How to Hear to Your Intuition

A cautionary tale about the time I didn’t listen.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

The Time I Didn’t Listen

I was sitting in the E.R. for the second time that month, overcome with panic. My life had reached a low point, even if from the outside, it looked quite admirable.

I had recently been offered a prestigious teaching fellowship at Harvard Law School. It seemed like my life was finally turning a corner after several tough years. An 11-year relationship had ended. I had started working grueling hours as a law clerk for a judge. A few months later, my cat, suffering from diabetes, took a terrible turn for the worse, and I had to euthanize him. Riddled with guilt and anxiety, the next month, I learned that my estranged father had passed away. I was living in Brooklyn in a terrible apartment with an incompatible roommate. Life felt bleak.

Then I applied to Harvard for the following year after my clerkship ended and, luckily — or so I thought — I was offered the fellowship!

The problem was that during the time between my application and receiving it, I wrestled with it night and day. Every morning after I had submitted it, I would wake up with knots in my stomach. I didn’t know why, but there was some part of me that knew that I just couldn’t accept it.

But it was Harvard Law School. No one turns that down. So I tried to accept it. When I did, my stomach did so many turns, I was ready to vomit. My gut was screaming at me to let go of this.

At long last, I turned it down. But because I hadn’t been able to let go when my gut first sent its warning, the decision left me a nervous wreck. My mentors were aghast, as I had no rational explanation for them. I couldn’t get my head to stop asking, Why had this happened, and what would I do instead?

I didn’t relish working the demanding hours of a lawyer — I had seen my roommate work until 3 am for weeks on end only to wind up in the E.R. from the anxiety. Even though I had options, at the time I felt like I had ruined my life. I was not well — just a machine of worry, churning out anxiety morning and night.

The Shift When I Started to Listen Again

One day, out of the blue, I felt this sudden urge to go to the website for Kripalu, a wellness center in Lenox, Massachusetts, website. I had never been, but knew of it and had always wanted to go. This time, I listened to my intuition. The first thing I saw was a description of a workshop led by Mirabai Devi, who was described as having the ability to “transmit Divine light.”

A lightbulb went off in my head. At an earlier point in my life, I would have rejected this as rubbish, but at this moment, I knew it to be true and exactly what I needed. Mirabai became my teacher.

It turns out that working with my teacher would be one of the greatest experiences of my life. My recovery from my anxiety did not happen overnight, but I healed that episode and a great deal more. Having started listening to my intuition again, I landed at a law firm at a job that would turn out to be one of the most rewarding of my professional life.

I spent years happily working as a lawyer while also training with my teacher. Then, after many years, my intuition spoke again: It was time to pursue my career as a spiritual writer full-time. This time, there was no angst and no churning stomach. Thanks to my intuition, I just knew it was the right move.

How Do You Know It’s Your Intuition Speaking?

That episode occurred about a decade ago. Since then, with consistent practice and a lot of spiritual work, my intuition has been honed so much so that I now provide intuitive guidance to others.

We all yearn to hear that little voice of divine guidance, even though it is not always easy to hear. It can be subtle, like a whisper. It’s easy to drown out with mental chatter, internet, music, and banter. That’s because it’s not always a voice exactly. Sometimes it’s an impulse or a tug, in one direction or another, one so quick that you might miss it if you’re rushing through your day.

A question that I often get is, “How do you know, though, if you’re hearing your intuition or your ego?” The answer: Practice.

You have to hone it over the years by making an effort to listen and be guided. Learning to recognize the differences between fear and trauma- or emotional-based reactions, on the one hand, and the gentle urging of your intuition on the other, is not easy.

The first step is to learn to recognize the ways that your intuition speaks to you. It’s different for each person, but there are three common ways your intuition will often make itself heard.

You Know Something Is Wrong Without Evidence of Danger.

Sometimes we feel fear or anxiety about a situation, but other times, as my cautionary tale suggests, you can sense danger despite the absence of any visible threat. How do you know if it’s fear or intuition?

You have to figure out how it speaks to you. In my case, I hear my intuition warning me of danger deep in my gut, and after honing my intuition over the years, I now hear it audibly. It starts as a dull warning, and then it gets stronger and more nauseating the longer I ignore it. Sometimes it’s just a sense of knowing that something is off or wrong — avoiding a certain street, an event, an item of food. I can feel my body recoil.

For example, my intuition guided me very early on in the pandemic to stop taking the subway — weeks before it exploded in NYC, and well before there was any concern for wearing masks or social distancing.

I was on my way to Manhattan and stopped by a cafe for a coffee and a pastry. As I turned to head toward the subway, I felt that distinct feeling in my gut. I paused and listened carefully: the message was loud and clear that I should not travel into Manhattan. Instead, I was told to start wearing a mask when riding the subway and to stock up on groceries (a week later our grocery store closed down and we couldn’t get any food delivered).

I also told my husband he needed to start working from home that Wednesday. He did, even though his boss reacted like he was being paranoid. In fact, the very next week their office closed down when it was discovered that a coworker had come in contact with someone who had the virus that very week. I was grateful for this guidance when the threat was not yet visible or public.

By contrast, for me, fear is very much in the chest and upper region of the body, and accompanied by an imagined future event. Very often I’ll hear my ego say something, and I distinguish it from my intuition because it’s a whinier, more judgmental voice. Then I know that my resistance to something is based on an old pattern, my mind reacting to what it perceives as danger. Whereas with intuition, the mind isn’t reacting unconsciously to some perceived pattern. It just knows.

You Feel an Impulse to Do Something Without Knowing Why.

