With FRANCES VAUGHAN, Ph.D.
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we'll be discussing intuition. Intuition is a basic psychological function, much like thinking, feeling, or sensation. Yet it seems to be associated with spiritual experience and psychic abilities. With me is Dr. Frances Vaughan, past president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, and president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Dr. Vaughan is the author of The Inward Arc and also Awakening Intuition. Welcome, Frances.
FRANCES VAUGHAN, Ph.D.: Thank you, Jeffrey.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to be with you. You know, intuition is often thought of as something very elusive, kind of capricious and spontaneous, and therefore many people would think it's sort of a paradox to think that we can train intuition, or think about it logically, even. And yet this is exactly what you do. Let's talk about how one can train that skill.
VAUGHAN: Well, it certainly is the case that it seems to be spontaneous and outside of our control. Nevertheless, there are many things that we can do to make it more accessible, more available to us, and also more reliable. The interesting thing is that as soon as you start paying attention to intuition, it does become more available. It's as though it responds to attention, and so it's really not that difficult. There are some basic steps that you need to do in order to begin to develop it. Learning to quiet the mind is one of them. Now, that sounds simple, but of course it's more difficult than it sounds. So that's the beginning.
MISHLOVE: I suppose with the other functions of the mind -- the intellect, or sensations -- in a way you can't really force those very well either.
VAUGHAN: No, but you can pay attention to them. You can think about thinking, and you can pay attention to your feelings or not, or you can ignore them. The same is true with intuition. If you begin to pay attention to it, you recognize it as a way of knowing. It's a way of knowing which transcends reason, but it's not in opposition to reason. So I think it's important to remember that intuition is not a substitute for reason, but really is something that we can use in addition to reason.
MISHLOVE: I suppose one way to think of it might be that it's not irrational, it's just nonrational.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I like that way of saying it, because it is something that everybody uses. It's that function which perceives possibilities in the future. Now, anything that is creative in a sense is intuitive -- anything that takes us beyond the boundaries of what we already know, whatever explores the unknown. So it seems to be that function that mediates our relationship to the unknown.
MISHLOVE: The mysterious aspect of intuition is often that people seem to get information and they don't know how they get it. Mathematicians, for example, can arrive at theorems that have never been proven before, just through their intuition.
VAUGHAN: Yes. Of course Einstein is well known for his use of intuition, and he wrote about it also, and acknowledged that that was a very important part of his work. And mathematicians have appreciated the fact that intuition is the function that really breaks new ground, and that then logic and reason have to follow up on the intuition for proof and validation. But that creative leap is always an intuitive leap that enables us to see things that we haven't noticed before. It's a new perception. It's as though it allows us to notice what we haven't noticed and acknowledge what we perhaps already know but have forgotten in some way.
MISHLOVE: I know that in your work in training intuition, you draw very heavily on a number of spiritual traditions, because they often talk about the sense in which the mind becomes one with the objects of the world about it, it encounters directly the material world.
VAUGHAN: Well, intuitive knowing is sort of knowing from within. It's knowing by identification with, rather than gathering information about something. So there is that feeling of sort of merging with the object under observation, you might say. But it's more of a sense of knowing which comes, I think, from an inner knowing. It's a sense of inner knowing rather than something that you need to learn about. Many people, I think, find it easier to trust their intuition when they recognize that other people also have intuition. So I've found that when people start talking to each other about how to use their intuition and how it works for them, this can be very validating.
MISHLOVE: One of the things that you wrote about intuition that really struck me a lot is that -- in fact I think you even defined it this way -- that being intuitive is trusting yourself.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I think developing intuition also is inseparable from developing self-awareness, and this is why any spiritual discipline or practice that requires self-observation is helpful; or of course any meditation that enables you to develop concentration or quiet the mind, that will also enhance intuitive abilities. Many people find that their intuition really blossoms just as a sort of side effect of meditation, because once they start practicing concentration or emptying the mind, then they find that intuitive abilities just seem to be much more available.
