Recently, the concept of ‘intuitive eating’ came onto my radar. While this term was new to me, the philosophy behind it is very similar to my concept and inspiration for this blog, ‘Conscious Consumption.’
Not to be confused with the book by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole (though it shares several principles), ‘intuitive eating’ is an idea I was put onto by self-healing expert Michael Heatherington via a YouTube video.
The main gist is to trust your body and take the thinking out of the equation. Rather than meal planning, listen to what the intuition of your intelligent, ‘energetic system’ or what I like to call your ‘inner pilot light’ is telling you to eat in each particular instance.
The rationale behind this approach is that those intelligent cells or intuitive system knows what’s best for you and what is required to promote your health—it’s merely the overthinking done and impressions formed by the psyche that undermine this internal intelligence.
The process works like this:
If your body moves towards a food you are considering when it is in front of you, it believes it to be good for you, and is worthy of being eaten.
However, on the other hand, if your intuitive energy is repelled by the food, your internal system believes it to be toxic—at least in that specific moment.
While he applies this concept to food only, I’d like to consider it on a more macro scale. I’ve long viewed this philosophy in the context of ‘consumption’ or engagement with something as a whole.
I think this should be the primary consideration in most decisions we make—does our intuitive nature draw us to it, or repel us away?
The ‘Conscious Consumption’ Approach
I like to view conscious consumption (CC) as a multi-faceted philosophy. Though it relies on letting your instincts guide your consumption behavior, it is a lot more encompassing than merely following your intuition.
In addition to instinct, CC accounts for your preferences (beliefs, ideals and motivations) also derived from your intuitive nature, and involves your consumption tendencies—actions in pursuit of these drives aside from just being conscious of them, i.e., following through or acting on your morals.
Some examples include supporting local independent businesses, buying fairtrade or sustainably-sourced products, resource conservation (water, paper, electricity) and reducing your carbon footprint through other measures like reusing plastic to-go containers (recycling) or picking up litter.
The internally-focused consumption preferences facet of conscious consumption breaks down into two main components.
First, there’s the intuitive or inner pilot light element. This is the aspect most comparable to “inuitive eating.”
Being ‘conscious’ of or in tune with one’s instinctual system will provide insight into what is best for us at that moment in a particular situation. We can then act in accordance with that particular instance.
Then there’s the other constituent, what I like to call ‘finesse life,’ which combines body awareness with the Taoist concept of wu wei. The body awareness aspect is your ability to focus on your breathe and sense the relaxation and tension of your muscles and other various parts of your body.
I’ve discussed wu wei a fair amount in the past, but essentially, it is employing non-forced, non-contrived actions in your undertakings.
Wu wei is often defined in the West as ‘non-action’, but this is sort of a fallacy—it doesn’t mean doing nothing. Rather, the aim is to act spontaneously in accordance with the circumstance in a non-contrived way, thus removing the division between thinking and acting. Basically, letting you heart guide you.
Think of it as intelligent spontaneity, in which you spontaneously adapt to the circumstance or ‘fit’ of a situation and let your intelligent intuitive nature guide you, rather than forcing an outcome. For example, envision how gently turning a key in a locked door will unlock it much quicker and with less friction and frustration than forcing it.
Wu wei also is commonly described as “tranquility while undertaking the most frenetic task, allowing one to conduct it with the utmost skill and efficiency.”
I have often seen it likened to the phenomenon of ‘flow theory,’ or ‘being in the zone’, in which the individual is in a state of deep focus, and the sense of them actively ‘doing’ something is removed. Thus, there is no distinction between them and the task or activity they are engaged in.
However, wu wei goes a step further than ‘being in the flow’ in the sense that you also are attuned to your emotional instinctual nature, rather than just your physical instincts and actions. Though still a measure of spontaneous reaction, it is more about removing the ‘tension’ that serves as a buffer between thoughts or emotions and actions—allowing organic action as dictated by the circumstance.
