Mining For Precious Gems: The Power of Accessing Your Own Inner Guidance
An interesting aspect of being a professional counselor is that ultimatly the goal is to put ourselves out of business. In other words, we invest our focus and energy towards a client’s empowerment, and our success is marked by their ability to become their own compass in the world. Although there is unquestionably still immense value in having another human there to offer their support, by offering the following bit of wisdom, it may save many of you from ever setting foot inside one of our offices.
Have you ever wondered why humans are equipped with such a vast scope of imagination? Consider all the hours we spend sleeping and dreaming each night... Why would nature invest so much time in this ability if it wasn’t somehow useful to us in some way? As neuroscientists begin to discover the full potential of imagination - what happens inside the mind begins to take on a whole new meaning. In the groundbreaking book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge informs us that “experiments have shown that we can change our brain anatomy simply by using our imaginations.” Through various methods of studying the brain, researchers have discovered that “from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound.”
We now know that we can grow neurons simply by using our imaginations. There have been studies designed to show that we can learn to play the piano, build muscle mass, and even change the way we perceive reality. And when I talk about learning skills in the brain, I mean that our imaginations actually have the capacity to change the real estate of the brain, creating new wrinkles aka neural pathways. Full stop - really take this in…. This means that actual learning that makes physical changes to the brain takes place when we have an experience within our own minds. Do you remember the last time you dreamt a dream that impacted your day, your week, or that you still find yourself thinking back on? Consider that the experience you had, is literally written into your memories. In the eyes of your brain - you had that experience - and if you're like me - you might even remember the body sensations from whatever those experiences were. Right now I’m remembering a particular dream where I was able to glide like a bird when I was a child, and my belly still gets a twinge of butterflies every time I do.
What am I getting at here? The thing that has struck me in recent years is the untapped power of imagination. Seventeen years ago I discovered guided meditation and have been exposed to it in many different settings. I’ve been guided into my body, to treasure chests of insight within, into past lives, back to being a baby, onto other planets, to the center of the earth, to the origins of the universe, toward teachers and elders to give me advice, to a meeting with power animals, and into various energy centers and planes of existence… and all of these experiences are stored as memories that I can reflect upon. In most cases, I was able to take something from these journeys and integrate it into my waking life. And although I always wanted to find some all-knowing teacher who could answer all my questions to satisfaction - the best teachers over the years connected me to practices like this. Perhaps I should have given some of them more credit - they were all trying to connect me to my own inner wisdom. For a long time, it was easy to take this wisdom with a grain of salt - it came from my mind - and what do I really know. But as my beliefs about what we each have access to expand - I realize more and more that we all have the teacher we seek inside us.
Recently, I was listening to Timothy Ferriss's podcast featuring author and teacher Jack Kornfield. Nearing the end of the interview, Tim is looking for guidance in a certain area and rather than simply offer his own answer Jack takes him through a guided meditation. He is asked to imagine a teacher he holds in high esteem. The teacher whispers in his ear and offers him various tools and resources to solve the problem (if you’d like to listen - I provided the link below). Spoiler alert: Tim gets some big tools and answers through this simple guided imagery. I was awestruck for a while by the simple words that Jack offers in conclusion: “We all carry wisdom in our own hearts.” He goes on to teach us all how contemplative practices give us access to these immortal answers of the heart and psyche. Many take for granted our own abilities to gain access to this power. These answers come to us as symbols of the unconscious, and we can all access these symbols anytime through sleeping dreams and the waking dreams of imagination.
For those of you who know the work of C.G. Jung - he spent his life trying to give the wisdom of the unconscious a scientific ground. Then at the end of his life, in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections he makes a rather big reveal: Nearly all of the big breakthroughs and wisdom he wrote about was obtained through conversations he had with a winged being named Philemon that first appeared to him in a dream, and then later would speak to him in his garden. In his memoirs, Jung discusses conversing with Philemon as he strolled in the garden of his lakeside home in Küsnacht, Switzerland. He once recalled that “[Philemon] was simply a superior knowledge, and he taught me psychological objectivity and the actuality of the soul. He formulated and expressed everything which I had never thought.” Whatever you may believe in regards to the reality of this being he obtained so much from - what’s more important is that the wisdom was real.