MISHLOVE: The process of meditation often talks about becoming in touch with more and more subtle levels of thought. As you quiet the mind, the heavy desires and aggressive thoughts that we carry with us through the day sort of evaporate a little bit and we have more delicate thoughts that come to our mind. I suppose this is the realm in which intuitions operate often.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I think it is definitely the faculty that gives us access to the subtle dimensions of consciousness. And I think also that intuition is something that is essential if we're going to fulfill our human potential, you might say. It's used in a wide range of human endeavors -- not only in creativity and scientific invention, but also in business, for example. Whenever you have to make a decision on the basis of less information than you would like to have, you need to use your intuition. You need to use your intuition when you are looking at possible courses of action, when you're making decisions on the basis of what you already know, which is never enough. We can never be certain of what the outcome of something is going to be, but sometimes we can have a strong intuitive sense of the direction we want to pursue. Even just perceiving possibilities is also an intuitive function.
MISHLOVE: Carl Jung, the great psychologist, described intuition as one of the four major faculties of the psyche, along with thinking, feeling, and sensation. So one would think that to be an optimally performing, balanced individual, not having intuition would be like having one quarter of your brain cut away.
VAUGHAN: Well, I think that's true. Only recently we're beginning to appreciate it more now in our culture, and I think the split-brain research contributed to that, and so I'm hopeful that maybe we will begin to value it more, and not to sort of turn it off in our formal educational system, which tends to train primarily the intellect.
MISHLOVE: Let's just summarize for a moment that split-brain research you alluded to.
VAUGHAN: Well, the split-brain research indicates that probably one hemisphere of the brain tends to be more specialized in terms of being primarily oriented towards verbal and rational thinking, and that the other hemisphere, the right hemisphere, is more oriented toward spatial relations and intuitive thinking. However, I think that's an oversimplification, and what they say now is that it's more complex than that leads us to believe.
MISHLOVE: Because there's the vertical dimension of the brain as well as the horizontal.
VAUGHAN: I would say it's multidimensional. So that's perhaps an oversimplification, but it's been helpful in terms of making people more aware that this is a faculty that has been underutilized, shall we say.
MISHLOVE: And at least it can be pinpointed to some extent in different parts of the brain.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I believe that they're doing some more research on that, that I don't have the data on at the moment.
MISHLOVE: You have focused pretty intensively on methods for training intuition. In your book you describe it sort of as a threefold process. I wonder if we could give our viewers some sense of how they might proceed if they want to develop their own skills in this area.
VAUGHAN: Well, I think there are a couple of prerequisites I'd like to mention. First of all, the main requirement is attentional training -- learning to train attention. Learning to hold attention on something for more than three seconds is a real challenge, and that's probably the basic groundwork for developing intuition -- learning to focus the mind, and learning to be quiet internally, to turn off that kind of endless monologue that goes on all the time in our heads, so that we can learn to be silent for a change. That's a very important asset for developing intuition. Another important ingredient is one which a Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Khan, mentioned to me when I asked him what he felt was most important for developing intuition. He said the most important thing is scrupulous ethicality. So ethicality seems to be an important prerequisite for being able to trust intuition. In a sense, if you can trust yourself, then you can trust your intuition. So I think that attentional training and ethicality are two of the most important things that we need to pay attention to. Then again, quieting the mind is probably the basic one.
MISHLOVE: You've also written about a quality that you describe as sort of a non-judgmental sense of self-awareness -- being able to look at yourself without criticizing yourself at the same time.
VAUGHAN: Yes, that's a real challenge for most of us, I think. Also I think being aware of feelings is important, because often feelings get in the way of being clear in our perceptions. So that you might say clearing away any emotional baggage from the past, things that we're concerned about, upset about. If we're angry we can't be sure that we're hearing accurate, more subtle cues that are available. So I think that releasing emotions that might interfere, letting go of the past, is part of getting quiet inside. All of those things are contributing factors. Perhaps the biggest obstacle, I think, to developing intuition is self-deception. So this is something that again is useful when we start doing any kind of self-observation, because we begin to sort out what are emotional reactions from what are accurate perceptions, particularly, for example, in interpersonal intuitions. If you are really upset or concerned about something that's going on in your own life, you won't be able to notice what's going on with somebody else, obviously.
MISHLOVE: It must be very tricky, because I would tend to think that we're all very vulnerable to deceiving ourselves, if nothing else, at least in the sense that we all develop habits, and we develop styles of being in the world, and then we come to confuse those habits and those styles with who we really are.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I think that it's probably safe to say that it happens to all of us. And yet I think the challenge is to keep pushing out the edges, to keep exploring the new and understanding ourselves a little better. I think that understanding ourselves helps in understanding each other too -- that all of this is part of a larger sense of wanting to experience each other more fully as who we really are, with less fear and less defensiveness, in order to be more open and more receptive to a genuine exchange of ideas and communication. I think that as we become more intuitive we do become less fearful too -- that it helps to give us a sense of being in the world in a way that we can trust ourselves and trust each other too.
