“Am I doing this right?”
“How do I know I’m not just making it all up?”
“Is this real?”
Any of that sound familiar? These questions often arise when people begin to actively engage their intuitive perception. They are good questions because discernment is important when accessing intuition, but when over-applied they can also get in the way of intuitive development. I have witnessed many people go through this stage of intuitive development, and I went through it when I first started training in spirit work. Now, intuitive perception is an integral part of my personal life and occupation. The following is an introduction to the concept and application of intuitive perception.
First, what is intuitive perception?
One of the first issues that can arise is that intuition is often referred to without being clearly defined. In the first workshop I ever attended I was part of a ceremony in which I was supposed to “vision” for the community. I thought that meant that I would see something like I see with my eyes; in other words have a visual hallucination. That didn’t happen so I was left feeling that I was failing, that I couldn’t “vision”, that I wasn’t doing it right. Needless to say I didn’t have anything to contribute when asked to share my experience.
But the problem that night wasn’t that I couldn’t “vision” in the broader sense of the term, but that my understanding of the term was incorrect. “Visioning” isn’t necessarily about the visual sense; it’s a term used to refer more generally to what we call intuitive perception, and intuitive perception can happen through any sensory modality. I didn’t know this at the time so I got caught up in the “vision” part of the instructions. Secondly, I thought whatever I “saw” would be just like seeing in the physical world when intuitive perception is more like a sensory impression similar to daydreaming than a direct sensory experience.
When I was in graduate school for neurobiology I had a conversation with one of my professors about the brain and consciousness. One of the big questions in neuroscience is how the brain creates consciousness. At the time the research on this question was very limited with no resolution in sight. I was not yet in my “spiritual” phase of life so what I was about to ask my professor was somewhat unusual for me at the time: I asked him if he had ever considered that the brain may be perceiving consciousness rather than creating it. I was a little apprehensive about asking this non-materialist question, but to my surprise my professor said not only had he considered it he thought it was likely.
What does it mean to perceive consciousness?
If we look at the world as not being composed of physically separate beings, but as fields of interconnected consciousnesses then we’re getting at a theory of the mechanism of intuitive perception. If I am a field of consciousness within a greater field of consciousness that includes all living things, then I can communicate with other living things through the connection of consciousness. Whatever the “substance” of consciousness, it is the nature of it to be connected and intra-communicative. Note that this means that intuition is a natural part of being conscious and is not a gift limited to a few.
So as a conscious being it is natural to be able to communicate, through the perception of consciousness itself, with other conscious beings. This is my definition of intuitive perception.
Characteristics of Intuitive Perception
Intuitive perception happens through the clair-senses: information from consciousness interpreted through sensory impressions. Sometimes intuitive perception is like physical sensory perception, and sometimes it is like an impression of a sense, similar to what happens when we daydream or dream at night.
There is a clair-sense that corresponds to each physical sense. Clairvoyance (seeing) and clairaudience (hearing) often occur as sensory impressions: there is the impression that someone is talking to you, the impression of a visual scene. Because this kind of input is not as overt as our physical senses, it can take time learning what to attend to – sometimes these are called our subtle senses. But this is an important point to note for anyone developing intuitive perception – a lot of it happens through impression.
There is also clairtasting and clairsmelling though these occur more rarely. In my experience clairsmelling is indistinguishable from physical smelling and can be detected by other people in the vicinity. In one workshop I was hit by a strong scent of chamomile and assumed someone nearby was drinking a strong tea. But when the people around me started commenting on it and no one had tea, we realized it was a clairscent. It also happened to be thematically relevant to the content of the workshop, so it was a validation of what we were doing. A second instance of shared clairscent happened one day as I was walking into a cafe with two women. We were met by a strong scent of roses with no evident physical source nearby.
Clairsentience is sensing through bodily sensation and is often indistinguishable from physical sensation. A “gut reaction” can be a form of clairsentience. A sub-category of clairsentience is clairempathy which is the perception of emotional states, also often indistinguishable from our own emotions. As these clairsenses are close to our own, the question of where the information is coming from becomes especially important.
And lastly, clairgnosis is the sense of direct knowing. Clairgnosis is often overlooked as people can initially have a hard time trusting it as distinct from their thoughts and personal opinions. But clairgnosis is qualitatively different than personal thought content. What does it feel like to really KNOW something in an embodied sense rather than just think it? That is clairgnosis.
