Pathways: How can you use nature to increase your intuition?
Josh: When you immerse yourselves in the patterns of the natural world, your brain state effortlessly begins to shift into what's known as the alpha brain rhythm. This is a slightly slower rhythm of activity in the brain than what we use when we're doing day to day thinking or working on problem solving. For example, when your brain focuses on doing math, it is in a beta level brain pattern. In alpha, you turn on your holistic pattern detection, where your senses become more attuned. You relax and get into the present moment. This is a state commonly associated with meditation. It's interesting that immersion in nature brings us into this state of consciousness. Researchers call alpha waves the "windshield wipers of the mind" because they help reset the neural network and refresh our attention.
How do you attain this? The first step is simply to take some time to be in the moment. Let go of your agenda. Let go of the things you were dealing with earlier in your day. Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to just be present and settle into where you are. Focus on how you are feeling and how the landscape around you feels.
A key point is that there's a feeling of the landscape. Different places have different feelings. This is really evident if you go to a beach where you feel the wind on your face, you hear the sound of the surf, and you feel the texture of the warm sand under your feet. It's a very relaxing feeling. Compare this with climbing a steep rock scramble of a cliff face. This is a very energizing feeling that brings you into the moment in a very different way. Contrast this with the feeling of busy activity around you when you're walking through a crowded urban environment. This landscape has a very different feeling from a quiet place in nature.
There's a different feeling around you in the forest when the animals are going about their usual business feeding, foraging, resting, singing, or working on their nests. That's what we call a harmonious feeling or baseline versus when a predator is on the move. When a predator is nearby, the birds become alarmed. This creates an agitated sensation amongst the animals. By becoming present, you open up the possibility to tune into the feeling of a place and to the feeling of what's going on around you. This helps you awaken intuition because we have to be present in the first place to tap into it.
However, intuition can often be overlooked through overthinking. You start to learn all the textures, the nuances of feeling that come through our intuition, and through our instinct when you are fully present. When you're out in nature, you may get that feeling of disturbance, such as when you hear birds being upset. You may see them then move from the ground to the tree canopy. If you're wondering what's causing that alarm, you might get a flash in your mind of a hawk. That could be your intuition communicating something to you about what's going on. But if you weren't present, you would have missed the alarms and the feeling that they produced. You probably would have even missed the flash in the mind's eye of that hawk.
When you have intuitive moments like that, it gives you an opportunity to go investigate them in nature. If you do this follow-up, you start to learn that those instincts, those feelings, those intuitions, can be telling you things. Everyone is different in the way their intuition communicates to them. Maybe you get a feeling or an image. Perhaps you even get a sound or a song. Sometimes when tracking deer, I'll get a particular song coming through in my mind that for me is connected to the deer. When that happens, I pay attention to it. I might look down at that moment when I hear the song and see a fresh deer trail in front of me.
You have to learn how intuition speaks to you personally because it can communicate in different ways for different people. The key here is that nature starts to open us to the moment. Through all those textures and patterns, it enriches our capacity to sense on any level. The key point is to sense. Be with nature. Notice what comes up. As these patterns emerge, follow up on them, and see what they have to tell you. This is how you build your intuitive vocabulary.
Pathway: What's the difference between intuition and instinct?
Josh: Oftentimes these get blurred together. I even see this in modern consciousness research where researchers are confounding these two things. I think of instinct as the body's memory. You could say this is inherited through adaptation. Countless generations have survived by training the body to respond to external cues in order to survive. That information can be encoded on an epigenetic level. This is what Rupert Sheldrake calls the morphogenetic field. You also see this idea in traditional Chinese medicine. It is an energetic aspect that informs the body through acupuncture meridians. The idea is this— the body is informed by the information contained in an energetic field. With each generation, there's an encoding that builds up a database of action and reaction for how to survive. Some of these patterns go dormant when they're not needed. Sometimes they activate again. When you have an instinctual experience, you can think of it as the voice of the ancestors communicating through genetic or energetic encoding. This helps us to survive and thrive. Instinct can speak through a "gut feeling" that we're all familiar with. However, it might speak in other ways.
