How Can You Hear Inner Guidance?

It can also be quite dramatic. A father wakes up in the middle of the night after dreaming of a paper guillotine sitting by his child's bed. He gets up, goes to the kid's room, and sees a sheet of paper lying on top of the lamp. The bulb has burned through the paper, which is just bursting into flames. He is convinced that the dream saved his child's life. A woman traveling through South India hears the fan in her hotel room whispering to her, "Go to the south." She gets on a train for Madras, where she meets the man who takes her to her teacher.

This is the inner guidance that tends to get our attention. We give different names for this guidance—intuition, the voice of God or our higher Self, the enlightened voice within you. However, in actuality it is simply a deeper, more subtle level of the basic guidance that we are always getting through the body and gut and feelings. If you realize that everything is made of one substance, one consciousness, you also realize that guidance that seems 'mundane' is actually coming from the same one source, and deserves to be honored as much as the guidance that seems 'spiritual.' It may manifest through the body as gut instincts, through the heart as feelings, through the mind as a clarified wisdom or intuition or a vision or 'voice' or dream. But here's the point: its smart. It is actually smarter than your mind much of the time, because it is coming from a level closer to the Essence, the deep Self, or what is sometimes called the wisdom mind. Tuning into inner guidance is one of the best ways we have to tune into the enlightened sage who lives inside you. So developing the skill of knowing how to follow your own instincts—and figuring out which instincts to follow—is one of the important tasks of the inner life.

However, it definitely is a skill, and like any other skill, it develops best through practice and attention. Part of the challenge is actually learning how to hear the inner guidance amidst all the other voices going on. Most of us discovered early on that following our own instinctual sense of things can sometimes get us into trouble with parents and caregivers. So we learned to adapt—a necessary part of the human socialization process—and in the process, learned to override our intuitions, and to substitute parental voices, societal voices, the voices on TV, the wisdom of ad campaigns, TV news, and our own peer culture for the guidance that arises from within. So when we want to hear our own deeper wisdom—both our instinctual 'animal' body wisdom, and the subtler wisdom that comes from the deep Self, the transcendental part of us—we first have to accept that the guidance is really there. Then we have to find out how to move past, or still, the competing voices that get in the way. Finally, we need to learn how to discriminate between the 'real' guidance of the deep self, the enlightened wisdom inside us, and the voices of our fears, our desires, and our various fantasies.

Here, it helps to have some understanding about your own tendencies. Perhaps you have a judgmental inner parent lurking inside, who manifests as a critical inner voice, or a feeling that things will turn out badly. If you know how to recognize that guy, you won't mistake his voice for the voice of truth. Perhaps you have a have a bent toward fantasy or wish fulfillment. If you can recognize when that inner child who still wants to believe in Santa Claus is operating, you can be skeptical of those messages that tell you to spend your last $70 on a lottery ticket. If you know you have a driving, perfectionist streak, you can look askance when you're 'told' to stay up all night to finish a project, and instead, tune into your body's need for rejuvenation.

In fact, when you get hunches about something major, it's always good to ask yourself the tough questions, like "Is this hunch at all grounded in reality? Is it congruent with my basic principles and values? Would I advise someone else to act on this hunch? Does it reflect the principles of the spiritual traditions I honor? Is it likely to cause harm to myself or someone else? Is following this hunch making me depressed? Is it inflating my sense of being special and 'chosen'?" Asking questions like that, I've learned how to 'see' when a feeling or a voice might be coming not from Essence but from paranoia, or from what Jung calls inflation—the intoxicating sense of being beyond the normal rules.

The Insight Mind

The more willing you are to examine the insights you receive, the more you learn how to recognize the guidance that actually comes from 'beyond' the mind. The texts of the yoga tradition have names for this level of wisdom. One name they give it is 'prajna', which means insight, or wisdom. The Yogasutra speaks of rtambhara prajna, literally, "truth-bearing insight," which arises in the mind (or heart, or gut) of a meditator after she has thoroughly immersed herself in the thought-free state. We may get our initial glimpses of this state when we're coming out of meditation, or waking up from sleep. It's a state of clarity, a deep 'seeing', in which answers to problems and questions appear spontaneously, and creative ideas seem to arise out of consciousness itself.

12/2/2022 9:08:54 PM
  • Hindu
  • Meditation for Life
  • Guidance
  • Intuition
  • Meditation
  • Wisdom
  • Hinduism
  • Sally Kempton
    About Sally Kempton
    An internationally known teacher of meditation and spiritual wisdom, Kempton is the author of Meditation for the Love of It and writes a monthly column for Yoga Journal. Follow her on Facebook and visit her website at