Intuitive perception can come through any of these channels, or any combination of channels, though people can have predilections for certain types of clairsensing. When I was first learning about intuitive perception my teacher had us do readings for each other using scrying – looking into a bowl of water. I gave it a go but soon realized that scrying was not my jam; trying to “look” into the water got me nowhere. So I dropped the scrying part and just read as I knew how by that point, mostly through clairgnosis, and the reading started to flow. This doesn’t mean I’m not at all clairvoyant. I believe that, like our physical senses, most people have some amount of access to all of the clairsenses. And like our physical senses, at any given moment we can receive information through different channels. When I do a reading it often comes through as a combination of clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, and clairgnosis.
It is important to not be attached to how the information is transmitted. There tends to be an emphasis on clairvoyance and a desire to experience input visually, but that is not the primary clairsense for many people. And some people, currently estimated at 1-3% of the population, can’t generate mental imagery and may not have access to clairvoyance.
Like any other sense, intuitive perception is not information on-demand and it’s not omniscience. It’s about being present to what is available in any given moment.
Pitfalls and Tools for Developing Intuition
When we are new(er) to the conscious use of intuitive perception there are some common characteristics of the transition phase. The main feature of the transition is that it takes time. Our habits of perception, what we are conditioned to think and value, can take time to adjust. My way of being in the world has shifted considerably over time. But it took a few years for me to become comfortable working with and trusting my intuition.
Many people experience similar areas of challenge during the transition phase. Below are suggestions for how to be present to these challenges while also not derailing your intention to become more intuitively attuned.
The Imaginal Interface – How do I know it isn’t just my imagination?
One aspect of cultural conditioning on this topic is the belief that imagination = unreal. This becomes a problem when developing intuitive perception because intuitive perception uses what I call the imaginal faculty. Yes, we can make things up using our imagination, but that doesn’t mean everything that occurs via the imaginal faculty is made up. To get intuitive perception flowing you can sometimes get traction by starting off like you’re making it up, but it soon becomes apparent that the experience has a life of its own. It also feels different to be creating something yourself in the imaginal realm versus perceiving it through the imaginal faculty. See if you can get a sense of the difference for you. For me there’s an effort to making things up in the imaginal realm and intuitive perception is more of a relaxed receptive state.
I would also challenge readers to get clear on what they mean by “real”. You may find there is not as much of a distinction as you tend to think. More useful questions may be: “What is the source of this?”, “Is it accurate?”, “Is it useful/beneficial?”
“Imagine” a scene in nature, a field bordered by some mountains. Now relax your creative effort and just observe the scene and notice how it changes. Then set the intention that a benevolent animal comes into the scene with a helpful message for you. Don’t make it happen, see what happens when you hold that intention. Just follow what progresses and dictate the scene as it goes. “I’m noticing this happening…”
Cultural Conditioning and the Materialist Bias
Those of us who grew up in cultures and families who devalue and dismiss intuitive perception may have some initial anti-intuitive conditioning to work through. In many mainstream Western cultures the intangible world is ignored, derided, and dismissed as not real. We want tangible proof that something exists. We’re afraid of being irrational or gullible. There’s a stigma of being “woo-woo”, as if an animist relationship with the world is silly and naive and belongs to a separate category of person rather than being an inherent part of the human experience.
Science is often misused to discredit that which is currently unknown via science. But it is not scientific to say something doesn’t exist because it cannot be proven by current scientific means. When there’s an unexplainable phenomenon, the scientific thing to do is to study it. Science is not the arbiter of reality. It is not meant to create a fixed perspective; it is a dynamic process of seeking, studying, and re-evaluating. When the evidence changes, so do the theories. Ignoring the evidence of currently unmeasurable phenomenon to fit a fixed materialist perspective is dogma not science.
Working with intuition does not mean dumbing down or ignoring science. Sometimes people think that being intuitive means being irrational, but intuition is not inherently irrational. You don’t become less rational when you tap into your intuition. Intuition is just another form of information, with which you can still exercise discernment. The important consideration with intuitive perception is not whether it is real, but rather where it is from; what is the source of the input and how much can that source be trusted to provide clear objective quality information.
Explore, seek, experience. It can take some time to reprogram your relationship to intuitive perception. Be aware of any way in which you have internalized the cultural bias and make sure it doesn’t get in the way of your exploring this terrain. Approach it with an open mind; seek out experience as evidence of existence.
