Friday, February 24, 2017

Letting intuition take the lead

Two days ago, I had to make the decision to have one of my pet chickens put down. Her abdomen had filled with fluid, leaving her visibly uncomfortable with only a day or two left to live had I not intervened.

The vet let me know that we had a couple of options. Both would prolong her life (by a week or by years), and both posed their own risk.

Those who know me well, know that all of my animals, feathered and furry, are my children. And while many of you might be thinking, “it’s just a chicken!”, for me, the decision to put down Sunshine was not an easy one. Walking through these decisions, without any definitive, convincing facts to inform me of the “right” and “wrong” path, left me contemplating whether I was even capable of making a "right" choice. 

In these moments of disconnect between feeling and logic, is it okay to make decisions based solely on a gut feeling?

Brain research tells us that the intuitive brain, dictated by the right brain and the limbic system, operates much faster, more efficiently, and accurately, than the slower, rational brain. The parts of the brain that control intuition have been around since prehistoric times and aided the survival of our ancestors.

I had a friend just today tell me that he was hiking this morning and that something told him to STOP and abort the hike. Later, he heard from the rangers that mountain lions were roaming the area at that time, probably hungry after hiding from the intense rainstorms we've had the past couple of days. Listening to his gut may have saved his life, or at least one of his limbs.

It’s okay to not understand before we act. Sometimes there are things that we have to act on (or not act on) that are beyond our comprehension. Maybe our nonverbal and visceral understanding are enough.

I had a recent experience at work where I had to make a decision about "what is best for our school".  I struggled with this decision as I tried to make sense of why I felt the way I did. I wanted to be able to convince myself and others unequivocally about why this was the right decision.  Yet I found myself unable to provide a satisfactory argument.  I would get glimpses of the why when I was deep in thought or just going about my day to day tasks (in other words, when my mind was preoccupied with other things), yet I could never fully articulate my rationale. I perceived that there was a reason...but what was that reason???  Guided by intuition in a situation that would normally require hard evidence, I felt like a bad preschool director, a bad teacher, a bad person, even a complete failure at times, because I did not have a clear, verbal context for my decision.

But maybe some things can only be experienced through a different set of receptors, processors, and intuitive layers.

Maybe I'm having an experience that, just because I can’t justify in a court of law, or convince anyone else of the validity of my point, doesn’t make it any less credible or real.

Maybe my own "right and wrong" are personal and don’t conform to conventional rules of debate.

Sometimes I just have to do what I feel is right, even if what I “think” is best vacillates between multiple extremes, or is a vastly unpopular decision.

Sometimes decisions and actions must be dictated by a deeper sense of knowing.

In a recent study at Bangor University (read about it here), researchers demonstrate the brain's predisposition to appreciate poetry before the conscious mind detects what is happening. Professor Guiallume Thierry and his colleagues measured brain activity of participants and observed positive responses to poetic sentence structures even when the participants could not consciously identify the "poetic" source. 
The inspiration was undetectable by the mind and yet was very real as measured by brain scans.

So…there's a lot going on in the subtle, less attention-seeking parts of the brain.

Internal wisdom may continue to evade my understanding, but the limitations in my meta-cognition won't stop me from making gut decisions.

Children operate on the same platform that we do. I can trust their little impulses as part of this divine, yet quiet, intelligence. I don't have to correct the things they say and do because it doesn't fit into my expectations about logic and rational living.  I can trust that their internal guidance system is based on a wisdom that, at some point in prehistory, may have meant our ancestors' very survival.

I made the right decision about Sunshine. It was her time, and it was our time. I feel pretty sure about that.  Today I can accept the limitations of my thinking and just go with my gut. 

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