That same intuitive voice can pull you toward something, just as mine inspired me to go to the Kripalu website. It’s like a tiny little bell, something that just “pops into your head” but feels right. If you don’t learn to hear it, you’ll barely notice the thought and move on to something else.

Years ago, while I was still working as a lawyer, I was doing work on environmental law in my spare time. One day, I felt quite clever in having come up with the phrase “carbon karma” to describe one’s impact on the environment. Smug with my creativity, I thought I had hit on something.

As I was leaving work, though, I felt that familiar tug and heard that I should follow the prompts. My intuition led me on a stroll through the city, telling me to go left, turn right, etc. It led me to a block I didn’t know in Midtown Manhattan, to a small cafe. I walked inside, and posted on their menu was a mission statement that talked about reducing one’s “carbon karma.” My intuition had led me on a trip to show me that my phrase was not original.

You Hear Messages About Others That Are Later Confirmed.

Sometimes, particularly after you’ve honed your ability to hear your intuition clearly enough, you’ll start to get messages about other people.

Some years ago, I was standing in the train station in Washington D.C., returning home from a weekend trip. I had ordered something from a Pret a Manger or an Au Bon Pain (one of those vaguely French chain cafes) and was waiting for my food.

Out of the blue, I heard clearly that I should tell the cashier, a Black trans woman who seemed quite beleaguered, that God was watching out for her and that she was deeply loved.

I remember feeling very anxious about blurting out this unsolicited message to a stranger, but when my order number was called, I said in a calm voice that I had received this message and was supposed to deliver it to her. Her eyes teared up, and she said thank you, with a sincere sense that a palpable weight had been lifted, even if only momentarily.

Since then, I have practiced listening, along with many years of dedicated spiritual work — meditation, mantra, forgiveness, prayer, and energy work — that led to a dramatic awakening of my kundalini. I then began to channel and receive very detailed messages about others.

How do I know they are real? People come to me for intuitive guidance about what’s blocking them in their spiritual path, and it’s rarely what they think the problem is. The block is either too big and overwhelming, or the ego’s doing a magnificent job of masking itself.

Practical Tips for Honing Your Intuition

Here are some practical tips for honing your ability to hear that intuitive voice when you need it most.

Meditate to distinguish your ego from your intuition.

Listening to that inner voice is different from listening to the ego, with its whiny, petulant tone. For me, my intuition is softer, more gentle, and unless designed to avoid danger, always affirmative.

The single most important tool to be able to hear the difference is meditation. I have meditated for over a decade now, and it allows you to become very familiar with that voice, which can get lost in mental chatter. That internal voice — known as clairaudience — is subtle, and the ego will override it, ignore it, or otherwise censor it.

Clairaudience isn’t the only intuitive skill. Sometimes you’ll just know information (claircognizance), or you’ll feel something about someone else’s physical or emotional state (clairsentience). It feels like you’ve had a conversation with someone that you can’t quite remember.

In those situations, it’s important to distinguish between a true intuitive hit and a projection based on your own biases or emotions. It’s one reason I caution people against doing readings too soon after they’ve started on a spiritual path, as it’s very easy still to confuse and conflate with your personal stuff with what you think is intuitive guidance. You may need to test your knowledge by verifying it from another source, because along the way you will think you know, but you may just be responding to your ego’s patterns rather than genuinely connecting with your intuition.

As you practice with verification, you’ll grow in confidence in your intuition and trust it more each time.

Start small and let your intuition guide you in ways that are “low risk.”

One way I’ve practiced is by letting my intuition guide me when I’m traveling, as in my “carbon karma” example. Allow your intuition to tell you to go down one street or another, taking a route you might never take. Allow it to pick which subway car to take if you live in a city with public transportation. It’s a low-cost way to practice hearing that cue. Unless you’re trying to navigate across a 6-lane freeway, the risk is relatively low.

Another low-cost exercise is to ask your intuition to pick something off the menu for you when you’re ordering food. Set the intention to let your intuitive abilities either show you what something will taste like or ask to be surprised with something you wouldn’t order but would enjoy, and see if your expectations are met. Even if you get it wrong and don’t get an intuitive hit, or get something that you regret, the cost is just one dish or meal.

Practice self-forgiveness and detachment.

You may be surprised by this suggestion, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to let your inner voice know that you will hear it. Very often we don’t hear our intuition because we’re so used to hearing an internal voice of reproach. We hold ourselves accountable, often to impossible standards. That voice tends to drown out the more subtle tones of your intuition.

A secondary aspect of this is that by practicing self-forgiveness, you are detaching from a prior moment where you are still judging yourself. And judgment — which comes from attachment to the way things should be — is a critical aspect of learning to listen to your intuition. People easily get attached to outcomes. How else are you going to be open to information that doesn’t make rational sense if you are constantly judging yourself and the world around you by expecting it to be a certain way?

This emphasis on detachment also explains the value of the low-risk exercises: There’s not a lot to lose when you practice where the stakes don’t seem all that high to you. In that way, you develop confidence in your capacity to hear your intuition accurately, so when you start to bring it to bear on more significant decisions, you can trust it.

Hearing your intuition is one of the most natural and joyous experiences you can have. We all have intuitive abilities, and while some more than others are in touch with them and are capable of receiving more information, everyone can deepen their connection to their intuition and feel more divinely guided in everyday life. The downside of ignoring your intuition, as I learned the hard way, can be quite high.

Author of works of spiritual wisdom, intuitive for emotional blocks, channel for divine guidance. https://amzn.to/2K9AG8b.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store