Find allies. Associate with people and communities that are supportive. If you’re not part of a community that accepts intuition as real, it can take some psychological mettle to honor your own intuition without support from your immediate community. Finding people who you can relate to can be helpful.
Find resources that help you develop a new relational framework. You’re not the first person to experience this. There are scientists and other academics who do not operate from within a purely materialist framework. A good resource is the work of Rupert Sheldrake. See Science Set Free for a discussion on dogmatism within the sciences.
Many of us have ancestral wounds about intuitive perception: times in our ancestral histories when being connected intuitively was at best devalued and at worst persecuted. One historic transition that contributed significantly to the prohibition of intuitive perception was the spread of Christianity, or more specifically the controls of the church.
Whatever the reason, if you have ancestors who blocked their own intuitive perception, saw it as wrong or evil, or were persecuted for it, your access to that ability may be partially blocked as well. You may also have ancestors who are not keen on your reclaiming that ability, often in the interest of keeping you safe.
Do ancestral healing. There are ways of working with your ancestors to mitigate any effects of ancestral prohibition. You can engage this healing process yourself using Daniel Foor’s book Ancestral Healing and you can get support from trained facilitators.
Speak to your ancestors and set boundaries. For those who don’t know how to work within a container of protection, seeking more active contact with the ancestors can be problematic. I recommend you get support from a trained practitioner rather than try it on your own.
For those who know how to work within a container of protection, you can communicate with your ancestors and say some version of “thanks but no thanks” for keeping you safe in that way. “I am reclaiming this ability, and while I understand you may be blocking this because you are concerned for my safety, things have changed and I do not need that kind of protection.”
Intuition can be like receiving radio signals: sometimes the signal is strong and clear, sometimes it is weak, and sometimes there are multiple signals that need to be filtered. Sources of multiple signals include your own inner thoughts and feelings, the thoughts and feelings of people near you, the thoughts and feelings of discorporate beings near you, and transpersonal group trends. A good question of discernment when engaging intuitive perception is “Where is this coming from?” I have found that it is common for people new to trusting intuitive perception to get blocked by their concern of faulty signals – in particular worrying about the information being a projection of their own thoughts and feelings.
To make the matter a bit complicated, sometimes intuitive messages are conveyed through our personal symbolic repertoire – in other words the response to the intuitive inquiry can draw from your relevant personal experiences and frames of reference. Therefore personal thoughts, invoked memories, and feelings should not be automatically discounted. John Edward, a well-known psychic medium, was a movie buff. When he started tuning into his intuitive perception he would receive information through movie references. I sometimes get information in the form of popular songs I’m familiar with. Oracular interfaces like tarot decks give us a symbolic repertoire through which we can receive information.
Know thyself. For clarity of signal, personal healing work can make a big difference. Knowing yourself and your tendencies for psychological narrative and projection can give you a context in which to discern between the signals of personal thoughts verses intuitive guidance. But don’t categorize everything you perceive as a personal projection by default. If what you’re experiencing is unusual for you, or unlikely to be something you would think/feel, chances are good it’s not a projection.
Even when personal thoughts, memories, and feelings are arising don’t automatically discount them. Ask yourself if they can possibly be relevant to the intuitive inquiry. Stay focused on your inquiry and take into account everything that arises.
To filter multiple signals set boundaried ritual space. Set an intention for a safe, clear, and focused field of intuitive perception free of interference. Ask that what is perceived is only that which is relevant to the current inquiry.
Start simple with questions that can be responded to with yes or no. Get a sense of your perceptual baseline and notice what shifts in your perception when you state your intuitive inquiry. For me, a yes feels open and expansive and a no feels like a contraction or tightening. Try thinking of something that is charged and true for you, clear yes, and see how it makes you feel. Then do the same for a clear no, something that is charged and false for you. No response can be interpreted to mean there is no information available at this time, or the signal is weak or not getting through.
For a weak signal – set ritual boundaries and try methods of (controlled) altered states of consciousness like toning, meditating, or listening to a drumming track like the ones provided through the Harner core shamanism method.
Be open to the world speaking to you in multiple ways. Sometimes an intuitive inquiry is more like sending a snail-mail letter than making a phone call. The response can come over time and in a variety of ways. Pay attention to synchronicity, dreams, and unusual occurrences.
And be kind to yourself if there are doubts, insecurities, and fears about intuitive practice. It can take some time and practice to learn how it works for you and to develop trust.
For related content, also see my post Safe and Sovereign: Interfacing with the Spirit World