I’ll go more into detail later, but this state can be achieved through internally-focused mindfulness practices. Body awareness techniques improve your ability to sense physical tensions and allow you to relax. Thus, you can ‘finesse life,’ and not have to force things.
Taoists believe that mental stillness can work in conjunction with action—if we are completely in the present moment, our actions will glide effortlessly without friction, accompanied by laser-like focus almost to the point you’re in a state of ecstacy.
Another example of wu wei from my own life is how, when I’m typing, if I can just relax, and bring my awareness to the dantian and the present moment rather than being stressed by external distractions, my fingers glide effortlessly over the keys, and I seldom mistype something.
Taking this information into consideration, you can see how, in the broadest scope, wu wei is basically the combination of finesse life (body awareness) and instinctual connectedness. It’s more than simply ‘flow theory’ but short of conscious consumption, which takes it an additional step with the concerted effort aspect.
To break it down even further, finesse life is sort of the precursor to intuitive eating or channeling your inner pilot light—through breath practice and internally-focused mindfulness, you better develop your intuitive system and the ability to harness your mind, taking thinking out of the equation in order to hear it speak to you.
In turn, your internal pilot light can then reveal how to act in your true nature, which is the essence of wu wei. It’s simply a matter of bringing passive, objective attention to your internal world in order to reach down and reveal who you are. Then, you’ll naturally know what to do in a given circumstance.
A person in nature, in touch with one’s own nature, trusting one’s thoughts and abilities to guide one’s self.Deng Ming Dao, Taoist author and teacher
That is the essence of wu wei, and it’s ‘conscious consumption’ in a nutshell.
Individual Differences in Consumption Tendencies
When you have successfully developed your intuitive/conscious consumption compass, you sense how your instinctual system may actually be repelling away from material things, toxic thoughts and unnatural habits your mind is clinging to that are counterintuitively toxic in nature.
What’s more, when you are attuned with your internal pilot light, you can let that be your guide with your dietary and entertainment or social media consumption habits, instead of worrying so much about following nutritional media usage guidelines from the “experts.”
While still beneficial to have knowledge of what foods cause inflammation and leaky gut or what is the ideal “screen time” allotment during the day for example, each individual is unique. Some will handle certain toxins better than others, for example, RF frequency exposure or a diet high in processed foods.
Experimentation can show each person what suits them best, and it is much easier to get a sense of how your are feeling when you are tapped into your intuitive nature.
In light of this realization, I’ve begun unsubscribing from various email newsletters and opting out of or turning off push notifications and alerts from many apps on my phone since I’ve become better in tune with my internal world.
Listening to my intuitive body has allowed me to realize just how much distraction and stress I’ve been subjecting myself to via these stimuli.
And more than just that, it’s made me realize how I’ve been using food, music and other dopamine triggers to compensate for aspects of my life where I’m dissatisfied – like my life balance or drive – and as a coping mechanism to not have to confront them.
Intuitive Scheduling or Activities
I’ve also been applying the intuitive consumption technique to my daily schedule, something which I’d long expended waaaay too much mental energy on. Instead of meticulously timing all of my activities for the day down to the fraction of an hour, I’ve begun to better follow what my inner pilot light is telling me will be best for me at that particular time.
Though I still have a list of tasks to accomplish over the course of the day (‘non-negotiables’, as I like to call them), beyond starting my morning Qigong practice by 7 o’clock (or ASAP, if I was fortunate enough to have been able to sleep in) and blogging immediately following, my schedule is pretty much an open book.
For example, I used to begin ‘work’ (blog post editing for a more-established company) directly following my morning practice. But, after finally listening to my internal energetic system’s intuition, I had the insight that punching the keyboard and purging all the thoughts bouncing around my head first was what I really needed.
And that instinct turned out to be spot on.
I’ve found my creative and linguistic juices are flowing better and I have a more productive output first thing in the morning right after internal arts practice and before work has worn (stressed) me out.
