Recognizing And Responding

To The Inner Voice

  By Mariamne Paulus

During the fall of 2004, a small group of four engaged with OSO and me in an exploration of how to recognize and respond to the inner voice.  The reflection was provocative, informative, and, I believe, growth-enhancing.

OSO and I use the term “the inner voice” to refer to the clear guidance that comes to us from what many call the Higher Self.  Others might refer to this as the “still, small voice within.”  It might be what some call “God” speaking to them from within.  In our work we call it the voice of the Inner Director.

But these are only terms used to label the voice.  What is more helpful is to learn how to recognize this inner voice by its characteristics.

The inner voice is different from intuition.  Intuition, by our definition, comes to us primarily through our feelings and is usually a vague or general sense that is close to what many call a hunch.  We have a feeling that something is going to happen, or that we should call someone, or that we should or should not take some action.  In the aftermath, if the intuition turned out to be correct, we often say, “I just had a feeling . . . “ or “I just knew . . .”  But the advance knowing is usually not very specific and we don’t have a clear sense of how we knew.  We could say that this is guidance coming to us through our subconsciousness.  We become aware of it, but it feels indirect.

The inner voice speaks more directly.  Often a strong feeling precedes or accompanies the speaking, but what the voice says is usually very specific and very clear.  It is not an external voice; it speaks inside of us.  In that sense it is more like a thought.  But it registers differently from most of the thoughts we think. It comes with force and demands our attention. Often it is as if we have actually heard it.

Another difference between intuition and the inner voice was observed by Marilyn Harder in the course of our class work.  It seems our intuition usually is about something seemingly external to self, whereas the inner voice gives us direction regarding our own actions or attitudes and thus is about self. 

The Inner Voice Is Very Specific, Addressing What Is Going On In The Present

I have been hearing this inner voice for many years.  Perhaps the first time I heard it clearly was when I was a sophomore in college, trying to decide on a major.  One evening, as if from nowhere, the voice said to me, “You will become a teacher in a mission school.”

The voice was so specific and so definite that I majored in Education and applied to a short-term missionary program (a precursor of the Peace Corps).  I went to Montevideo, Uruguay, as a teacher in a bilingual Methodist school for three years.

As a result of that experience, many things became clear to me that I later came to understand as left-over issues from past lives.  It was as if I needed to teach in a mission school in order to grow past my profound dedication to the Church as the only vehicle for serving God in the world. 

The Inner Voice Gives Little Information

It has been my experience that although the inner voice is very specific, it often gives very little information.  As a result, we are forced to rely on our intuition to guide us as we seek to be responsive to the inner voice.

After I returned to the United States from South America, I earned my Masters Degree with the intention of continuing to teach in a mission school. However, a mental/emotional crisis resulted in the postponement of my return to Uruguay, and I took a job teaching English in my hometown of San Jose, California.

During the summer before I began that job, the inner voice said, “You will meet someone.”  It was clear to me that this was a very important message even though I could go no farther with it on a mental level.  I was given no clue as to when, where, who, or why I would “meet someone.” 

Some weeks later, I was boarding a bus to go to a summer camp where I was to be a counselor.  As I stepped up onto the bus, I saw a woman sitting in the front seat behind the driver. Her head was buried in a book.  The inner voice said, “That’s her.”  Again, I was given no information as to why I was to meet her.  Still, the message was clear, so I stepped up and said, “May I sit here?”  Though she nodded yes, it was clear she had no interest in talking with me.

However, I was certain this was the person I was to meet, so I set out to get to know her. It was not easy to become friends with her, but I persisted.  About five months later, we were sitting in her living room one evening talking. Patricia paused and then said, “There’s something I want to tell you.” 

In that moment it was as if every cell in my body stood at attention.  Inside, a resonating “this is it” ricocheted off the walls of my inner being. I listened with keen attention as Patricia told me of her experience of cosmic consciousness. I was later to understand that that had been a “spark-over” experience for me, awakening in me the potential for a breakthrough in consciousness. 

It Keeps You On Course

The Inner Voice sometimes functions like what people call their “conscience.”  But beyond ethical matters, the Inner Voice also keeps you on course with your own purposes and objectives.

