I recently finished a challenging jigsaw puzzle, a photo of colorful mushrooms. I was intrigued to discover it had a unique piece at the center. In this case, it’s the only piece in the box with two balloon-shaped protrusions.
I wouldn’t have known to look for this center piece if I hadn’t fallen down a rabbit hole this spring while shopping for puzzles online. I landed in the middle of a delightful conversation between several jigsaw puzzle geeks, who were discussing the center piece topic. (Sadly, I can’t find the site again. Like Atlantis, it seems to have disappeared forever.)
They mentioned a revered puzzle champion who could find the center piece of a 1000-piece puzzle. I was amazed to learn that she’d do this by feel, running her fingers through all the pieces in the box. Then, she’d assemble the puzzle with astounding rapidity—starting at the center.
What a perfect metaphor for the role of spiritual intuition in our lives as highly sensitive people. We thrive best when we orient ourselves around the center piece of our spiritual intuition, enjoying the integrity and creativity that flow from it. When it comes, spiritual intuition is a gift of grace. This may happen by invitation, through prayer, meditation, or simply through opening to it. Or it can happen spontaneously through dreams or waking inspiration. But what about those times you need guidance, and it doesn’t come?
My Zen teacher spoke to this dual attention when he shared this (unattributed) quotation with me years ago: “Although each move is ahead of the next, know that there is another way up.” In other words, we affirm the existence of a “center piece” of spiritual intuition, from which our actions can effortlessly unfold. But we can also cultivate pragmatic strategies or “moves” we can use, each “ahead of the next.”
When your intuition is silent: 4 practical strategies
For jigsaw puzzlers, “each move ahead of the next” means working step by step: finding and assembling the edge pieces, sorting different colored pieces into trays. But what does a methodical, “each move ahead of the next” approach look like when you can’t get clear spiritual intuition on an important topic? Here are some of my “moves,” starting with the simplest and moving towards the more thorough:
1—I ask, “What does my best common sense tell me? What has helped in the past?” This might seem woefully obvious, but I find it really helpful. Spiritual guidance doesn’t always come in spectacular ways, like Monty Python’s God in the sky who opens his mechanical mouth and issues grand proclamations. Common sense is a highly under-rated form of spiritual guidance.
2—I ask, “What would _______say?” I insert the name of a close trusted friend: someone who knows me really well, appreciates my good qualities, knows my challenges, and wants all the best for me. I often do this in writing. I get amazingly clear answers.
3—I use my imagination. Think of two or more actions you could take, or ways you could approach your situation. Choose “Action A” and imagine you’ve taken it. Sense how that lands in your body. Then do the same with “Action B.” Maybe Action A clearly feels more right. Maybe neither feels right. Maybe “A” feels mostly right, but with a tweak or two. One way or another, you’ll come away from the process with more insight.
4—I use the SOPPADA decision-making template. SOPPADA is an acronym for Subject, Objective, Present Situation, Proposed Solution, Advantages, Disadvantages, and Actions. Write each heading down on a legal pad and think through an answer. This process primes the pump of your spiritual intuition by digging deep into your values, your goals, and your expectations.
At the same time, you’ll produce a thorough list of every consideration you can think of. Your conscientious HSP mind, with its high value for consideration of others and of all the angles, will love this method.
…and two practices that help you open to spiritual intuition
In addition to these four strategies, two practices have made all the difference for me in connecting to my spiritual intuition: meditation and Focusing. Each practice requires me to be present with myself in a certain way, and the two practices are complementary.
In meditation, I go inside and witness my emotions, sensations, and thought processes. In some practices, you label what you are witnessing. Others have you simply let it all float by. Still others have you take your witnessing awareness and direct it to focus on a mantra, a prayer, or the breath. Whatever form your meditation takes, though, meditation strengthens your experience of yourself as “the one who is witnessing.” And that “you” is also “the one who can hear spiritual intuition.”
In Focusing, too, I witness what is going on in me. But I then go a step further. I come into relationship with what I am observing and sensing. I relate to my inner patterns in a way that helps loosen and dissolve them. In a surprisingly short time, I can facilitate movement in patterns that would take years to melt away from “just sitting.” What remains is a state of presence in which I can hear my spiritual intuition.
Should I just focus, then, and skip meditating? No. To cultivate my spiritual intuition, I need both practices. Ultimately, meditation is not just a path to spiritual connection: it is the act of being spiritually connected. To meditate is to sit in the ground of being. I wouldn’t want to skip that. But there can be a lot of noise in my mind, and Focusing helps me address and release all that. In the settling that follows, I can connect much more easily to the “center piece” of my spiritual intuition.
Image 2020 Emily Agnew