Instead of being preoccupied with plotting things out by the hour, just TCOB (taking care of business) as the opportunity presents itself organically has served me well thus far. Doing things as my intuition tells me to usually means I enjoy the task or activity more, or at the very least I can better engage with it and finish it quicker.
More relaxation and higher engagement, especially during qigong practice, means that I can achieve the benefits of the practice (mind emptying and muscles and sinews releasing) in a fraction of the time it would take if I were mentally fighting the practice, or distracted by a thought or or impulse I couldn’t shake.
I can then follow my intuition regarding if I need more reps, or should be satisfied calling it quits on the practice for the day.
To be honest, I’m more likely to throw in the towel if I’m distracted or frustrated because additional practice will have little benefit—remember, it’s all about effortless action.
I know many exercisers or internal arts practitioners will hang it up for the day when they are satisfied or maxed out. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but usually, if I am in the flow I’ll continue practicing since the additional repetitions will benefit me even greater.
I’ve gotten better at letting go of whatever’s next on my to-do list because what I’m doing right then is the most beneficial to me, and really, humanity, according to my intuitive system.
It’s something I’ve already alluded to in the ‘two hour rule‘ post, but rather than planning and allocating mental (and emotional) capacity to things you must accomplish later that day, just doing them when they’re on you mind and your intuition tells you to allows you to devote more time and mental resources to internal focus, freeing your mind from a lot of unnecessary thinking and emotion (fear, worry/overthinking)—it’s a self-feeding cycle.
Consider a child or any other living organism besides an adult human being. Free of the concepts and distortions imposed by society, they have a natural, unbiased, innocent sense of wonder—always questioning, but in the end following their gut instinct.
This ability to see the world with fresh eyes is a result of our capacity for simplicity, adaptability and acceptance—namely, the ability for mindful, internal focus in the present, letting all our conceptions enter our minds, and then pass freely without grasping.
Qigong and Tai Chi Grandmaster Ken Cohen put it well in a recent interview I saw him participate in—
Emptiness means freedom from thought and worry. Since emptiness is the goal, why don’t you put that at the beginning of your process?Ken Cohen
If you cultivate emptiness, again, freedom from thought and worry [returning to] the realm of pure existence, then automatically, Jing, Qi, and Shen – the three treasures – naturally return to balance.
Detaching from The Mind: The Shen and Hun’s Role
Beyond just not being able to tap into one’s spiritual nature, many mental diseases and societal problems are the result of consuming mental complexities and self-identification with their contents. The proclivity to let thoughts pass, rather than identify with or internalize these manifestations of the (ir)rational mind is what allows one to connect with their inner pilot light.
Emptying your mind and disassociating from your thoughts, habits, concepts (of self and others/material things) and impressions from the external world is the job of the Shen, one of the five TCM ‘spirit-minds’ that branch off from the central spirit.
I’m saving the specifics for a future post, but in a nutshell, the Shen is the rational spirit of ‘the Mind’ that constructs our self-identity and how we view and interact with others and orient ourselves with respect to our surrounding environment—in short, it is our insightful awareness.
So in this regard, the Shen is essentially the ‘wu wei‘ component of the spirit-mind. It is our emotional wisdom responsible for recognizing the division between our ideals and actions, and allowing us to act in congruence with our natural conduct, rather than for the sake of achieving (or avoiding) a desired outcome.
The Hun, in contrast to the Shen, is more than ‘awareness.’ It can be thought of as ‘consciousness’—spiritual awareness of something (sensing and feeling) without definitively ‘knowing’ exactly what it is.
Essentially, the Hun is our instincts, inner pilot light or intuitive system—our soul wisdom. It alerts the Shen to our intuition and drives so they can be acted on instead of simply reflected on.
Thus, body awareness (distinct from general awareness) or ‘finesse life’ is also part of the Hun, since it relates to sensing and feeling, and the movement of both internal energy and physical extremities.
