My clients are some of the bravest people in the world. They are brave not only for their willingness to share their lives with me but also for showing up in my office in the first place.

It’s no small thing.

We live in a culture that almost universally marginalizes intuition. So it takes practice and encouragement to hear and heed one’s intuition. To do so requires us to consciously bypass the countless cultural messages that tell us our intuition is unreliable, immature and even dangerous. That it’s entertaining but at best valueless. That to take it seriously is blasphemy.

Think about it: when was the last time you openly had a serious conversation with someone about a vision, a dream, or a message you felt you had received? Or maybe about a feeling you couldn’t shake about a person or situation in your life? Perhaps a deep sense of calm came over you when you least expected it, and helped guide you through a challenging situation?

Did you share that with anyone? Oh, and without calling the experience “weird”, or “freaky” or “the strangest thing”, without whispering, and without looking around to see who might be listening.

The complete wholeness we have with our intuition at birth is usually trained out of us by the time we get to kindergarten, although some of us will move through our education with remnants intact. If those tendrils survive, they will sometimes revive at puberty and will require a lifetime of conscious effort to quash. Which is a much harder experience than just thinking you don’t have any intuition in the first place. So it’s no wonder flat-out denial is so attractive.

Having a sense of your own intuition without the chops to believe in it is like trying to referee a lifelong argument with yourself.

It’s exhausting.

There is one group of people we tend to place fewer restrictions on when it comes to trusting their intuition in a way recognized by almost everyone: Moms. It’s Ye Olde Mother’s Intuition, the time-tested way of getting infants to adulthood since anyone can remember. Even the most skeptical people who normally wouldn’t put any stock by intuition will sometimes allow for it when it comes to mothering specifically.

At least most of the time. We say Mother Knows Best, but what we really mean is Mother Knows Best But Not Really. Scratch the surface and you’ll find all sorts of problems with MKB thinking. First of all, there are plenty of moms who are completely cut off from their own intuition and who fuel a whole industry of advice-givers. From conception to graduation, moms are constantly fielding the opinions of everyone else packaged into books, seminars, and websites, as if part of the job of becoming a parent is learning how to manage the information barrelling down upon them from doctors, therapists, clergy, teachers…and even from other moms.

And what if you’re not a mom? If the point being made is that the ability to grow life in one’s body is the most direct type of caring and that in itself somehow also births the most intense kind of knowing, well. In that case, there’s like eight thousand reasons why Mother Knows Best is completely outdated and limiting. Mothers aren’t just caretakers and dads aren’t just breadwinners anymore. And what about folks who don’t have kids but who have pets, or who are caring for kids that aren’t theirs by birth, or who are caring for a peer or a spouse or a parent?

Yet moms are supposed to be the one group that you do not mess with, intuitively speaking. She says she knows her kid, we say you sure do. And while I wholeheartedly agree, I don’t think it’s helpful for Moms to get special dispensation when so many don’t trust themselves! I’d rather help everyonemake that leap from doubt to trust, regardless of where they find themselves on the spectrum of caring.

So are we really giving moms more permission to listen to their intuition? Or are we just giving them a wider berth to tell people that’s what they’re doing?

When my eldest son was a baby, I took him to urgent care one afternoon because it was clear to me he had an ear infection, and I did not want to wait until the next morning for him to be seen by his pediatrician. The physician we saw was friendly and engaging and began to ask me some diagnostic questions that I suppose were designed to be reassuring to me as a new mom. “Had he ever had an ear infection before?” To my knowledge, this was his first. “Had he been especially fussy or uncomfortable in the last couple of days?” Not really, nothing out of the ordinary. “Had he been clingy, hot, or pulling at his ear?” Nope. He’d had a cold that had resolved quickly earlier that week, that was all.

At that point I sensed the doctor was a bit frustrated with me. I could hear him wondering if I was one of those overprotective moms who was going to end up throwing his schedule behind for nothing. He faux-jovially told me that he’d go ahead and take a look (in a tone that made it clear he was humoring me). But then as he was pulling out his otoscope, he put me on the spot. Without making eye contact he wondered aloud like he was trying to make a point to a group of other, more reasonable people, “What made you think it was an ear infection then?”

I told him I’d just had a feeling about it.

He peered into my son’s right ear, cocksure, and then almost immediately and imperceptibly pulled back and said, “Wow.” He looked again and said, “That is most definitely an ear infection, in fact it’s a bad one. It’s really red in there”. Then he turned to me and told me he wanted to check my son’s other ear just in case.

