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Your Best Friend - Intuition

Viewed 2422 times 2014-5-29 23:22 |Personal category:intuition|System category:Life| intuition, Mencius, Liang Shuming

Today I want to write about intuition. When I was still a teenager, I remember my father once was explaining to me what intuition was, using an example from soccer game. He said, when you play soccer game, intuition is a feeling that you suddenly get about doing a move that does not come from logic, but rather is like a sudden lightning. You suddenly know what to do to achieve a certain result without thinking much about that. English speaking people would say that my father was talking about some kind of "gut feeling".

For a long time afterwards, intuition for me was just a mystery, something that comes uninvited, and goes away in a similar fashion. But later on, when I became interested in idea of self-perfection or self-cultivation, I once met a man, who was very extraordinary. I intentionally went to meet him and just talk about life and other interesting things. When leaving him, I suddenly realized I don't have his phone number, so I can't call him again if I want. I asked him for the phone number, but he instead said to me that I might still remember the number, I just need to try to recall it. Indeed, I made an effort, and I could remember his exact phone number. As soon as I said his phone number aloud, he told me: "your intuition works".

I was surprised, because I thought that I just used my memory, but he referred to intuition. Observing my sensations, I realized what he said was true. That act of recollection was very similar to intuition, and even more, maybe sometimes what we call memory might be intuition. I was fascinated by this simple revelation, and I also found out, that intuition can actually be developed and improved. Which makes the whole story different. It is not always just a random gut feeling that comes uninvited and goes without being asked to leave.

I found that as a rule, people don't think that things like intuition can be improved, they think it is something given, something outside of our conscious control. They are right, the nature of intuition is to some extent contradictory, because on one hand it is not something we can fully and consciously control, but on the other hand, if we don't pay any attention to it, it may die like a plant which is not watered.

I guess most of you are familiar with a story of a silly man who was concerned about the slow growth of his crops so he pulled them up to help them grow: "You don't want to be like the man from Song. There was a man from Song who was worried about the slow growth of his crops and so he went and yanked on them to accelerate their growth. Empty-headed, he returned home and announced to his people: ‘I am so tired today. I have been out stretching the crops.’ His son ran out to look, but the crops had already withered." The story is also the source for the Chinese idiom 拔苗助长 ba miao zhu zhang - to spoil things by excessive enthusiasm.

What I find exciting about this story, that based on my observations a lot of foreigners, and even Chinese people, know the story, but don't know that the story is from the book of Mencius - second Confucian sage. Not only that, most of us don't know that Mencius used this story to illustrate what he means when he talks about the cultivation of 浩然之气 hao ran zhi qi , concept which is hard to explain or translate, but which was for him of extreme importance and significance. Let's just call that qi  or subtle energy.

The other thing, that goes often unnoticed, is that soon as Mencius finishes that story about the man from Song he says: "Those in the world who don't ‘help their crops by pulling’ are few indeed." 天下之不助苗长者寡矣。What is this?! I thought he was talking about crops, and not all of us grow crops, not talking about pulling them. So is he using crops to point at something else? Why was he sure that there were few people who didn't pull crops? Does it mean that all of us on a regular basis are doing something that makes us appear very similar to that man of Song? What is that? 

Mencius adds: "There are also those who regard all effort as wasteful and don't even weed their crops. But those who think they can hurry their growth along by forcing it, are not only not helping their crops, but actually harming it!”. Let me paraphrase this, we all have those "crops" in ourselves, but we either forget about them and do not care, or we overdo by paying too much attention to that and harming them. Mencius advice is "You can't forget about it, but you can't force it to grow, either." 心勿忘、勿助長也。xin wu wang, wu zhu zhang ye

What does this story of Mencius have to do with intuition? Mencius in his story about the man from Song, most probably uses the analogy of crops to refer to his hao ran zhi qi - the subtle inner energy or moral strength if you want. But I think the same story and a similar advice could be applied to intuition or our ability to feel things without thinking too much about them. If we completely ignore this ability we will not have it. If we overdo by focusing on it too much, desiring to develop it, we will not achieve much either. I think the first step in developing intuition is feeding it with our attention. We develop our inner abilities by first of all become aware of them and paying them proper attention.

I don't want to come up now with all sweeping generalizations, but in my observations, women in general tend to be better at relying on their intuition. Some of them are even not aware of that, they just use intuition naturally. Intuition is also not something that belongs to a gender or a nation, but I still dare to say that Chinese people that I met in general tend to be more relying on that irrational inner feeling I call intuition, than people from Lithuania or other European countries. There are always exceptions from the rule, and you are free to disagree with my broad conclusions.

I was also very glad to find out that Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 - a very interesting and charming Chinese thinker, who was once called by American professor historian Guy Alitto "The Last Confucian", had related the idea of intuition with Confucian thought. Liang Shuming believed that to understand better Confucius idea of benevolence 仁 ren, we need to understand intuition. Liang Shuming thought that to behave in a benevolent and compassionate way we need to rely a lot on intuition - 直觉 zhi jue.

I am struggling with trying to make my blogs shorter, so I will finish my today's blog here. If I find that people are interested in talking and thinking about intuition, I may decide to write more about that. I think the best would be to give examples from life, this way we would see it is not something abstract or purely theoretical. Intuition is also related strongly to thinking through your heart, but I will write about heart thinking in my next blog.

(I used A. Charles Muller's translation of Mencius, which you can find here).

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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    juliuy: Thanks for the comment! It is not only our brains, hearts also do a lot during the sleep.

    I used to fly and visit some people through the windows in  ...
    "body is afraid of the spirit" will get me thinking for days!

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    And when I change places, I can't be sure where I am when I wake up, similar to your experience but doesn't necessarily mean I think of the previous place fondly. After coming back to China, several times I had dreams that I was still back in the house I stayed in Korea, and when I woke up it took me some time to notice that I came back ^^

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