What comes up for you when you hold despair in your mind? Where in your body do you feel it? What kinds of physical sensations arise? What’s your earliest memory of despair? See if you can go back to early childhood to a specific instance of despair. How old? Who was there? What happened to cause the situation? What happened after? Was there anyone with you or did you tell anyone? If not, why?

Despair creeps in when hopes are dashed a few times too many for our nervous systems to handle. From 16 Years of Alcohol “Hope is a strange thing, a currency for people who know they're losing. The more familiar you are with hope, the less beautiful it becomes.”

Despair is a heart so broken you no longer have any tears left to cry. Despair says the fear or sadness will swallow us up whole and never let us go.

How was despair held in your family? Was there a space for sitting with the feelings which arose? Were you allowed to cry? What happened when you cried? Did they make you feel in some way wrong for crying?

Despair drains your energy. Despair says hope is lost, that you will never get out of this situation, that you will always feel this miserable. It says you’re alone.

I’m so tired of….

I’ve lost hope in…

It’s possible that I’ll feel better tomorrow. I’ll be ok even if not. This feeling will pass.

As much as I wish I could feel the positive emotions all the time - joy, love, belonging, etc. – I would be missing out on all the information contained in the negative ones – sadness, disconnection, shame, grief, fear, and so forth.

It’s in these moments we learn the most about ourselves and others. Trust is built while you’re in the valley, not on top of the mountain. Formative change happens here. Bonds are made or broken. These are the opportunities to strip off a piece of our armor, because that’s where we most want to protect ourselves.

I don’t want to claim to know the most about these subjects - not by a long shot. Brene Brown has been my guiding light. I hope you’ll read her four New York Times Best-Sellers on navigating vulnerability, letting your emotions be seen, and rising up when life inevitably knocks you down. My best hope is to give you a framework of what the most common things I’ve seen come up in the process of peering inward at the contents of your gut instinct and know there be dragons inside all of us. None of us ever completely get our shit together, no matter how it may appear from the outside - and that’s ok. We’re all doing the best we can, and finally, finally I feel like that’s pretty damn good.

After all this, you might be wondering why the hell you’d do this. This is the part where I tell you it’s all worth it. No fooling - following my intuition these last six years has been the most breathtakingly wild ride. I promised myself I would follow it wherever it led me, and I have. The more I trust that I’m on my path, the more magical the world has become. I hesitate to tell you some of the more serendipitous moments because you’ll think I’m imagining it.

Suffice to say that your gut instinct, your million-dollar computer is much better at running the show. When it was time for me to move house, I asked three people for recommendations. Two of them knew of magical places for me to live. The one I chose was three doors down the street from me. The landlords were renting well below the market rate because they were so picky about finding tenants that it took them six months of the apartment sitting open before they found someone.

These things don’t happen. I needed a place. The first person I asked has the perfect apartment available for half of market rate, and I only have to go three doors down. It’s even on the same side of the street - and it’s downhill!!! Trusting my gut feels like the ability to pick whatever I need out of thin air.

“When you really want something, the world conspires to make a dream come true.” – Paul Cohelo

I come from evangelical Christianity. This quote could be read like the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel that says you just have to want something hard enough and God will give it to you. I haven’t found that to be true, despite how hard I tried for the decade I was part of organized religion.

What I do find is true in my life is that when I follow my gut instinct, things fall into place in a way I never could have imagined. Highly qualified professionals keep showing up to help me do or make wherever my gut leads me. It indeed feels like the universe is helping me do my work.

The trouble of writing a book about intuition is that therein lies self, and all of the problems and pleasures contained within. My only chance at offering you a useful guide is to sketch out some of the things that come up for a lot of people and point you in the direction for further study. I find when I’m trying to learn something, 80% of the battle is finding out that a concept exists and what the people who know a lot about it call it. Google isn’t useful in helping you with the questions you don’t know to ask, or once you do, which words to search for. Then when you’ve found the vein of knowledge it’s easy to follow it to the rest of the gold.

I wish I was writing a book that offered you a map to your own experience. I wish I could say – when the tip top of your head tingles like your hair is growing, that means you’re overwhelmed, but each one of our brain-body relationships are unique. I have the much more difficult task of teaching you to be a cartographer of your own inner experience. You must build the associations of how your body feels when you’re experiencing various cognitive states. Feeling overwhelmed can show up for you as a certain vein popping out in your forehead, as your ears burning, or your eyes hurting. Fear shows up differently than overwhelmed. For me, I see in my mind’s eye a murky blackness and feel a heaviness in my chest.

The most important tool in your cartographer’s tool chest is noticing in a moment of intense emotion, notice what’s going on in your body. It’s hard at first to remember to do this, but it becomes automatic with practice. Over time you develop a more and more fine grained ability to call out the differences between emotions. You will first learn to realize more quickly that you’re angry. Then you can break down what’s underneath the anger. It could be disappointment, shame, jealousy, hurt, injustice. Those all show up differently once you can peel back the overlying layer of anger. Injustice might push your spine straight and your shoulders back, while hurt makes you want to crawl up into a ball.

What’s weird is that once you have made these associations you start to have what seems like a superpower. You can realize something is going on, notice how your body is feeling, and go – “oh hey! I’m feeling hurt. That’s weird, I wonder what I’m feeling hurt about?” It’s like a magic extra sense you suddenly have. Once you start to see them, you’ll find your body is way quicker to tip you off that something needs your attention.

Yah. So that’s why this is all worth it.

See the reversal > ANGER