Extrasensory Etiquette

What to do when intuition strikes

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Intuition is hot. Books and tapes abound; classes are filled to overflowing.Perhaps you're part of this renaissance and your skills are developing nicely—flourishing, in fact. Intuitive insights keep showing up, sometimes unbidden. You may be at a PTA meeting and get a strong feeling that the person sitting next to you, someone you barely know, has a child in serious trouble who can't ask for help. Or you may be listening to a friend enthusiastically talk about a new hiring choice and know “in your bones” that this candidate will turn out to be the employee from hell. Or you may be shaking an associate's hand and sense that cancer is forming in his gut. What are you supposed to do with this unsolicited data? Are there any rules here?

After all, these people haven't asked for your advice. As is often the case with our most blatant hits, especially early on in the development of intuitive capacities, the information is not always wonderful. If anything, it seems to be of the dire-warning variety. So where does our responsibility lie? Do we say something and risk rudely mucking around uninvited in someone else's life? Or do we just button up, perhaps missing an opportunity to help?

As a practicing psychotherapist for 33 years, I knew that professional rules exist—as they do for the ministry and medicine—for handling inadvertent outside information that falls into practitioners' laps. But here we're talking about “inside” information. Signposts are especially necessary in the free-floating, amorphous territory of psi (the catch-all category that includes intuition, ESP, channeling, distant healing, and psychokinesis), where distinctions between “I” and “thou” become blurry, and where the dissolving of boundaries is, after all, the essence of the experience.

Here are the basic rules of etiquette I've leaned from interviews with more than 40 professional intuitives around the world:

1. When in doubt, do nothing.

People have a right to their own lives, and we need to respect and honor that. It would be arrogant to assume we've all been deputized by God to interfere, sometimes even if people ask us to. The path of not doing is your safest default position.

Emilie Conrad Da'oud is the founder of Continuum, a subtle method of meditative healing and heightened awareness. “I won't say anything negative,” she told me. “Who am I, anyway?”

Joe McMoneagle was one of the first members of the U.S. military's controlled remote viewing team, whose aim was to “see” people and objects at distant locations in order to gather data about everything from Soviet bomb-making facilities to the location of hostages in Iran. While he was on assignment, he would occasionally pick up something about the personal life of one of his co-workers, but he never revealed what he intuited. “It's none of my business,” he says. “I have no right to interfere with their process. Let it unfold in the way it was meant to. It's their adventure, not mine.”

2. Revisit your notions about what “dire” is.

Several of the intuitives I spoke with looked at me with genuine puzzlement when I asked them about dire consequences. They wanted to know what I meant. In the way they look at things, everything that happens has value. We're all on a journey; our suffering has meaning (even if it escapes us for the moment), and since our spirits live on forever, what could be bad? When I asked Miami medical intuitive Iris Saltzman what she would recommend if you “see” that someone is going to die, he replied, “Aw, let it be a happy surprise.”

3. Scrutinize your motives.

If you have a strong impulse to divulge your information, be clear about what's driving you. The stronger the impulse, the more imperative it is to be brutally honest with yourself. If speaking up is self-serving, if it's about feeling special, loved, powerful, or being rewarded by the other person or by your peers—keep a lid on it. Similarly, if your urge is in the least bit driven by a need to retaliate, provoke, or creatively express your passive aggressiveness, bite your tongue. And if you're smart enough to know that you don't really understand exactly what your motives are—best to keep quiet there, too.

4. Recheck your data.

When research subjects—including professionals—perform with a mere 65 percent accuracy on psi tests, it's considered impressive. So no matter how strong the signal you're getting, it's essential to acknowledge that you might be wrong, and to deliver the information in a way that makes that clear to the other person. Don't get caught in the trap of thinking that because this is intuitive information, it must by definition be accurate. (And if you're ever in the company of someone who says, “My guides are never wrong,” do not linger there.)

You may want to ask your body to answer yes or no to the question, “Is this accurate?” Highly kinesthetic people will get a rapid answer: yes, which feels like a subtle opening, expanding, or relaxing of the innards, or no, a contraction or withholding, a tightening or tensing inside.