When I met Jim Pike, whom I later married, my inner voice told me, “You have three karmic tasks to fulfill.”  Naturally, it did not tell me what those tasks were.  On one occasion, I began to feel sorry for myself, not in a major way.  Just what a friend would call revving up for a pity party.  As I moved forward to speak to Jim from this small space in self, the inner voice said, “No you don’t. Not in this relationship.”

I stopped on a dime and let go of the feeling.  After Jim’s death I came to understand that one of the karmic tasks had been to love him unconditionally.  Even though I hadn’t formulated that objective consciously, the inner voice kept me on track with that subconscious intention. 

It Is Fearless

When Jim and I got lost in the desert in Israel, we tried to walk through a canyon to the Dead Sea.  Jim got tired and told me he had to sleep.  I knew that time was of the essence because we had no water and the temperature was over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. We stretched out on a rock, but I was so full of nervous energy I couldn’t rest.  I tried to climb up from the rock where we were, but I wasn’t strong enough to lift myself up.  I fell down on the rock beside Jim and thought, “I’ll just lie here and die. I’d rather be with Jim.”

The inner voice shouted at me: “It’s OK for you to die here, but it’s not OK to lie down and die.”  There was no fear in that message about dying or about death. There was only the clear direction that I was to continue on.  I set a new objective, which was to find help for Jim, and I went on by myself.  I never had any fear, and I am sure it was because of that clear directive from the inner voice. 

It Leads To Action

Even though the inner voice gives little information, it almost always directs us to take some action.  A year after Jim’s death in the desert, my brother Scott and I took a group to Israel on a Memorial Tour.  We visited all the sites that had been meaningful to Jim, dedicated a forest to him and a park in an immigrant neighborhood of Jerusalem, and visited his grave site.

While visiting the Sea of Galilee, the inner voice said to me, “You will return here to spend four months.”  Again, it gave no further information.  “Here” seemed clearly to refer to Israel, but there was no when or why.

Nevertheless, I told my brother Scott about the inner directive, and we decided to return to Israel to complete the book on the historical Jesus that we had been working on with Jim before his death.  That gave us a rational explanation for spending time in Israel.

It was during our third month there that I met Hannah Hurnard, who was the catalyst for the next phase of my unfolding: the process of purifying my psyche so that I could live fully in the Light of consciousness. Again, had I not acted on the inner guidance, I would not have met Hannah and perhaps would not have undertaken the purificatory process until much later. 

It Has Full Confidence In You

After my return from that four-month stay in Israel, I was sitting in meditation one morning when the Inner Voice said, “You will teach a class on the chakras.”  I protested inwardly.  “I can’t teach a class on the chakras.  I don’t know anything about them.”

I tried to locate books on the chakras.  At that time there were only two in print in the States.  I ordered them, but before I received them, I was thrust into the class.

I went to a cocktail party at the home of friends one afternoon shortly after the inner voice had told me to start a class.  One of my friends’ neighbors came up to me at the party and said, “When will your class begin?”  I stared at her.  “What class?” I asked.  “Oh, excuse me,” she responded.  “I thought you were starting a class.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Actually I am, but I had not told anyone yet.  Why don’t we begin next Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM?”  On Tuesday morning in meditation I was given the information I needed to give an introduction to chakra work, and that evening, 12 people showed up for class.  On each succeeding meeting day I was given the information for that class session.  It was as if I was learning the material at the same time as the group was learning it, although it all seemed familiar to me in some way I could not explain.

The inner voice had had confidence in me when I did not. 

It Is Supportive And Encouraging

I have experienced support and encouragement from the inner voice on many occasions.  One of the most powerful was during a deep and heart-rending crisis I went through in the mid 1980’s.  The emotional trauma was acute and my process had spilled over into the lives of others I loved and cared about.  It seemed I was hitting bottom on all scores. 

I went down to the ocean at dusk. Standing with my feet in the waves, I was aware that it would be easy to slip into the ocean and to be swept away.  As that thought passed through my mind the inner voice spoke to me: “You are right on course.”  I looked up and, although it was not yet dark, it was as if a bright star was shining above me, showing a path.  It seemed to say, “Keep going.”

Even though nothing had changed, I felt affirmed and strengthened and knew that I would make it through the crisis.

