Trust Your Inner Wisdom, and Keep Both Feet on the Ground
By Paul Linden, Ph.D.

What do we mean by inner wisdom? Let’s start by looking at the word “wisdom.” The dictionary defines wisdom as “having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” There is a lot packed into that definition. To begin with, the definition is domain specific. Someone could have experience, knowledge, and good judgment in the field of medicine but not in the field of art. Moreover, the question arises of how much experience and knowledge are enough, and the next question is how to tell whether a person has good judgment. In practical fields such as medicine, business, wood working or farming, these questions are relatively simple to answer. If a person has twenty years in a field and usually gets excellent results in whatever tasks are part of the field, we would say that s/he has wisdom in that field.

But does this kind of discussion capture what people mean when they talk about inner wisdom? At first sight, it would seem not. When people speak about inner wisdom, they are usually focusing less on concrete, practical judgments and more on higher questions about morality, purpose, meaning and choice. There is a sense that inner wisdom expresses itself in a soft voice that we can hear best when we move out of our usual rushed state of consciousness and enter a state of quietness.

What is that soft voice, and how can we get in touch with it better? Let’s try an exercise. Read aloud the following list of simple statements. Pay attention to what goes on in your body, as you read each statement. Take ten or fifteen seconds between each so you can feel how your body responds, and try not to peek ahead in the list.  

Cows eat grass.

The sky is blue.

Cars have wheels.

Fish live in the water.

Libraries have books.

San Francisco is in California.

New York is the capital of the United States.  

What happened in your body when you heard that last statement? If you had taken the time to let your awareness seep into your body, you might have felt a change. Most people feel a “quiver” or “twisting” of some kind, which is the body's dislike of false statements. Your body is designed to feel comfortable with  truth. It reacts when it touches a lie. Of course, it isn't quite that simple. If you believe a statement is true, you may respond with greater comfort to that statement even if it is false.

The body has an important role to play in contacting your inner wisdom. Recognizing your body’s responses to thoughts or events gives you information about your inner workings. Sensing your feelings and energy around some issue means focusing your attention into your body and noticing your muscle tone, your breathing, your posture, and your movements. Are those elements free, open, balanced, stable and mobile? Or are they constricted, imbalanced, and hesitant? If they are not free, then that indicates there is some kind of problem with whatever idea you are entertaining.

That brings up an important question: how can you tell if the inner voice is speaking truth or is making a mistake? My father was killed in a railroad accident when I was little, but I still have his camera sitting in my desk drawer. It is an Agfa B2 Speedex, and it must be about sixty years old.  It is the kind of camera that has the lens on a bellows. One day I noticed that the bellows fabric was starting to deteriorate. Time went by, and I took a look at the camera to see how much further the bellows had deteriorated, and I was amazed to find that the bellows was in perfect condition. I realized that I’d had a dream that the bellows was deteriorating. The mental image was certainly clear and compelling, but it wasn’t accurate. Of course, checking on the accuracy of that image was simple and easy: all I had to do was open the drawer and look. It isn’t always that easy, but it’s important to have a reality check on the inner voice.

The point is, that simply relying on the inner voice may or may not work well. There are all kinds of forces at play moving our inner processes in one direction or another. The fact that an inner voice is clear and compelling is not enough to unequivocally establish that it is speaking truth.  It is important to find concrete, external evidence with which to evaluate the accuracy of the inner voice.

Let me give an example from my body work practice. I often work with computer users who are experiencing strain from sitting at their computers for hours. The strain is usually the result of some imbalanced way of sitting and moving. I usually help my clients into better balanced postures and ask them what they notice. At first, people usually say that the new posture is awkward or off balance. I never tell my clients that their initial posture was wrong or that the new one is better. Instead I have them alternate between the old and the new postures, and I ask them to feel which posture results in easier breathing and movement. To their amazement, they usually become aware that the new posture feels all wrong but is more comfortable and strong. In essence, I am helping my clients correct their inner voices.

Without paying attention to our inner voice, we have no sense of direction in our lives. But without a bit of healthy skepticism, we can get tricked into moving in some very unproductive, even dangerous, directions. By balancing the internal voice and external reality testing, we are more likely to find a good path through life. So in the end, we come back to the specificity and concreteness of the dictionary definition and find that it does apply even to inner wisdom. We judge the accuracy of our inner voice by checking out whether it leads us to effective behaviors or not.

 

PAUL LINDEN, Ph.D., is a body/movement awareness educator, a martial artist, and author. He is co-director of the Columbus Center for Movement Studies (www.being-in-movement.com), at which he teaches Aikido, Being In Movement® mindbody training, and the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. Paul is the author of “Comfort at Your Computer” “Teaching Children Embodied Peacemaking” and “Winning is Healing—Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors.” His work focuses on the application in daily activities of an integrated mindbody state of awareness, power, love and freedom.