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How to Listen to Your Intuition: A Practice for Solo Travelers… and Everyone. {excerpt}

 
“Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice; ask questions; be curious; see what you see; hear what you hear; and then act upon what you know to be true. These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

They say that our brains only consciously process about 10% of the information we receive through our senses — sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. (I read it in a book about neuroscience, so it must be at least vaguely rooted in fact.) What happens to that other 90%? I believe (and I’m not alone) that this unprocessed information that enters our brains yet never filters into conscious awareness becomes our intuition, sixth sense, or gut feeling. We know so much more than we think we know. We don’t even know how much we truly know.

Intuition doesn’t receive the accolades it deserves, and yet it can save a life. People have avoided potentially fatal assaults because their intuition told them something wasn’t right about a situation, a person, a place. Survivors of natural disasters have found their way to safety through pure instinct. Drop a person into the woods, and with minimal survival training, they will find a way through. We are the product of millions of years of evolution, which has both blessed and cursed us with certain biological quirks. The lizard brain that resides in our amygdala governs our flight, fight, or freeze response, either saving our lives when we nearly step on a poisonous snake or sending us into a panic attack when the doorbell rings.

Instinct and intuition are, I believe, closely linked. What is intuition, if not something deeper and more ancient than intellect or reason speaking from our lizard core, instructing us to fight, run, or freeze? Certainly, there are times when our inner reptile is in dissonance with the modern world; we do not need to run away from fireworks, and we definitely should not freeze in oncoming traffic. Our traumas are often the product of this dissonance between ancient coping mechanisms and modern challenges. We are more than our instincts, of course. That is what makes us human, or so claim at least a few spiritual disciplines. Nonetheless, this embodied animal wisdom can also bring us through the woods unscathed, physically and metaphorically. It is a proven technology to be respected, developed, and used with discernment.

In the case of solo travel, a finely tuned intuition is a vagabondess’ most important tool for surviving, thriving, and transforming in the unfamiliar. There is no need for a detailed guide for where to go, who to trust, or how to get around if you truly tap into the source of wisdom that resides in your own brilliant gut.

In 2013, I spent five days sharing a hotel room with a fellow traveler I had met on the bus to Phnom Penh. We wandered barefoot through the city (don’t ask), made meals of the free peanuts that came with our cold, fifty-cent beer, laughed a lot, and… that was it. I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable in the tiny room we shared. He never crossed any lines. I knew — my intuition knew — that this was someone good, someone I could trust. Some of that other 90% of unprocessed information must have given me the clues I needed to make the call. You could call it luck, except I have hundreds of stories like this one. So does every vagabondess I know. I have to believe that intuition has something to do with it.

Intuition can save your life, get you back to your hostel when you’re lost in a new city, and tell you which new friends deserve your trust. Here are a few simple ways to hone it:

  • Spend time walking around barefoot. The soles of our feet are as receptive to tactile information as the palms of our hands. We close off that source when we constantly cover our feet.

  • Close your eyes, and listen with your other senses. You have to see it to believe it has become the adage of our times. Yet smell, taste, touch, and sound can provide us with just as much information as our eyes, if not more. The problem is, we tune out from those channels when we focus all our awareness on seeing.

  • Choose a somatic practice — dance, yoga, martial arts, anything! — that gets you out of your brain and into your body. Body wisdom is very real; one of the best ways to channel it is through movement practices that let the body speak.

  • Find your flow in a creative process. Be it painting, writing, singing, playing music, cooking, or crafting, a creative practice where you can truly find your flow state also teaches you to drop out of your head and into another wavelength of being, doing, and knowing. It is by spending time on these other levels of connection with self and the world that we learn the language of our intuition.

  • Practice listening to your body in small ways. Eat when you’re hungry. Stretch when your muscles are tight. Allow spontaneous movement, sound, and breath to move through you without filtering or analyzing. Leave a location when it feels unsafe. Speak up when touch, words, or actions feel violent. Intuition is a language we all speak, but it gets rusty without use, like any language. When we practice listening to and honoring the body’s wisdom, we absorb a key message: My intuition is here, and it is valuable.

  • Reflect. Sift through memories for clues to your intuition. When has it spoken clearly in the past? What happened when you listened? What happened when you didn’t listen. Where do you feel intuition speaking in your body? Taking time to research our personal history of successes can provide us with valuable self-awareness, making it easier to recognize and trust our intuition in the future.

An important caveat: Discernment is absolutely vital. A large array of factors like trauma, technology, outside manipulation, and low self-esteem can cloud our intuition, and sometimes even twist it inside out. I am usually right about the people and places I choose, but I’ve been wrong a handful of times. That’s why practice is so important. The more time we spend listening to our inner voice, and the more times we act accordingly, the more accurate our intuition becomes. The more we practice, the lower the risk of falling for false signals posing as intuition.

So then, where should you go? What should you do? How will you know who to trust, whom to talk to, where to stay, how to live? You already have all of the answers to all of these questions. The hard part is learning how to hear them.

This is an excerpt from Vagabondess: A Guide to Solo Female Travel by Toby Israel.

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Toby Israel is an incorrigible vagabond and storyteller with a metaphorical closet full of hats. She currently works as a creative facilitator, editor, and writer, and as Content Manager at NuMundo. For the moment, she lives in Costa Rica. She came for a master’s degree in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies from the UN-mandated University for Peace, and stayed for the papaya, sunshine, and conscious community. Share her journey on her websiteFacebook and Instagram.

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