It Addresses The Full Gamut of Concerns

Sometimes we are tempted to think that the inner voice would only address “spiritual” things.  My experience has been that it speaks to anything and everything, from the most mundane to the most lofty.  The inner voice has directed me to take care of specific conditions in my body, it has told me a house was waiting when we were looking for a place to live, it has directed me to write books, to speak truth to a loved one, to read a certain book, to go to a certain conference, and to fly to a loved one’s bedside.  The examples could go on and on.  But the characteristics listed above are almost always there.  It never gives too much information, it calls for action, it addresses what is going on in the present, it is always supportive and encouraging, it never instills fear, and it always exhibits confidence that I can do what it directs me to do.

It Sees A Larger Picture

I always have the feeling that the inner voice gives directives from within a much larger picture than the one I am seeing at the moment.  Take the example above of the directive to return to Israel for four months.  I was still grieving the loss of Jim, and it was easy for me, from within that frame of reference, to imagine that I needed to go back into the desert where Jim and I had been lost in order to get over any fear that might be lingering in my subconscious mind about ever taking risks again.  Or even that I might need to overcome the fear that foreign travel was dangerous.

Perhaps spending four months in Israel did accomplish those things.  I certainly left there feeling that I could live anywhere in the world and feel at home.  But the inner voice spoke, I believe now, from within the larger context of my spiritual growth.  It was not addressing my grief, but the next stage of my unfolding.  And that has been true over and over again in my experience.

Sometimes It Speaks Indirectly

I am aware that many times I have received inner direction through other people, through books, through dreams, and in other ways that require that I be alert and responsive even though the voice is not speaking from within.  For example, when I met Arleen for the first time it was because my close friend Patricia told me that I had to meet her and see her spiritual paintings.  Because I trusted Patricia, I went to meet Arleen and that opened the door to the form of my life and work for the next thirty-plus years.

Many times dreams have given me guidance and direction.  Our move to Arizona from San Diego was prompted by several powerful dreams, for instance.

In all cases, when guidance is given and I take action on it, confirmation that I am aligned with my purpose and objectives comes when things unfold easily.  Doors open and close on cue, it seems, to support the action that was called for.

 Sometimes It Doesn't Speak At All

Although I don’t feel I have ever been left without guidance when I needed it, it is also true that there have been many times when I have wanted guidance, have asked for guidance, and have not received it.  I have come to see those times as periods when I am building skills and learning lessons that will serve me in the future.  It is as though I need to find my own way during those intervals.  I need to trust myself to make decisions that will further my purposes and objectives. I need to trust the overall process of my life.  I need to trust that if I need further direction, it will come.

In those times, I see that my preferences on the personality level are not always the best guide to my growth process.  I might prefer to have the inner voice speak to me, but perhaps it is more important for me to work the situation out for myself.

 Inviting The Inner Voice To Speak

There are some guidelines for encouraging the inner voice to speak.  The first is to ask.   A question opens a direct line, like making a phone call.  When the energetic line is open, the inner voice can speak to us.  It is helpful to ask something quite specific.

I remember the time I sat down in my sanctuary and said (inwardly), “I demand to understand why there is so much cancer and I am not going to leave until I get an answer.”  I was indignant because still another friend had been diagnosed with cancer.

After asking, I sat in silence and waited in abundant expectancy, my energies held as high as possible.  Very shortly thereafter the answer came in a flood.  I wrote it all down and have shared it over the years with many people who have had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation for cancer.

So the second guideline is to wait in abundant expectancy.  You don’t have to sit still in meditation while you wait, but it is important to remember from time to time what you asked and to be alert at all times, because the answer could come anytime and it might come through another person, or in a book, or in a dream, or through an event.

The third guideline is to listen within while you wait.  Even though the voice may speak through someone or something else, you will recognize it by the resonance within, the feeling that tells you “This is it.  This is the response.”  Therefore you need to have an attitude of listening within throughout the day.

The fourth guideline is to honor what you receive.  You might honor it by taking action on what is given to you, or by changing your attitudes, or by giving thanks.  The important thing is not to ignore or question the response.  Each time you honor the inner voice, it grows stronger, speaks more quickly, and you will be able to hear it more easily.

Each of us has an inner voice.  If you are not familiar with yours, it is worth beginning to observe and to listen within.  Learn to identify all the other voices that speak on the mental level, or within the private world.  Identify the characteristics of your inner voice and notice how it differs from those other voices.  Then begin to cultivate your connection with your inner voice.  It is well worth the time and energy to develop confidence that you are receiving inner direction and are living your life in cooperation with it. G


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