I’d like to challenge you all to realize that we all have this ability within ourselves - to access an internal source of wisdom within. I invite you to try some experiments with this…
Option 1: Try Listening to a Guided Meditation
The easiest experiment to try is to experience a guided meditation and see what happens when you go within and seek answers to questions you didn’t think you had the answer to. Here is a link to Jack Kornfield’s website where he guides you through something like this: https://jackkornfield.com/finding-buddha-nature-in-the-midst-of-difficulty/ . Find a quiet space, give yourself twenty minutes, and simply press play. If you like this one I reccomend his others. You might also try digging around on Tara Brach's web page (one of my other favorite sites): https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/
Option 2: Accessing Inner WiSdom Through Journaling
In addition to this (or if guided meditation isn’t your thing), you might try what I often do. Open up a journal or notebook and address it like you were writing a letter:
Start with “Dear Higher Self”/ “Divine Wisdom,” “Inner Treasury of Knowledge,” “God” (or whatever symbolizes a source of wisdom that could channel through you).
Then begin your letter with a question that you seek the answer to. Perhaps it’s something like: “I am feeling like crap today - what’s wrong and what do I need to do about it?” or perhaps it’s “I’m having relationship problems with __________ - what should I do?” or any other infinite number of questions you might ask.
Now as you begin to answer, write as if someone else is replying. Really pretend like they are speaking to you through your hand. Don’t think - just write. Try not to stop writing and really just go for it with answering the question. The key is writing faster than your normal thinking mind can process - so don’t worry about sloppiness, spelling or anything other than writing.
Pro tip: Feel free to ask questions to figure out how to better use this tool. Your inner guidance will instruct you how best to use your own inner guidance!
Option 3: Dreamwork
Dreams are a classic way of accessing inner wisdom and can be among the most profound. I offered this last because it's not always easy for everyone to remember their dreams, and learning about how to read them is a subject of many books. I have created some simplified steps for you if you want to skip all those:
Write down the symbols, images or chunks that stand out as well as emotions to them.
Free associate the symbols and what they mean to you Symbol: "A big tree getting struck by lightning." Then without thinking quickly write what that makes you think of. For example, a symbol like this makes me think of power, destruction, nature, and beauty.
Sit with all these free associations and consider your waking life. How do the themes arising relate to themes going on in your life right now? See if there is a reflection of something real going on and whether the dream presents any solutions.
Give it some time to marinate if need be.
When you do feel stuck - I highly recommend journaling and asking questions as instructed above.
Pro Tip: You don't need a dream dictionary! In fact, if you have one - throw it away. Why would your dreams communicate to you in a language you yourself can't understand? What matters is how these symbols relate to you - not what some crusty scholar thinks about them.
In case you do want a book my personal favorite is Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination For Personal Growth by Robert Johnson.
Option 4: The Sky's the Limit...
How else might your imagination communicate with you? Perhaps it's through art, dance, music, an interaction with tarot cards, simply laying down with your eyes closed and seeing what appears... With practice - I promise you that each one of you can have access to the untapped wisdom you never knew you had. In the comments below I’d love to hear if any of the tools here worked for you or if something like what was said here has worked for you in the past. Any other good ideas for accessing wisdom? I’d love to hear about them!
References and links to more:
How dreams help digest and process information: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tetris-dreams/
Imagination changes the brain: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201306/imagination-can-change-perceptions-reality & http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259 & http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580438,00.html & https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-grow-stronger-without-lifting-weights/
Although I highly recommend listening to the whole thing - here is a link that will direct you to the moment in Timothy Ferris’s podcast with Jack Kornfield with the guided meditation I referenced: https://youtu.be/dmV699nDuTQ?t=2h12m15s
Joseph Campbell quote was taken from Stanislav Grof's book: Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research