MISHLOVE: I guess there's a sense in which as one begins to enter into the world of intuition and into developing one's own intuition, there's a sense of discernment or discrimination that one can cultivate to help learn how to separate genuine intuitions from some of the other mental phenomena which often can appear very similar to an intuition.
VAUGHAN: Yes. I like to say, "When in doubt, check it out." I think it's really important to remember that we learn by trial and error, so that when we think we have an intuition and we're not sure about it, then we should be willing to check it out. And being willing to make mistakes and to be wrong helps a lot, because that's how we learn. And so the accurate intuitions, or intuition that's reliable, that we can trust, genuinely brings with it a sense of certainty and a sense of inner peace. And so when it's harmful to no one and you feel certain and peaceful about it, you probably can trust it and you'll find that it really works. But if you are in doubt about it, then check it out. Talk to people about it, or ask people that might be able to give you some feedback whether you're on track or not. I think that we all need each other in that way -- that self-deception is something that happens when we aren't willing to communicate and talk to each other.
MISHLOVE: You know, in your book you describe some of your students and their experiences, and I found several of them to represent real challenging situations. In one case a student of yours had an intuition not to take an airplane. I think it was her honeymoon trip, or something of that sort, and she canceled it because she was afraid the plane would crash, and it did crash. And other incidents like this, where one intuits something which is a fearful or harmful situation, must be especially tricky, because one never knows whether it's some kind of paranoia.
VAUGHAN: Yes, that's very hard to tell. There again I think the question is, looking at what the personality factors are makes a difference, because if a person is someone who is often anxious about things that might or might not happen, and most of the time they don't happen, then I would say it's not very trustworthy. But if it happens to someone who never gets such hunches, never gets premonitions, and then they get a premonition, then maybe they'll need to pay attention to it. But I think that's where self-awareness is important.
MISHLOVE: The problem, I suppose, is that many of us fall somewhere in the middle. It's not really clear-cut.
VAUGHAN: Yes, and that means that -- well, it takes practice.
MISHLOVE: A lot of inner work, I would think.
VAUGHAN: Well, the more inner work, the more reliable and the more available it becomes. But I think there are simple things that we can do to help it along, and that is, for example, to keep track of our intuitions and see how many of them are accurate, and where do we tend to fall into wishful thinking or anxiety.
MISHLOVE: To keep a journal, in other words.
VAUGHAN: Yes, you can keep a journal, or you can find someone that you talk to about it. Or you can really start paying attention to your own inner experiences in more detail. All of these things can be helpful. Also paying attention to dreams. For many people, they find that paying attention to dreams can enhance their intuitive abilities, because there again it's kind of subtle perception, which as you become more familiar with that part of the mind, then you feel more at home with it and it's not so threatening.
MISHLOVE: One of the methods I like to use, if I wish to tune in to my intuitive abilities, is mental imagery -- just to close my eyes, if I'm a having a problem that I'm working on, and say, OK, let me see what mental image that calls to mind.
VAUGHAN: Yes. Imagery can be a very useful tool for bringing intuitive insights into some kind of tangible form, you might say. I think that using mental imagery can be a very useful way of accessing intuition.
MISHLOVE: It's as if the mind at some level is just naturally very poetic, and is always looking for poetic images in order to express the deeper essence of the situations that we're in, because images somehow get underneath the logic of things.
VAUGHAN: Sometimes that's true, yes. But you know, there's a range of imagery, too. Some images really seem to come from a source that's deep in the unconscious, and then other images seem to be quite superficial. So I think that we need to be aware of that range too, because not all of them are unconditioned; not all of them are free from our own unconscious programming.
MISHLOVE: I suppose if one looks at spiritual traditions closely, as you have, they all seem to emphasize that it's not the techniques, really, that matter -- that there's some kind of an essence underneath all the techniques, and that's what's much more important. It's something undefinable, ultimately.
VAUGHAN: Well, I like the way the Zen Buddhists talk about emptiness, because if you can empty your mind, that's quite an achievement. You know, it's usually all cluttered up with all sorts of preoccupations. And perhaps two things that get in the way are fear and desire, and these are the two poles that we need to bear in mind.
MISHLOVE: Positive and negative attractions.