Free-flowing energy (both mental and physical) is an essential prerequisite for tuning into your natural instincts. Getting hung up on concepts, faults, and ambitions prevents this connection between these two spirit-mind components, and restricts the flow. Often, the emotions blockages manifest physically as tension or obstructions in muscles, joints, or tendons.
Tapping Into Your Inner Pilot Light: Removing Impediments
I’m sure I sound like a broken record by now, but the best way I’ve found to improve the capacity for tapping into the intelligent intuitive system is through, you guessed it, habitual mindfulness meditation focused on body awareness, like grounding, spinal cord or dantian (abdominal) breathing or ‘sinking the Kua.’
These internal-focusing techniques enables contentment with ‘just being’ in the present moment, and can free your mind of afflictions like hangups and fixations.
With enough repetition, eventually you will be able carry this meditative state beyond just the practice, and translate body awareness effectively to all circumstances you find yourself in.
And when you can attain mindful body awareness in all your undertakings instead of just while practicing, you will quickly develop a substantial connection with your internal pilot light.
To be Zen in life is not just about meditation, but instead life has become meditation, in the sense that our illusory perceptions of separation have disappeared, allowing us to experience the non-dual, innate beauty of all life.Jason Gregory
I like to make a game out of it, trying to deploy internal focus in all my daily undertakings, and as I transition between them. Not that I award myself points or anything, but rather just enjoying paying mind to the dan tian and spine, and relaxing the face while ‘smiling with the eyes’ to the organs.
This qigong meditation style has a wide array of additional health benefits, but in this context, I’m speaking specifically to helping tune in to your intuitive (Hun) system.
“It’s not a matter of practicing [mindfulness] to ‘get better,’ it’s a matter of practicing to remove all these unnatural habits society has normalized us to, or that we’ve developed ourselves. Then we can connect with our true nature and have a fulfilling, flourishing life.”Deng Ming Dao
Tapping into my inner pilot light has taught me that my attachments are just mental baggage. The less you have, the less you’ll have to think about, and the more simplistic your life will be. In turn, this results in less problems and more contentment and a better ability to stay present—becoming ‘conscious‘ of my ‘consumption‘ has allowed me to simplify my life.
This newfound ability is what has led me to cut out alcohol consumption, consolidate my wardrobe, shave off my facial hair, frequently skip meals (fasting), streamline my investment portfolio, unsubscribe from email newsletters/alerts and opt out of push notifications on my phone (as mentioned), and altogether ‘fast the mind‘ each night beginning at 8pm.
Though ‘digital detoxes’ or ‘digital sunsets’ – periods of time removed from digital devices and blue light technology, especially in the evening to improve sleep – have becoming popular recently, my nighttime ‘fasting’ routine encompasses all forms of stimulation, like entertainment, food and drink.
I understand the focus on blue light because of its melatonin production-inhibiting effect. But for me, deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system (stress response) during the late evening hours is equally important as avoiding blue light.
And regardless of if these societally-derived material fixations, thoughts and habits are ‘digital’ or not, if they cause you stress or ‘friction’ they are creating tension somewhere in your body or mind, and prohibiting the free flow of energy.
In the words of Deng Ming Dao,
Qigong believes in circulating energy naturally through the body. Blockages in Qi can also be mental—I can inhibit myself with ‘strange ideas’ so that my energy is not moving naturally.
So, if Qigong can clear away obstructions and keep the energy moving naturally, that in turn will circulate through what we would discern as the emotional, the mental – capacities the Taoists don’t distinguish between – then you are naturally who you are.
Tao is movement. Everything in the universe moves, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galaxy. So, what do we need to do? Get out of the way. What most gets in the way? Our thoughts are our socialization.Deng Ming Dao
Everything in life is about not impeding that movement, but letting it happen by itself.
So, in order to access our intuitive system and righteous, organic self, all we need to do is refrain from stepping on our own toes and getting in the way of the flow of nature (or Qi).