InnSæi — The Power of Intuition
From Iceland, learning how to see from the inside out
“Look at you, look around us. People unhappy, we’re totally disconnected from the brain and the body. So many people live in their heads and not with emotions.” — Marina Abramovic
I started going to the cinema alone during grad school. At the time, my course was 9–5 full-time, Monday through Friday, with an emphasis on teamwork, which meant jostling with humanity along each post-it note. That period (at the alternative design school Hyper Island) remains one of the most impactful experiences of my life.
As an introvert, in order to take a pause from so much deeply honest human interaction, I would often walk myself to the cinema, and bare witness to another kind of heightened reality.
A year after Hyper Island, after moving between countries, after finding the dream job and leaving it, it’s only appropriate that I find myself back at the cinema, alone, at the end of a trip to Iceland.
The documentary I saw was InnSæi. A good friend tipped it off before, but we never got the chance to see it in New York City. The gods, of course, always find better ways of speaking to us. When I found the listing for it at Bíó Paradís, Reykjavík’s famed art cinema, I had no idea the word “innsæi” was in fact Icelandic for “intuition,” that the filmmaker is Icelander, or that the natural landscape of Iceland would serve as a heartbeat for the film.
Besides being in the right place, part of what made this documentary powerful was the patient, personal storytelling. The filmmaker, Hrund Gunnsteinsdóttir, began the story with a burnout. After years of working for the United Nations, she no longer felt connected to her work. The weight of bureaucracy and hierarchy contributed to a sense that, “we were serving a system, instead of a system serving people and the planet.”
She left soon after, leaving a coveted permanent UN position and dove to the unknown. A vision inspired her search. A vision of herself at age 60. She would have travelled the world. She would have met people, been inspired and moved by people. She would be writing, getting people’s stories across. “Just being touched by people and touching people’s lives.” She didn’t feel the UN would serve that vision. She moved on.
“I consisted of two rhythms. One is the analytical, logical one. The other is the creative and intuitive one. And I had totally neglected the intuitive one.” — Hrund Gunnsteinsdóttir
Her path would be guided by what was missing. The neglected intuitive side, and InnSæi would frame and document her journey of asking the question: what is intuition?
“Intuition is replaced by knowledge, knowledge by information.
At Northern Quarter, our work on how to create high-performing teams is deeply anchored by studies on psychological safety, emotional intelligence, group awareness, mindfulness, and vulnerability. InnSæi has added to our understanding with its explorations on intuition.
The film unpacks how the dominance of our linear, rational thinking side in the way we think has contributed to a hyper-connected, and yet increasingly disconnected world. By exploring nature, neuroscience, psychology, education, art, spirituality, and speaking with leaders in these fields, it weaves personal stories with theory to suggest a different path.
Several ideas have made an impact on me.
Intuition is nature — nature is the silent witness of intuition
In Icelandic, the word “innsæi” contains several poetic meanings. It means “the sea within” and also “seeing from the inside out,” connecting nature with how we understand ourselves, our intuition. In my own current life transition, I sought out Iceland compulsively, in search of answers in the vastness of nature. Iceland’s volcano-scape provided a space for healing, but also movement to dig deeper into oneself. It is no coincidence that those who seek often wander into nature.
One story from the film reflects this power, documenting that for thousands of years, Polynesian navigators made voyages across the open sea using only their senses, experience, and knowledge passed on by oral tradition. With the influx of technology, we have forgotten how to use all our senses, how to embody ourselves in experience, so much so that:
“A disconnection with nature has translated into a deep disrespect of the feminine.”
Intuition is self-awareness — to be confident you need to know yourself
The film pointed out our education system doesn’t really teach us how to be confident despite how often we celebrate it. What is confidence anyway? In my younger days, I identified my confident peers as the ones always speaking first and the longest. Since then, I’ve learned people who “act” confident may be just as insecure, if not more so.
After speaking to some of my classmates from Hyper Island, we agreed that one of the most obvious effect of our education is that we’ve all emerged from it more confident. Some of this confidence manifests in speaking up more, but so much more of it is a sense of self-awareness. It’s not about speaking up, but knowing when to speak up (and when to hold space for others), and turning words into conviction and action, putting the whole being into a mode of living.
“Only by knowing yourself can you then put yourself in another’s shoes.”
Intuition is a growing movement
Finally, the film talks about a growing movement in understanding intuition. It is in neuroscience and how we can measure intuition (noting the irony in how our cultures have to measure everything). It is in the countless articles with headlines like (Today’s Students May Be Emotionally Unprepared) and a new generation’s desire for authenticity. It is in education where school programs like MindUp are grounded in neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness and social & emotional learning. Not to mention Hyper Island, where on the last day of class, in true Marina Abramovic “The Artist is Present” style, we spent time soul-gazing, simply being bravely present with each other. Finally, it is in a woman’s journey. Hrund Gunnsteinsdóttir’s, and hopefully my own.
For Northern Quarter, this year has also been a journey. The end of 2016 marks a turning point for all of us in our dedication to the work. We worked from three, sometimes four timezones. We pivoted from workshops to focusing on products. We moved to new cities and changed jobs. Whatever the changes, the presence, emotional connection and vulnerability the team brought to each Sunday check-ins have laid the foundation for a stronger team. We look forward to being apart of a movement — psychological safety, emotional intelligence, group awareness, mindfulness, vulnerability and now intuition — whatever interconnected term the team decides to wrestle with, we look forward to it, with all our senses and all our being.