VAUGHAN: Positive and negative attractions, or fear and desire. And in order to have some kind of clear perception or insight into the nature of reality, we need to stay on center, you might say, between those two poles, so that you're not off balance between fear and desire. They are the two things that tend to make us not see clearly. When we want something to happen and we get caught up in wishful thinking, and when we don't want it to happen and we're afraid of it, then we can't really see what's going on.
MISHLOVE: You've made some useful distinctions, I think, in pointing out that there are different kinds of intuitions -- physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual -- and that a person might be skilled in one of these areas, and yet deficient in another.
VAUGHAN: Well, it seems to be that some people are more naturally inclined to one type or another. Some people who are really tuned in to their bodies can get body sensations that will give them information about what's going on, and find that that's a reliable source of information. Other people really are oriented to interacting with the world from a feeling place. Many times, I think, so-called women's intuition is related to feelings, and this is very useful in interpersonal situations. But mental imagery, which is more associated with thinking and the mind, tends to be the type of intuition that's more available to, say, business executives, because entrepreneurs tend to be very intuitive.
MISHLOVE: In terms of what product might be just perfect for the marketplace.
VAUGHAN: Exactly. They really are sort of extroverted intuitives in that sense. And so that would be more mental intuition. And the spiritual intuition has more to do with insight into the nature of reality, insight into the nature of who and what we really are, the nature of mind, and the quality of life. You might say it has more to do with understanding life, or having a sense of the meaning of it all. And it's this kind of intuitive sense, I think, that is essential; it's really the key to religious experiences and experiences of self-transcendence.
MISHLOVE: It would seem, I think, when we're talking about spiritual experience, that the only way they can really be approached is through intuition, because the senses just somehow don't quite touch that realm.
VAUGHAN: Yes, I think that's so. So you need to quiet the feelings, quiet the body, quiet the mind, and then you're left with a kind of inner knowing, or as one of my teachers said, "In silence you learn what can never be taught." It's really in silence that we learn the most about intuition. So for some people it means being out in nature alone and quiet; for other people it may mean meditation; for other people it may solitude in a study. Some form of being in silence can be tremendously advantageous in terms of developing intuition, and it also has its fringe benefits in terms of putting you more in touch with yourself and what you really want. I feel that intuition also allows us to see what is true -- that is, how do you know when something is true? You know, in some way truth is recognized rather than learned, so we need to use that faculty a lot of times. How do you choose a teacher, for example, if you're looking for a spiritual direction or a spiritual path?
MISHLOVE: Or a profession.
VAUGHAN: Or a profession. How do you know whom to trust? You know, whether you like it or not, you're trusting your intuition, and if you're doing it consciously and it's more available, you're probably more likely to have it be really functional.
MISHLOVE: In a sense it might be a mistake to convey the impression that intuition is like a single narrow function of the human psyche or soul or spirit. It almost seems to me that what it is, is a holistic integration of the various faculties. It's when you're using your heart and your mind and your body all together and they're all functioning at an optimal level and in unison and all contributing to each other. Isn't that really where intuition is at its strongest?
VAUGHAN: Well, I'd like to
think of it that way, but often you find that some people who feel that
they are highly intuitive tend to be a little flighty or not grounded,
you might say. And of course in Jungian psychology they sometimes polarize
intuition and sensation
MISHLOVE: I almost wonder if there isn't perhaps like a small intuition and a large intuition. The small might be the one side, just one quarter of the mind, according to the Jungian scheme. And the large intuition is a more holistic sense that incorporates and synthesizes all of the human functions.
VAUGHAN: That's an interesting distinction, and I think that in some ways I would relate that to the distinction I made between the intuition that's available through images, feelings, or the body, and the intuition that I called spiritual intuition, or what Assagioli called pure intuition, which doesn't rely on any cues at all but is simply a way of knowing which doesn't depend on sensory information. Of course in psychology most of the studies on intuition have related intuition to subliminal perception, and yet it seems evident that there are ways of knowing which transcend the five senses, and just because we can't explain it or we don't know how it happens, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. In my experience, talking to people about this topic for a number of years now, I've found that people find it encouraging and inspiring to be able to talk about their intuitive experiences in an atmosphere of acceptance.
MISHLOVE: Frances, we're out of time.
VAUGHAN: Well, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to be here.
MISHLOVE: It's been a pleasure to have you with me, Frances. Thank you very much.
VAUGHAN: Thank you, Jeffrey.