We’ve all been there. You get a bad vibe—or a great one!—from someone you’ve just met on the road. Or a situation just “feels” wrong, though you can’t quite put your finger on why. Some people lean into these gut instincts. Others are skeptical, maybe brushing them off in favor of a more analytical approach.
Ohio-based intuition expert and psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek, author of Your Sixth Sense: Unlocking the Power of Your Intuition (HarperOne, 2009), says the so-called sixth sense—our intuition—isn’t anything woo-woo or mysterious. It’s really just a collection of information that our bodies and minds have absorbed without realizing it. Intuition can manifest as our bodies and minds alerting us to danger, or as a flash of sudden inspiration—the solution to a problem you’ve been mulling over for a long time. It’s important to trust and, yes, possible to hone.
The best place to explore and develop our intuition, according to Dr. Naparstek? While traveling. It’s “so conducive to these intuitive pops, and perceptions, and insights—and even synthesizing very linear information in a fresh way,” she says. We talked with her about the nature of intuition and her tips for how to develop—or improve—yours on the road.
What is the “sixth sense”?
I don’t particularly think it’s a sixth sense. I think it’s connected to all the senses, and all the structures of the brain, and it’s a unifying force that we all have. It can take the form of just sublime creativity that just comes out of you, or it can be very specific, [what I call a] little psychic pop.
You could have some very specific insight that just comes [all at once], feels totally organic, and absolutely true. Or it could be, I am in the wrong place with the wrong person and I need to get out of here, and based on nothing. You could probably go back and think of a few clues, but it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than a deduction from some clues.
Why is travel such a conduit for this?
Being in a completely fresh environment, it takes me completely out of my normal head. I’m very alive to all of the sensations, and the customs, and the strangenesses, and the sound of the language, and it just puts your brain in a lovely, I would say, altered state—a trance state that’s very receptive. The essence of intuition is, I think, that passive receptivity. You’re not trying to make anything happen, you’re just allowing it to happen. You’re noticing it when it happens because you’re so alive with all of your senses.
How does intuition show up for you?
A lot of other people feel it in their guts, in their bodies. For me, I do feel it in my body and I trust this. I would feel extreme discomfort, possibly tension in my gut. Let’s say I’m feeling like I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person, that this could get weird or dangerous. I’d have this feeling of, I want to get out of here. I don’t want to look this person in the eye. I would feel some anxiety. I might feel hyperalert, like, I’m getting some serious adrenaline going on here and I’m looking for a way to get away. I’ve even felt: I don’t think I’m getting on this elevator with this person.
You’ve talked about a few of the physical indicators. What are some of the mood indicators?
The mood things might be feeling uneasy, troubled, disturbed, uncomfortable. Feeling not fully connected to yourself. It wouldn’t be depression, but it might be more along those lines—[from] anxiety to fear and terror, that range, or jumpy. It could be an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach, that’s back to being physical. It could also be the cognitive indicators, feeling muddled. Just like you’re struggling to think through cotton or fog.
Sometimes it’s supreme cognitive clarity. It’s like, my brain is just really working [laughs]. There can be a positive excitement, or even more than that: an almost mystical sense of boundless possibility, which is really fun and trippy, speaking of trips.
People will have different [manifestations]. In my book, I interviewed 42 psychics who did this for a living. It was so fun. Some of them had really specific little twinges, or physiological reactions, or nervous system reactions that were just theirs alone.
What would you say to somebody who doesn’t believe in trusting their gut?
Some of them have very strong intellect that can get the job done without [connecting to the body]. I think it’s always better to be connected to your body than to not be connected. You’ll know more quickly when you’re starting to get sick, or doing something that isn’t good for your body. You’ll be healthier.
I wouldn’t say anything actually. I would be curious about how they know [how they feel about something]. If I find out that I don’t like my job from the sinking feeling in my stomach, how did they find out they hated their job or loved their job? I would just be curious about somebody else’s process, but I wouldn’t try to sell it.
A five-step process to improving your intuition
Hard-won advice from Dr. Belleruth Naparstek.
Set an intention
There are some really simple things travelers can do, Dr. Naparstek says. If you know you’re going on a trip, set the intention in advance: “I want to develop more of this sense of intuitive knowing,” she says. “Then you would commit yourself to it. ‘I’m going to start paying attention to things in that way I never have time to do.’”
Keep a journal
Many travelers collect memories and mental impressions, so why not track psychic impressions, too? “Tell yourself, ‘I’m going to track my hunches,’” Dr. Naparstek says. “When I have a feeling [about something], I’m going to commit to noticing it and writing it down.
“The more you pay attention to these hunches, the more of them you are going to seem to have,” she adds. At the end of the day or week, take a look at those hunches and see what was a hit and what was a miss.
“Usually when you have a hunch, it’s so organic. Then the thing happens, you forget about it. It just doesn’t stick in your head,” she says. “But if you are writing this stuff down, then you look back and you say, ‘Oh, I was right on that—that happened.’ Or ‘This person was a little risky.’ Or ‘This person was wonderful, I love spending time with her.’ As silly and as simple as that sounds, that is huge.”
Track your physical and emotional symptoms
As you track impressions, try to remember how you felt, Dr. Naparstek recommends: What happened in your body? What happened to your emotions? “That will evolve into your personal signature on how you get information,” she says. Most people will have multiple sensations “but there’s going to probably be one really strong indicator, that’s either going to be based in the body or it’s going to be based in your mood.”
Spend time alone or in nature
“What really supports some of this is solitude,” Dr. Naparstek says. “Just seeking out time alone to collect your thoughts, to just process the day, or maybe writing in your journal and pondering different things that have happened. That seems to be very important to psychic development, intuitive development, as does time in nature.”
Dr. Naparstek says that “being around a lot of ozone in the air from the ocean or the forest or a waterfall” will also pop your intuitive abilities open wider than they were before. “It’s this biofield shift that creates a sense of alertness and aliveness. It’s a nice kind of alertness. It’s not a terrorized alertness—it’s an expansive, open alertness.”
“True mindfulness is watching your state of mind, or your body sensations, or your reactivity—whatever—with this non-judgy, detached, timed awareness,” Dr. Naparstek says. “You just notice, bless, release, whatever you do with that. [Doing that] puts you in this mindful state, hyperaware of what’s going on, but not critical. You learn that and you experience some wonderful things.”