With support from the Bush Foundation

What About Intuition? was a personal investigation of motivation and time that explored these questions:

  • If I let go of all external obligations, what will I discover about what really motivates me?
  • If I take away the external structure of a clock and date book, what will I discover about my internalized relationship to time?
  • How can I forge a healthy relationship with time in a culture that is speeding up?

For four months in 1986 I assigned myself only one task: to follow my intuition from moment to moment. Before this assignment I knew very little about intuition, but I assumed I would learn something useful by intentionally framing a period of time to explore the subject. I was right. What I discovered during those four months continues to inform every day of my life over twenty years later. See Learnings

THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN ART AND LIFE DISSOLVED. Washing dishes became dancing. I didn't know if I would even make a bed. To my surprise and my husband's delight, our home was the cleanest it had ever been. I dropped underneath any feelings of obligation around housecleaning and discovered a spontaneous desire to create order.
I stopped reading one book mid-sentence, and randomly finished the sentence in another book. Metaphors mixed and images bumped up against each other with great vitality. I surfed creative waves wherever they carried me, switching from one medium to another at the first hint of inhibition - - from writing to drawing to sounding to dancing to writing until my mind moved as freely as a saloon door on a windy day.
Everyone in my immediate life agreed to go along with this exploration. Friends knew I might make plans to meet for dinner and not show up. My husband didn't know what to anticipate from me. Would I spend my days watching soap operas and eating bon-bons? Would I up and leave town?
I showed up at the park equipped with tennis racquets and huge beach balls. Sometimes I played alone in several feet of winter snow. Sometimes I invited strangers to play. I always seemed to find someone to play with when I wanted company.
Just after dawn, I snuck down to a frozen pond in an urban city park and secretly embedded giant drawings of flowers in the ice. Later in the day, as young skaters discovered my paper garden, I heard them shriek with pleasure as they tried to convince their parents that there really were flowers under the ice.
I performed odd little improvised rituals in the parks. I followed the geese around the lakes and danced their pathways. I made mandalas in the sand with stones, bark and sticks. At the base of trees, I left traces of my activities for others to discover.
Everyday tasks, like brushing my teeth, became moments for creative attention. I converted my toothbrush to a rattling totem, so that each time I brushed my teeth, the sound reminded me to pay attention to what I was doing. In this way, mindless habits became acts of consciousness.

Initially I had only planned to carry out this experiment for three months, but my intuition was to extend for another month, so the entire experiment lasted four months. After the fourth month I was hungry for a container of time and commitments so I knew the experiment was done.

To my own surprise, I finished the project with a performance for sixty people who had been touched by my exploration in some way. For the performance I made little demonstrations of what I had been up to:

  • The walls were covered with hundreds of my drawings.
  • I read imaginary dialogues with famous people.
  • I showed complex rhythm games in which my arms and head and feet simultaneously moved in contrasting rhythms.
  • I role-played a phone call with a dear friend, while dancing in a portable hammock.

The audience wrote and drew their responses to my show-and-tell presentation. The event felt intimate and playful.

When I remember to connect to the present moment, the next moment simply reveals itself. It took only two weeks of being confused before I discovered the most significant learning of the project: the interrelationship between intuition and time. When I am alive to this present moment, I have more access to intuitive knowing than I do if I am sitting in my memories or ruminating about the future. For example, when I ask myself "What do I really want?" I usually come up with a wide range of responses. As I add the phrase, "right now" the question becomes "What do I really want, right now?" and my answer becomes clearer.

Without any external obligations to guide my choices, I was forced to turn inward. Dozens of times a day I found myself asking the following questions:

  • "What is my intuition telling me?"
  • "What is being called for, right now?
  • "What might the deepest part of me be asking for?"
  • "What do I really want, in this present moment?"
  • "What does my whole self want?"
  • "What is happening in my body?"
  • "What is my gut response?"

I discovered that the most immediate way to return myself to the present moment is to bring attention to the subtle sensations of my body: the feel of the pressure of my feet in contact with the floor, the tension in my shoulders or the undulation of breath in my belly. Paying clear attention to body sensations brings me into the present moment and the next moment simply reveals itself.

Within two weeks I had inadvertently fallen backwards into mindfulness meditation practice, although I didn't know those words at the time and I had no prior experience with formal meditation. In some aspects, the four months were an intensive period of awareness training, not unlike a Vipassana retreat. Vipassana (also known as Insight practice) is a form of Buddhist meditation that involves bringing awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment through bare attention, without judgments that push or pull on the flow of awareness.

Years later after I started reading about Vipassana, I was grateful to discover that others had been doing this moment-to-moment awareness practice for 2500 years. I was relieved to find an actual map of the territory I had accidentally stumbled upon. When I began formally practicing Vipassana in 1990, it was immediately familiar.

