anyway.

    I hope I've grown a little better at hearing the wisdom of my soul, but yes, it may very well take an entire lifetime to become truly self aware.

  4. Starsister Oriah-

    I am that,i am that singing bird with a green bough in my beak-there is One Family per Planet-you and i are in it-you can choose how much you are of it.Why is it that ,what you learn after you know it all is what counts?I am ready for myself-why not?If i want to be ready for you? If i am not ready for myself-how could i be ready for you? When a pickpocket sees a saint,all he sees is his pockets(Thank you Gurdieff) Why are we attracted to what supports us? If you want to help the women and children when the plane is going down-make sure you put your oxygen mask on first!It's not selfish it's intelligent,You can't give what you don't have-so give it to yourself If you want to give it to others-then you can have it to give!

    thank you Oriah for your Invitation-i love poetry and it's a master piece- i invite you to check out UNICATION-we are not alone!"I know nothing and i can prove it"{-would you buy a tank top that said that? is an new word in the English language-check it out when you have time-let me know how it feels

  5. This is a wonderful and thought-provoking post, I am 71 years old and have kept a journal most of my adult life. Reviewing my journals not only answers the question "What was I thinking?" but also reminds me of who I was and the context of my life at that time. They help me to remember who I want to be and to evaluate my priorities. Please young women, don't beat yourselves up. You do have a lifetime to grow. Take your time. lizzie

  6. Lizzie, well it's been awhile since I was called "young woman" -but I am old enough to appreciate it is all relative :-) O

  7. Hello Oriah, Just saw your post for the first time and wanted to comment. There is a saying "Never let what you fear intrude on what you know." These few words clarified for me the fear basis for many decisions I've made despite my inner knowing. If we take the time and bring forth the bravery to confront our fears in a decision, i.e. going through with a relationship because we are afraid to be alone on any level, then we will meet our true self. I believe it is not just the old sorrows but the fears that those sorrows have produced within our psyche. I also believe that a true decision of our soul has a warm peaceful energy and those made from the complex-driven place - we don't feel them in the same place at all and if we keep asking why, we can reveal the real basis for any decision. All of this takes the commitment to awareness of our selves so we know the difference. Linda in Santa Fe

  8. Thank you. This distinction is something I have been trying to find for a very long time. Thank you.

  9. Oh, I so totally agree that it is difficult to know "who" is speaking, especially for the "big" decisions.

    And like you, I have often found myself with the need to "push for speed" about something that would be better slept upon.

    Fortunately as I get older and with more experience behind me, I tend to move/think slower and am not so tempted to act as fast.

    Thanks for the reminder

  10. love this. tweeted it with all and many.
    grateful for you, always.

    i wrote today over at my still sundays post how words are sacred. we know.

    a long update cometh your way, it's been awhile but you are never out of my mind.

    i read, even if i don't comment. i also share on with others.

    with love and gratitude,


  11. I too find myself saying sorry when I know there is no reason to do so. I fall back into those old patterns and then get mad at myself for doing so. I have often made speedy decision your blog has given me the reason why I do that. thank you for that. I now need to step back and wait for wisdom to come. Spirit spoke to me today. until we cross paths again--mary lou

  12. Oriah...thank you sooo much for reminding me and others to stand in the stillness to allow our life force to arise that we may hear inner intuitive self speak. Thank you also for reminding us of the importance of sharing our lives with the ones that show up for our inner growth and awareness. Much love to you for sharing your journey with us and living well.

    Peace and blessngs, Sacredflower