Or try imagining a screen or empty stage on which validation or negation appears, in the form of a check or a minus, thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or other symbolism.And don't forget the good old-fashioned kind of feedback—external data from independent sources.

5. Ask the question: “Is there something I need to do with this?”

Even if someone has asked for advice and you get a nice strong hit, one that makes perfect logical sense, it's still best to question the value of sharing the information. In some situations and with certain people, imparting information impedes choices, fosters unhealthy dependency, and drives behavior in unfortunate directions.

What you don't want to do is limit someone's choices by saying what you sense is likely to happen. As Cleveland intuitive and ceremonial artist Cynthia Gale says, “When I get information, I get really quiet, and I ask if there's anything I'm supposed to do with it. Sometimes there isn't.”

6. You can always intervene in nonordinary reality.

You don't have to have an audible conversation, make a scene, or interfere with someone's life in real time.

You can pray for him or her. Or pray for the best possible outcome, understanding that you probably don't know what that is anyway. Physician and author Larry Dossey cites scores of studies showing that in controlled clinical trials, prayed-for people actually do better, healthwise, than un-prayed-for people—even if they don't know they're being prayed for.

Another option is a variation on the 'my-girl-will-call-your-girl' gambit—as in “my guides can talk to your guides.” Since information comes to Cleveland intuitive counselor Mary Sherman in dreamtime, she feels it should be handled there as well. This is less messy, maintains a respect for privacy, keeps her ego out of it, and has a certain balance and integrity. So she delegates more of her interventions to the capable energies of her “guides.”

7. Finesse it the way therapists do.

I've inadvertently picked up, in various ways, some surprising information about my clients over the years—news of affairs with spouses' best friends, embezzlement schemes, plans for employment termination. It poses a common dilemma for a shrink.

When the client hasn't told me but I'm stuck knowing the information anyway, I simply use the data as a “heads up.” I know I can't use it directly. Or I look for in-context openers for acknowledging it “on the bias,” so that I'm not introducing the information, just picking up on it once it's mentioned. Or I come around to it through the back door: “You wouldn't be in any danger of getting fired, now, would you?”

8. If you do share your information, phrase it in a positive way that clarifies options and makes clear—again—that you could be wrong.

Sue Greer, a gifted teacher and healer from Silver Spring, Maryland, says that divulging information this way is “like picking up a thread that's been dropped and handing it back to someone, so they can have personal responsibility for it once more.”

Both Christine Page, a British intuitive and author, and Vivian Bochenek, a Cleveland osteopath and healer, try to put information in a personal growth context, to help people discover their own options. By saying “I have a hunch,” Marcia Emery, an intuition trainer in Berkeley, avoids coming across as the font of all wisdom and immutable truth.

Another therapist-type maneuver: Phrase something as a question, not an answer, and be willing to be told you are wrong. That way, you won't impose your data on someone else's choices.

9. When in doubt, drop out of your head and into your heart. There, it's hard to act like a jerk.

If you deliberately evoke authentic feelings of love, compassion, and gratitude, it's unlikely you'll do the wrong thing. Moving out of the head not only pumps up intuitive ability (which is nothing more than an exquisite form of empathy, expanded boundaries, and attunement with the world), it also strengthens trustworthiness. Awash in compassion, we step away from our need for power, and our desire to manipulate others to serve our more egoistic purposes becomes irrelevant. The heart is a big place, and it brings out the biggest part of us.

My own favorite technique: I imagine being surrounded and protected by a magical cushion of intelligent, vibrating energy, which draws to it all the love and sweetness ever sent my way—every prayer, smile, good wish, and gesture of gratitude. Then I have loving people from my life show up, a kind of personal cheering section, guiding me and wishing me well. This group can include powerful ancestors, guardian angels, power animals, and all manner of spirits and symbols. This practice opens the heart, pumps up psi ability, and crowds out my tackier motives (not to mention heightening immune function and lowering blood pressure). I highly recommend it.

From Intuition (July-Aug. 1998). Subscriptions: $19.95/yr. (6 issues) from Box 460773, San Francisco, CA 94146-9804.