Which turned out to be infected as well.

The doctor was not curious at all about how we had come to be in his exam room. He was confused but not inclined to show it. For the quickest of moments, I even heard him wondering to himself if perhaps I had caused the problem alá Munchausen by proxy syndrome. If you can imagine an air bubble above his head filled with scribbles and question marks which floated out with him, after he’d quickly left a prescription for antibiotics with a polite smile — that’s how the appointment ended. I wonder how his mind finally came to rest after trying to categorize what had just happened and limply, gave up.

This is how we learn to trust. Or not.

In my practice, if you are a mother you are not required to be some kind of beatific oracle who never needs support for her own intuition. And if you’re not a mother, you have the same seat at the table as we all do. If you care about somebody or something, you’re in. My job is to demonstrate and provide the opportunity for you to step into a space where intuition is free and safe, and allow you to breathe deeply of it. I want you to trust it and learn how to make good decisions based upon what you’re feeling.

Most of the folks I work with will be challenged by me at some point, albeit gently, to listen to their own still, small voice. “Intuition is a natural resource,” I encourage them, reminding them that if they are here sitting with me in a session, they have everything they need to trust their own gut. I happily lead the way, but using what I can do as a normalizing example is often the most helpful thing I can offer.

The super good news is that we can’t ever fully or permanently damage our relationship with our intuition. I’ve seen people who seem almost completely disassociated from it access information and make decisions using it freely, as long as they are in the same room as me. We use that as a starting ground and go from there. My work is as much about pointing out to my clients when they are experiencing intuition in real time, and helping them notice what it feels like when that happens, as it is about educating them about the benefits that come when we trust our intuition wholeheartedly.

Ear infections are one thing, but we all know that life’s challenges are way more mysteriously complex, way more often. What happens when someone we love is caught in the big waves? Can our intuition help us respond in ways that make a difference? Can we really trust it to help us optimize a difficult situation or even to heal it?

I was working with a client recently who had two adult children each going through their own personal crisis at the same time. Her anguish was palpable. I reminded her that however well or poorly she thought her parenting had been, all relationships revolve around a divine contract that includes everything we excel at and struggle with. So she didn’t need to have been the perfect parent so they would avoid heartbreak. They would do the same in their own relationships and it was important not to judge the lessons they were learning. That issue aside, could she see that they were most definitely going through something difficult but that they would emerge transformed?

She could. It took a bit, but she got there. I was able to reflect some pieces of how this would unfold and she was very comforted by it. She looked up at me and told me, “I do know they’re going to be ok. And right now I’m in this great place where I can feel it deep in my bones and I know like I know my own name it’s going to be ok.”

Then she said the most incredible thing to me. “But at some point later I’m probably going to freak out and go to a very dark place with worry. So what I want to know is, what do you do with all the doubt?”

She’d stumbled into the crossroads our culture traps us in. Not only do we know very little about intuition because we hardly talk about it, but because it’s an experience we’re wary of, we rarely allow it if it does show up. So if we’re lucky enough to get connected to a deep sense of what is unfolding around us, we then have to deal with the constant antagonizing we subject ourselves to, haranguing ourselves for proof that what we’re feeling is true.

And since intuition not only does not want to be at war with logic, nor does it respond to demands, we spend most of our time in doubt.

I remind my students and clients all the time that we have to trust our intuition unconditionally. If we’re waiting for proof, or if we need to know why we’re feeling what we’re feeling, or if we won’t act until we understand the reasons behind every angle of a situation, our intuition will do exactly what our culture expects it to do, and falter. We’ll make what we think are mistakes based upon it. We’ll begin to repress it, since it wasn’t “right” anyway, and we’ll send it back into the shadows where we think it belongs.

But if we’re lucky enough to face the fear that we’re “wrong”, if we’re brave enough to turn and look right at the center of that wall of crushing doubt pressing on us, if we can admit we’re quaking in our boots but that something feels solid and calming about the information we have, miracles will happen.

It’s a choice we all have to make each time the still, small voice within clears its throat and tries to get our attention. When we hear that “Ahem” there’s only one of two directions we can take. We’re either going to risk acknowledging our intuition wholeheartedly or get stuck in a pretty predictable cycle of fear and resistance. There’s no way forward but to pick a side.

We’re either going to be on Team Doubt or Team Trust.

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