Sensation in the body is one of the primary objects for mindfulness in Vipassana practice. The body is a vehicle for brightening awareness of what is happening right now. Although at the time of What About Intuition? I had never practiced Vipassana, I had practiced and taught many other forms of somatic (body-mind awareness) training, especially Kinetic Awareness and Body-Mind Centering. (See Wendy's Somatic Lineage Chart.)

Like Vipassana/insight meditation practice, the goal of What About Intuition? was simply to see my life more clearly. I had originally started studying systems of somatic and body-mind awareness to become a better something: a more articulate dancer. But after What About Intuition? I was no longer interested in becoming a better anything. I simply wanted to live my life and serve.

This process of putting a frame of intention around a specific period of time is a potent learning tool for developing a wise understanding around a chosen topic. The frame of conscious intention (to follow my intuition from moment-to-moment) distinguishes those four months from all other four months of my life. What About Intuition? is an example of a learning tool I call intentional framing, which simply means holding a chosen intention for a pre-determined period of time. Since What About Intuition?, often assign a specific intention to a specific period of time. Examples of other intentional framing periods include a month of not-knowing, six weeks of advancing into chaos (click on Pathways), and a year of grace. By framing a specific period of time with a conscious intention, the designated period becomes an intensive experiential research laboratory.

I recognized how much the "busy-ness" in my life is a defense against undigested hurts that I do not want to feel. My own mind was the biggest challenge of this project. Without outer obligations to distract me, old grief rose to the surface of my consciousness. Painful old personal history, which I believed I had resolved long ago, exposed itself at another depth. Through my commitment to follow my intuition, I had committed myself to my own life at a new level. Apparently, a residue of pain was part of the bargain.

Another surprise was how little resistance I had to this grief. By listening to my intuition from moment to moment, I was developing trust with whatever happens. I even trusted the pain. I learned to surf big waves of feeling, without having to push them away. It was a relief to just be with whatever arose, pleasant or unpleasant.

I stopped being surprised by the constant flow of synchronicity and I began to take for granted that this universe is woven together with a magic I will never understand. Synchronicity and minor miracles became the tone of my daily life. Some days I drove my car around the city with no destination in mind. As I drove I just noticed, "turning right here; now turning left..." One afternoon, my car landed in front of a stately old mansion I had never noticed before, across from Lake Calhoun. I entered the building to discover a Japanese man, wearing traditional Buddhist robes, giving a lecture about Zen to a group of children. The mansion was the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, and the man was Dainin Katagiri-roshi, its first abbot.

I showed up places I was not invited, and people seemed to expect me. Names popped into my head and new relationships began. One morning, while lying on my floor, a name repeated over and over in my mind of a woman I had heard of, but never met. An hour later, in my mailbox I found an envelope addressed to me, but containing a letter meant for her. We were two of five hundred faculty members at the state university. A secretary had mistakenly sent her mail to my home even though our names were nothing alike. I met the woman (who taught in the Psychology Department) to return her mail. She was about to embark on a Ph.D. program in Creativity and the Arts. She invited me to be an advisor for her program.

Performance is the most comprehensive way I know to integrate new learning and simultaneously share it with many others at the same time. I was surprised that What About Intuition? spontaneously concluded with a performance. I entered this project at the end of the first decade of my professional adult life, a period marked by intense career building and ambition. What About Intuition? liberated me from the veneer of careerism I had come to associate with my work, especially around the act of performing. I returned to a primary clarity about the value of performance in my life as a whole. I perform to digest my life and connect with others. Through the What About Intuition? Performance, I recognized a community of people whose lives had been impacted by the activity of me simply following my own intuition. At the performance we came together and acknowledged an interconnectedness that was real, but had been previously invisible.

Years later, I still incorporate what I learned from What About Intuition? into my everyday life. It was a four-month exercise in deep listening. The period of my life that most resembles What About Intuition? was the six months following my daughter's birth. The main difference is that instead of following the flow of my own inner momentum, I followed the flow of hers. What About Intuition? prepared me for parenting in ways I could have never imagined. It gave me a taste for being in the present moment and allowing the next moment to unfold, which is the essence of being with a baby. What About Intuition? also burned off a lot of my ambition to "be somebody" in the outer world. This turned out to be very convenient as a new mom, given how little status our society grants to the work of raising children. Much of the suffering I witnessed with other new mothers was due to the drastic shift in identity. Our new mom and baby class was haunted with unspoken cries of "Who AM I?!?!? What About Intuition? paved the way for me to accept the "not-knowing-who-I-am" transition phase of motherhood. In fact, I experienced not-thinking-I-knew-who-I-am transition of motherhood as a huge relief, like finally dropping a heavy overcoat.

I resolved to listen more deeply, to myself and to others.

About these photographs: The images here are re-enactments I created with photographer Carol Inderieden for a presentation at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design six months after concluding the experiment. During "What About Intuition?" I chose not to keep a journal or take photographs because documentation lured me into the future,

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