Intuition is the secret to long-term success. It may also save your life.
“The power of intuitive understanding will protect you from harm until the end of your days.” — Lao Tzu
First, A Very Brief History Lesson on Caesar’s Wife’s Ability to Predict the Future
Calpurnia was the third and final wife of Julius Caesar. She married him when she was only seventeen years old in 59 BC. She came from a family of intellectuals and was well versed in history, literature, and art.
Calpurnia is described in several ancient texts as being very smart, but humble and rather shy. While there is evidence that Calpurnia and Caesar shared a strong bond based on mutual respect, she also had the misfortune of having to endure Caesar’s affair with Cleopatra VII in 48 BC. Despite Caesar’s unfaithfulness, Calpurnia remained devoted to her husband and wanted nothing but the best for him.
Calpurnia trusted her intuition and believed important truths could be communicated through signs and omens.
In January of 44 BC, Julius Caesar was made “dictator for life” by the Roman Senate (I can think of a few political figures today who would love that title). This decree made many of the conservative Senators nervous that their Republic would soon become another monarchy with Caesar as king. To avoid this, a group of Senators led by Marcus Brutus decided to assassinate Caesar — a plot they felt was the only way to save the future of the Republic.
After debating several options that included everything from pushing Caesar off a bridge to staging an elaborate “accident” during a gladiatorial show, the conspiring Senators agreed on killing him during the March 15th Senate meeting, since there would be no public witnesses and they could hide their daggers in their togas (anyone who ever attended a toga party in college knows you can hide a lot under those things.)
Since the Senators who plotted to kill Caesar only met a few times in secret in each other’s homes and never spoke openly of their plan, it would have been impossible for Capurnia to know for certain that her husband was in immediate danger.
On the nights leading up to the “Ides of March” (March 15th), ancient historians note that Calpurnia had a series of nightmares that disturbed her so much, she told Caesar about them in the morning. Frightened by the visions of her husband’s death that had tormented her through the night, she clung to his clothes and begged him not to go into the Senate that day. This scene is imagined in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II.
Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night:
Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out,
‘Help, ho! they murder Caesar!’ Who’s within?
Calpurnia’s fear was so convincing that Caesar initially agreed not to leave the house. However, one of the conspirators named Decimus came to Caesar’s house and convinced him that his duty to the waiting Senators was more important than his wife’s dreams. Ignoring all signs and warnings, Caesar agreed to go with Decimus.
Calpurnia would never see her husband alive again.
During the presentation of a petition in the Senate, Caesar was pulled down by his toga by Roman Senator Lucius Tillius Cimber while the other conspirators crowded around him. A Senator by the name of Casca produced a dagger and thrust it at Caesar’s neck. Within moments, Brutus and the other Senators around Caesar pulled out their daggers and stabbed the defenseless Julius Caesar repeatedly leaving him to bleed out on the portico floor.
Why had Calpurnia had a premonition of her husband’s violent death? And what caused her to believe it so fervently, while the subject of the warning, Caesar, was able to be so easily persuaded that it was only a dream?
The answer lies in a mysterious form of intelligence that’s accessible to all of us.
A Higher Form of Intelligence
In his best-selling book “Mastery” (2012), American author Robert Greene says, “All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance.”
“Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality which helps you to decipher what is real without needing scientific knowledge, or any other special kind of learning…It’s a way of having experience without having to struggle through it,” said writer Gabriel García Márquez in a 1981 interview with the Paris Review.
Had Calpurnia tapped into this higher intuitive power when she attempted to save her husband from his violent murder?
We may never know for certain, but the record of the story seems to suggest that Calpurnia had developed impressive intuitive powers. She took the implications of visions and dreams very seriously.
Instinct: The Call of the Wild
Think of animals. How do they know where to look for food, make shelter, and avoid danger? Animals rely on their instincts to do almost everything, but where do instincts come from? Instinct is how a spider can weave a web patterned perfectly like the other spiders of its same species with no set of instructions or even other webs to reference. It’s a specific form of automated behavior that increases skill and survival.
Dr. Warren W Tryon Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Fordham University uses the spider example to try and explain instinct. He says, “Instinct appears to preset synaptic connections to “adult” values during embryology.” In other words, certain animal knowledge and behaviors seem to be set to their adult values before an animal is even born. This partly explains the roles DNA and breeding plays in animal behavior.
Instincts are the things animals know how to do before they even know they know how to do them.
I like to think of instinct like how the ability to be a kung-fu-fighting master was downloaded into Keanu Reeve’s character, Neo, when he was “reborn” in the first Matrix movie.
Wait, I thought we were talking about intuition NOT instinct.
Was it instinct that made Calpernia know that Caesar was in danger, or something else? The answer to that question lies in the connection and differences between intuition and instinct. Calpurnia had what many of us would call a “gut feeling” brought on by a bad dream that caused her to plead with Caesar to stay home that day.
Intuition is the ability to know something immediately without observation or reason. Instinct, on the other hand, is a hardwired reaction or tendency. We all have instincts for survival and attraction, for example.
Going by these two definitions then, we could say that Calpurnia had an intuition that something bad was going to happen to her husband, this intuition then triggered her instinct to protect him.
Hold onto those daggers for a second, since there really was a plan to murder Caesar that day, why didn’t he share in his wife’s intuition that his life was in danger?
The Limits of Too Much Logic
I believe that somewhere deep down inside Caesar’s nervous system, he did know there was a plot to kill him, but, being a rational person, he decided to listen to Decimus who appealed to his logic of not wanting to keep the Senate waiting.
Calpurnia wasn’t involved in politics like her husband. She was brought up to appreciate art and mythology. From an early age, her imagination was expanded through stories, images, and songs.
Julius Caesar, however, spent most of his life as a military general and cunning politician. He won many battles for Rome, but tended to focus on the surface reality of things in order to bend them to his will.
When it comes to intuitive thinking, too much strict logic leads to pragmatism (being highly practical in your approach). Pragmatic thinking can act as a blocker to a higher-level understanding. Albert Einstein understood this. He called the intuitive mind a “sacred gift.”
When Intuition is Followed Regularly, It Develops Its Own Logic
The great Russian actor and teacher Michael Chekhov said, “the more the artist develops the ability to imagine, the more they come to the conclusion that there is something in this process that somehow resembles logical thinking.” It resembles logical thinking — meaning we are capable of envisioning things happening as realistically as they actually do in real life.
Researchers have found that when we move in our dreams, our brains fire in the same pattern as when we move in the real world.
What Benefits Does This Have?
You may be wondering what a practical application of this is (besides deciding to call in sick if you think your coworkers are plotting to murder you). Hostage negotiators role-play crisis scenarios to sharpen their mental skills for a real situation. Before you enter into any negotiation, it can help you to visualize and imagine what the offer, objections, and counteroffers of the other side might be in order to prepare your strategy and avoid being caught off guard.
And, if you have an intuitive thought that something might not go as planned, don’t dismiss it, instead, prepare yourself for multiple outcomes.
Going back to Robert Greene’s quote, we all have access to this higher form of intelligence. It’s a survival skill hardwired into us that enables us to anticipate occurrences with razor-sharp accuracy. The reason we’re not aware of it most of the time is because it has been muted by the Senators of our lives—the obligations and routines that we tell ourselves must be done a certain way.
You have to learn to develop your intuitive ability like a muscle. What happens to muscles that don’t get used? They become weak and eventually atrophy — losing their ability to work at all.
Julius Caesar was a strong man—a former military general, but his intuition muscle was weak. Calpurnia’s intuition was strong from frequent use. The emperor should have listened to his wife.