Have you ever had a gut reaction? You might know it as that physical feeling in your body trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s offering guidance about a choice you need to make, or whether or not to trust someone, or a warning that something is very wrong. Often, this knowledge comes without a sense of how we came to a conclusion. We just know. It’s also usually accompanied by a feeling in the body, maybe a hollow sensation or butterflies in the stomach, hence the expression “listen to your gut.” It means your intuition is at work.
Interestingly, scientists have discovered that the human gut (or stomach through large intestine) has its own nervous system. It is influenced by the same neurotransmitters at work in the brain, such as serotonin. Whether this means the gut can think in some capacity is unclear, but it’s well established that the gut is influenced by emotional states. For example, many gastrointestinal illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation, are exacerbated by stress. When we feel anxious or upset, there is definitely a corresponding sensation in the abdomen. Sometimes those sensations appear before we are even aware that we are in distress. Imagine if you could regularly tune into that innate knowledge, using both the brain and the intuition to influence your choices.
Research shows that we can increase self-awareness through mindfulness and other forms of meditation. With regular practice, we can more easily recognize right decisions, and also know when something doesn’t align with our personal values. This knowledge may come from the rational, thinking brain, or a recognition of that gut sense in the body showing us the way.
Build your sense of intuition by establishing a daily meditation practice, or try this exercise to directly strengthen awareness of your gut sense. Start by sitting comfortably and focusing on the breath for a few minutes. Then bring to mind a situation from your life when you know you made a right choice. Remember the details of the event, and the feeling you had when things worked out perfectly. Observe the sensations in the body associated with this choice.
Next, bring to mind an opposite situation. One in which you made poor choices, either with bad consequences or simply the knowledge that you didn’t act in accordance with your values. Recall the details, and observe the body sensations associated with this event. Notice the difference in your thoughts, emotions and sensations when remembering these opposite situations.
Now take this awareness into real life. Notice what is happening in your mind and body when you have to make difficult choices. Recall the exercise and what you observed when you remembered past decisions, and use this experience to learn what your gut is telling you. Intuition can be a powerful ally, and direct observation of our thoughts as well as our body sensations allows us to use all of our natural sources of knowledge. When we operate from this place, we always know the correct response to any situation in life. The knowledge is there, we just have to listen.