To intuit means to look upon, to instruct from within, to understand or learn by instinct. And instinct refers to a learning we are born with. So intuition is the very personal way we listen to the universe in order to discover and rediscover the learnings we are born with. As such, intuition is a deep form of listening that when trusted can return us to the common, irrepressible element at the center of all life and to the oneness of things that surrounds us, both of which are at the heart of resilience.
So what does it mean to follow our intuition? What kind of listening are we asked to engage in order to sense what is calling and whether we should follow? Even now, as I try to speak of this, I am stalled if I try “to think of what to say next.” What is out of view only opens into something knowable if I wait and try “to listen to what is there.” If it takes a while, it’s because some aspects of truth are shy like owls who don’t like to be seen during the day. It seems that intuitive listening requires us to still our minds until the beauty of things older than our minds can find us.
Let me share a poem as a way to enter this more deeply:
What if, on the first sunny day,
on your way to work, a colorful bird
sweeps in front of you down a
street you’ve never heard of.
You might pause and smile,
a sweet beginning to your day.
Or you might step into that street
and realize there are many ways to work.
You might sense the bird knows some-
thing you don’t and wander after.
You might hesitate when the bird
turns down an alley. For now
there is a tension: Is what the
bird knows worth being late?
You might go another block or two,
thinking you can have it both ways.
But soon you arrive at the edge
of all your plans.
The bird circles back for you
and you must decide which
appointment you were
born to keep.
At every turn in every day we are presented with angels in a thousand guises, each calling us to follow their song. There is no right or wrong way to go, and only your heart can find the appointments you are born to keep. It’s hard to take this risk, but meeting each uncertainty with an open heart will lead us to an authentic tomorrow. In the poem, however far you go to follow the bird is beautifully enough. If you simply pause and continue with your day, you will be given something. If you wander after its song a block or two, you will be given something else. If you discover that following this bird leads you to another life, you will be given something else indeed. Each point in the journey is an end in itself. One is not better than the other. Only your heart knows what to follow and where to stop.
Dag Hammarskjöld was the legendary secretary-general of the United Nations praised by President Kennedy as “the greatest statesman of our century.” In his book of diary reflections, Markings, he wrote:
I don’t know who—or what—put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer yes to someone—or something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
This gentle man had discovered the appointment he was born to keep. This brief and powerful reflection confirms that he had to listen to something he couldn’t see and trust the certainty of his inner knowing to find his way. It’s implied that some period of intuitive listening took place before he discovered the strength of saying yes.
No one can teach us how to intuitively listen or trust, but the quiet courage to say yes rather than no is close to each of us. It involves holding our opinions and identity lightly so we can be touched by the future. It means loosening our fist-like hold on how we see the world, so that other views can reach us, expand us, deepen us, and rearrange us. Saying yes is the bravest way to keep leaning into life.
Excerpted from Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo. Copyright © 2012 by Free Press.