While I am a huge fan of both research and of hearing how other people do things, I ultimately believe that we each need to find our own way. We all have a unique perspective, and this means we will have a personal expression of all aspects of our path, from how we relate to the divine to how we practice in our daily life.
And one skill that I have found vital to this (and just handy in general) is intuition. Learning how to feel into a situation instead of only relying on your logical brain helps you sort out what works for you from what other people tell you works for them.
Like many other people, I started out my practice by reading books. I didn't know what to do or how to do it, so I read about how other people do it. I am quite lucky that I learn well from books, but still I found things that just didn't click with me...but that was how all the books said to do it so I figured I was doing it wrong. It wasn't until many years later that I started to really trust my instincts and go with my gut and figure out how to do things on my own.
Intuition is a deeper sense of knowing. I equate it a lot to clairsentience, or psychic knowing. This is how a lot of my visualizations come to me, not always through sight or sound or touch, but through just knowing. I think this is why a lot of people discount it, because it is a sort of strange sensation. We aren't used to grasping the essence of a thing without a lot of our sensory descriptors or verbal qualifications.
When it comes to intuition, we often know things without understanding why, or have an impulse to do something that comes out of the blue. We are taught, from when we are a little child, to question the why of things, to think things through and to have reasons for doing things. Intuition sort of flies in the face of this.
But it is exactly those signs you want to look for, when learning to trust your intuition. When you get an impulse, as long as it's not dangerous, go for it! We don't always need to know why we want to do a thing, just wanting it is enough. The more you start to trust your intuition and do things without having a logical justification, the more you will notice these impulses.
There are a lot of other tips for tapping into that intuition when it's not jumping in front of your face and waving it's arms. The simplest is to think about what your options are, and to focus on how each one makes you feel. Ignore, for a moment, all the logical thoughts and comparisons. If you are trying to figure out what job to go after, don't think about the money (beyond making sure that they all will pay your bills!) or what other people may think, but imagine yourself doing the job and see how it makes you feel. Sometimes, what is best for us is not what comes out best on paper, but what makes our life better!
Sometimes it can be hard to recognize the difference between what your brain is saying and what your gut is saying. I have always separated head and gut along the conscious and subconscious mind lines....my brain thinks things while my gut feels them. If I can easily explain something with words, then it is probably coming from my brain, my logic, my thinking self. However, if I struggle to explain something or if I relate to it more with an emotion or sensation in my body, then I feel it is more instinctual.
Some people will get very different sensations when their intuition is kicking in. They may feel a warmth in their body, or an electric tingling in certain areas. If their intuition is drawing them to something, it may feel comforting or like 'home'. On the other hand, if they are being led away from something dangerous, they may feel an uncomfortable prickling or just a general sense of malaise.
Now, this is one place where it gets tricky for me. I get anxious about things, especially choices and new experience. So sometimes, I will get negative body reactions when I am faced with something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. These can be very similar to the things I feel when my intuition is pointing me away from something. But it's not actually my intuition saying that the thing I am contemplating is bad, just my own fears trying to hold me back.
Two things really work for me to sort out if it is fear or intuition. Firstly, I think about what the worst that could happen would be. Most of the time, this highlights whether or not it is fear (when I get anxious about silly little things, or about how other people may react to me). The interesting thing is that by walking myself mentally down this worst case road, the anxious feelings will start to decrease when it is just fear. The second thing I do is take a deep breath. Just that breath, while thinking about doing the thing I am worried abut, will get rid of most of my anxious feelings (sometimes it takes several breaths). If I do both of those things and still have a bad feeling about something, then I trust my intuition and start looking for other options.
There is a neat body trick to try for checking in with your intuition. This can be done solo or with someone else. If you are working with someone else, you can hold one arm straight out to your side. You will try to hold it up, and the other person will try to push it down. Each time you do it, think about a different option. Your body will respond with more strength to the option that your intuition feels is best for you. If you are alone, you can touch the tip of your pinky and thumb of your non-dominant hand together, then using your other hand, try to push the fingers apart with your thumb and pointer. Try to use the same amount of pressure to push your fingers apart while thinking about your different choices. The one that you are most intuitively aligned to will keep your fingers together, while other choices it will be easy to separate them.
So how does all this apply to walking your own path? I think that we are often faced with the situation where we read or hear something that seems to be common knowledge or generally accepted, and it just doesn't sit well with us. Sometimes this is because we are breaking free from old patterns (like the associations with the words 'witch' or 'heathen'), but sometimes it is because our intuition is trying to tell us that we need to look elsewhere.
I think it is of great use to ask other people for their opinions. Often this can be a form of insight, and it helps our intuition have lots of place to point us! But it can also be limiting if we feel that we can not trust what our gut is saying. We may find ourselves trying to walk in someone else's shoes and being constantly frustrated because it is so hard to walk the path!
When something feels wrong or uncomfortable to you, look into that feeling! The feeling is a message, you just have to figure out what it is trying to say to you. Sometimes it is fear trying to keep you in your old, small box. Sometimes it is a sign of danger. Sometimes it is just that the fit isn't quite right for you. Learning to know how your intuition speaks to you and to trust it helps you figure out which message you are receiving and how to move forward!