Sometimes instinct can be confused with intuition. With instinct, I think of it this way— what is it that my senses or past experience have access to right now? You might experience a mind's eye flash that alerts you to danger from the part of our brain and sensory system that's always detecting danger. It says, "Hey, the birds have actually stopped singing right now!" You get a flash in your mind's eye of a Cooper's Hawk. This is where the line can get blurry between intuition and instinct. Instinct can communicate danger, but so can intuition. I think of instinct as being based on our past ancestral experience combined with our own life experiences. This combination makes a deduction based on the information that's coming through on an unconscious level.
If I get a mind's eye flash that is a sense of knowing or feeling with no context for how I know this information, then that is intuition. I might get a flash of information about something far away from me physically. Perhaps it is something I perceive will occur in the future. That's intuition. That's when you're entering what quantum physicists call the "non-local realm." This occurs when you're accessing information that is not local to where your physical body is now. You're bordering on what we might call the spiritual realm. To me this is where intuition really shines through. This is the voice of that part of ourselves that connects to that non-local realm— the larger field of information that we are all part of. It's where you see that oneness of nature coming through in everything. We are all interconnected in some mysterious way to this. When we get into that quiet mind in nature, it starts to connect you to this larger field of life.
Josh: I often suggest that people should begin by walking very slowly. Try slowing down to a third or quarter of your usual speed. Feel each footstep. Be fully in your senses. Notice how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Tend to your physical needs first. This will allow you to be more fully present. Are you feeling open and receptive to nature? How do you feel internally? Once you are present, expand your senses outward. Notice what's going on with the birds and the wind. Notice the scent of the air. Open each of your senses fully. I go deep into this in my book, Conscious Nature. I teach the four stages of meditating outdoors. Each stage is designed to help tap into your intuition. As you get into your senses, start to notice if things arise on the screen of your mind's eye. As your senses notice things, do you get a flash of anything in your mind's eye or a sense of knowing? It could even be a gut feeling that there might be something interesting to check out in a particular direction. Some people call this "body radar." Follow up on your intuition. Explore nature and see what you discover. This is how you build trust and capacity with intuition because intuition is a sense. The more you work with it, the more it comes to life. This is what I teach in my course Exploring Intuition in Nature. It only takes ten to fifteen minutes a day to make a difference and to start developing your intuition.
Josh: Ninjutsu and nature really flow together as an expression of being in the moment. Being present is a prerequisite for the practice of developing intuition. Whether you're on the mat, in a real life conflict situation, or in the woods, cultivating presence through the senses is going to give you an advantage. This skill informs you of what is actually happening in a situation. This opens the door towards greater sensitivity through attunement. Attunement means that you are able to adjust and detect changes in the moment and shift accordingly. Sometimes receiving intuition is about what's going to happen next.
The dojo and nature go hand in hand. Going into nature is an extension of the training that you do in the dojo. Nature becomes the dojo. Nature teaches you to be present in the moment and to attune. The more that you practice this in nature, the more it improves your awareness when inside in the dojo. This training is a good expression of "nin" or perseverance. To persevere is to invite yourself into the present moment again and again, instead of getting lost in thoughts and concerns or worrying about the past or future. Ask yourself- what is the opportunity and gift of the moment?
Pathways: Anything else you'd like to share with us?
Josh: If you found this useful, I definitely would invite you to check out my book Conscious Nature and also check out my course Exploring Intuition and Nature. These resources are designed to build a framework for cultivating intuition. I teach you how to access some very deep, intuitive meditation states. These states of being connect your conscious mind to your unconscious mind using the wisdom of the body and the field of information to be found in nature. These teachings are built step-by-step so that you can build these skills into your daily practice. These practices are skills you can do both indoors and outdoors, wherever you are, to cultivate your intuition. Calm waters reflect the image of the landscape. As you step deeper into the quiet mind, you find that still place inside of yourself where you begin to reflect that which is around you. If you find that place of quiet inside yourself, you will find a doorway to your intuition.
As Josh describes above, intentionally slowing down in nature while tuning in to all of your senses is a great way to become present in the moment and thus start training your intuition. Check out the video below from our Ninjas in Nature Program that describes a technique called "body radar". One thing we hear in the dojo often from Dai Shihan Mark Roemke is that "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." This is a great way to learn how to embody this concept.