Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Discovering Meaning Through the Lens of Intuition

A different perspective on the importance of gut health.

Key points

  • The colloquial phrase “trust your gut” is most frequently associated with the human capacity for intuition.
  • Intuition, as a source and way of "knowing," takes us into the unseen, unheard, and nonphysical realms.
  • Intuition is a process of self-discovery and tool for decision-making that helps drive the search for meaning.
Source: Leon T / Shutterstock
Source: Leon T / Shutterstock

The importance of gut health as an indicator and driver of optimal health and well-being, although not an entirely new concern, has become a trendy topic in recent years. Gut health, in this regard, refers to the overall functioning of the digestive system and, specifically, to the balance and diversity of the microbiota—the various microorganisms or so-called “good” or “bad” bacteria—that can be found in the gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digestion and the effective absorption of nutrients, as well as in the body’s natural immune system and overall health and well-being. Indeed, the human gut is very complex and, as such, influences every organ and function of the body, including the brain.1

Gut Health and the Human Quest for Meaning

This post shares a different perspective on the notion of “gut health” and its importance. Rather than focusing on gut health’s relevance as a correlate and determinant of gastrointestinal (GI) diseases in the body and the disruptions to daily life that can be attributed to various gut issues,2 instead, the focus here is on how the notion of gut health can be applied to the human quest for meaning. To be more precise, it looks at the role that intuition can and does play as a guide along the path to meaning. The colloquial phrase “trust your gut” comes into play here since it most frequently is associated with the inherent human capacity for intuition and intuitive decision-making.

The notion of intuition cuts at the very core of our individuality and may actually be the final arbiter of how each of us manifests who we really are as living beings. In this respect, intuition represents the essence of our personal and collective identities and contains the spark of life energy that we often refer to as “spirit.”

Intuition as spirit is certainly not a new concept. On the contrary, it is deeply rooted in a variety of philosophical traditions—both Eastern and Western. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian-born scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, asserted that free spiritual activity, which he basically understood as the human ability to think intuitively, is the appropriate cognitive path for human beings to take in order to fully express their “freedom” as individuals. To Steiner, by experiencing intuitive thinking—that is, “the conscious experience of purely spiritual content,” true freedom as a creative force for socially responsible action would become manifest.3

The Expert and the Mystic

Intuition as both a source and way of knowing is experienced through two “faces”: the face of the “expert” and the face of the “mystic.” Intuition’s expert face is the instantaneous voice of past experiences being brought to bear upon a particular challenge in the present. Intuition’s expert face makes use of the almost unlimited amount of information stored in human memory. Because this process occurs beneath your threshold of awareness, it is not “known” to your conscious mind. Intuition’s expert face is the expert within us.

Intuition’s mystic face is the voice of your spirit or soul and your connection to the collective unconsciousness. The mystic face of intuition brings you in contact with the collective unconscious, or humanity’s “morphogenic field.”4 This yields information that transcends our own personal experiences and memories. It allows us to read the unspoken and know the unknowable, commonly referred to as our “sixth sense.” In many respects, this dimension of intuition refers to the metaphysical nature of living entities and, therefore, takes us even farther away from the perceived comfort of structured, logical thought.

Because it extends beyond the bounds of rationality, including familiar concepts like memory and personal experience, the mystic face of intuition depends as much—if not more—upon faith as it does reason. Accepting, if not entirely understanding, this aspect of intuition is a sine qua non for manifesting our spiritual selves. The mystic face of intuition is the mystic within us.

A Complement to Analytical Thinking

In both ways, intuition enhances our knowledge and, importantly, is a source of and guide for making ethical and moral judgments in life and work. It is especially valuable because it complements and augments the dominant mode of gaining knowledge over the past 400-plus years—analytical thinking. Intuition adds value because it draws upon a source of knowledge and “knowing,” which analytical thinking is not privy to; it extends our available supply of knowledge by going where logic alone cannot go.

Intuition takes us into the unseen, the unheard, and the nonphysical realms. This is why some of the world’s greatest scientists and artists recognize its value and openly acknowledge its influence on them and their work. Renowned American medical researcher Jonas Salk, for instance, wrote that “Only by cultivating and refining the processes of intuition and reason complementarity can we achieve the wisdom we seek.”5

Intuition is also valuable because it operates in the subconscious, leaving your conscious mind free for other tasks and activities. Intuition is thus a resource that does not require any energy per se to acquire and use. It is up to us, individually and collectively, to open our hearts and minds to this valuable resource.6

The importance of intuition perhaps has never been as great as it is today. In an environment that seems to be increasingly chaotic and complex, the pressures on individuals and organizations—to say nothing about communities, nation-states, and other forms of collective endeavor—to make wise and meaningful decisions are increasing at a rate never experienced before.

Dissatisfied with conventional thinking about ways to approach and benchmark “success” in their personal lives and work, people in greater numbers appear to be interested more in their quest for meaning—and knowledge about inner truth—than in the tangible rewards typically associated with progress along one’s career path and the extrinsic, fleeting nature typically associated with the pursuit of happiness. And it is our inherent capacity to use intuition—that is, to “trust our gut”—as both a process of self-discovery and a tool for decision-making, that helps to fuel what the world-renowned psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl famously espoused as the primary intrinsic motivation of human beings—the search for meaning.7


1. In this regard, the gut has been called the “second brain,” and even though the link between mind and gut has been known for millennia, research is now beginning to elucidate the far-reaching effects of this important connection. For instance, researchers have discovered that there is a close association between a healthy gut microbiome and mental health. See: Smith, Molly (2023). “Turns out your ‘gut feelings’ are real. How gut and mental health are connected,” Loma Linda University Health, July 19, 2023. And for more information on the “brain-gut connection,” see:
Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Brain-Gut Connection.

2. A study in 2022 by the American Gastroenterological Association found that 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. Since the symptoms of an unhealthy gut can signal or lead to disease, it is highly recommended that a health care professional (e.g., a functional medicine physician who specializes in gut health and/or a dietitian) be consulted.

3. Steiner, Rudolf (1995). Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, pp. 136–137.

4. In this connection, biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D., is best known for his hypothesis of “morphic resonance.”

5. Salk, Jonas (1983). The Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

6. To discover more about human intuition, including its sources and applications, see: Frantz, Roger and Pattakos, Alex, eds. (1996). Intuition at Work: Pathways to Unlimited Possibilities. San Francisco, CA: New Leaders Press.

7. Frankl, Viktor E. (1992). Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, 4th edition. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. See also: Pattakos, Alex and Dundon, Elaine (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, 3rd ed. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

More from Alex Pattakos Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today