the false friend of intuition

“Here, you’re not at school. If you give me an answer, you have to be able to tell me why.

This is what Ajan said to Eric at one moment, when he was first starting to teach him meditation. Eric did not know it was “meditation” at the time; he thought Ajan had simply asked him a question to which everyone knew the answer. It was obvious, almost childishly so. He had opened his mouth to reply, when Ajan interrupted him. Eric then spent several long minutes trying to figure out the why behind an answer that had seemed so easy, that he had been so quick to give.

The moment when Eric realised that the answer he had been about to give to this, apparently stupidly easy question, was in fact incorrect – false, wrong – it was like a volcano erupting in his mind.

All his life people had repeated the same wrong teaching to him, every time without checking it, without questioning it, without truly verifying it. They told this, and everyone agreed, and nobody asked “Why?”

This was how he first discovered that his ideas, his opinions and everything he thought he “knew” – most of it was based on nothing more than a bunch of memories picked up randomly from everywhere and anywhere throughout his life, from what people had told him, what he had heard, what he had read.  How did he know whether any of it was really true, finally?

Exactly the same is true, by the way, of your ideas, your opinions, what you think you know. Have you ever asked yourself about the origin of your thoughts and ideas, where do you get your opinions about things?Especially, where does the thing that everyone calls “intuition” come from?

“Trust your intuition.” This is one small example of something that is often said without verification, without checking whether it is correct or not. What do you mean by “intuition”? And what is an intuition, a “feeling” about something based on, what guides it? Is it really something to be trusted?

An example: one day, last summer, I was trying to find my way along a path which passed through one of those confusing residential areas, where every street looks the same. I had walked the path once in one direction before, but I’d never come back the other direction.

At one point, I found myself getting confused. I arrived at a lake, and my memory was that I should turn left soon after the lake, yet, the only street I saw turning left was nothing but a small driveway going between a couple of houses. Everything about its appearance said “cul-de-sac.”

So, instead of taking it, I followed my feeling about where I should go, and continued straight on, looking for a different street. I didn’t find one, and got lost. Later I came back and found that in fact the street that had looked so much like it led to nowhere, was really the one that led to my destination: my feeling, my intuition of where I should go, had been completely wrong.

Not surprising, when you realise that it was based on nothing but the idea of how a road was “supposed” to look; which idea in turn was based on nothing but a bundle of memories cobbled together, yet arriving in my mind in that moment as an unquestionable fact.

This is the nature of this sort of “feeling” or “intuition” – in the moment, the mind is so completely stuck in its idea that it seems impossible that things could be any other way. Your intuition shows you this, having its own bizarre internal logic that seems infallible when you are locked inside of it, but which breaks immediately as soon as you really examine it, as soon as it is tested.

Most of the time, though, it is not tested. It’s astounding how much of our feelings, intuitions, ideas and even what we think of as “knowledge” – passes completely unchecked, unverified, unquestioned. It’s all comfortable, it feels like it is yours, you are at home with it, and the mind is loves to stick to it, regardless of whether it has any base in reality or not. It can even do this – and frequently does – to the point of actually ignoring the hard evidence, the facts before your eyes, if they happen to contradict the intuition or idea that you have formed.

Part of learning wisdom is this – realising that all your thoughts might well be like brick houses built on a foundation of nothing but sand, you have to test them. Give them a push. Even knock them all down, and build them up from scratch, this time with proper foundations. Do not trust anything your mind brings up. Your mind is not your friend.

I don’t want to stay like this, accepting something as true just because I have been told it, or just because it sounds nice, just because everyone else around me agrees with it. I want to see for myself what is true and what is not, and I don’t want to be fooled into following the false friend of intuition, no matter how strong it is or how much it feels like it is right.

Ask why, always ask why. If you can’t explain why convincingly, then there is a good chance that you had no good reason for believing what you did in the first place.

One could start with something you read in a book, or hear in a movie. 

Then something you have ‘known’ all your life.

Why is it true? What if it is not true after all? 

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