Modes of Knowing

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

For the most part, we live in a world that considers “knowing” to be synonymous with “thinking”. But knowing is not the same as thinking. Our bodies know how to digest food and repair injuries without thinking about it. As human beings, we are not usually taught how to recognize our knowing, much less how to actively use it. Knowing has mostly been collapsed into the box of psychic or extrasensory perception, where it can be easily ignored by skeptics or considered the gift of a chosen few by believers. But we all have ways in which we know without having to think about it.


Most of us know someone who is really good with plants. Ask them about how they take care of their root-bearing friends. Rarely do they say, “I give my plants 6 ounces of water every Saturday”. They are more likely to say something about how they just know when the plants need water, or a change in location or temperature.

Athletes and artists also have strong earth knowing. While a baseball pitcher might spend some time doing guided visualizations to improve their pitching, they aren’t going to get great just by thinking about it. And being great also isn’t just a matter of throwing pitches over and over and over. The best pitchers have that hard-to-describe “something” that makes them uniquely outstanding. Or consider someone who can draw realistically. You could argue about whether drawing skills can be taught (they definitely can be improved), but some people just pop out of the womb with the ability to move a pencil around on paper and create an uncanny likeness of a real object. Again, talk to an artist and ask them about what they think about when they draw. For most of them, it’s not a thinking process. They will say, “I just know how to do it”.

Gifted massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and others who work with bodies also have a strong connection to the earth mode of knowing. Have you ever gone to a massage therapist who literally could take the pain out of your body? There is a good chance that removing that specific pain wasn’t even their main conscious intention, but just a byproduct of them using their knowing to carry out the session.


This one can be tricky to recognize when you’re not taught to look for it. Have you ever spent time with someone and then later felt really wacked out for no logical reason? Just as water tends to seep into things and dissolve particles, the consciousness of people with a lot of water knowing will literally blend with and absorb thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other energies from people around them. They will then later wonder why they feel so messed up, not recognizing that they are still holding onto a bunch of ick that they soaked up earlier. On the flip side, watery people are also able to easily soak up the nurturing, healthy energies of nature when they are able to spend time outside in natural places.

People who are gifted caregivers often have strong water knowing. A good mom or a good nurse knows what you need before you have even thought to ask for it, and they can pick up on shifts of emotion when they spend time with someone. Water knowing is also often present in people who are aware of entities and ghosts. While they are not likely to see or hear entities directly, they can pick up on “vibes”. You will hear a water person say, “Something just feels weird in that place”. With training, this mode of knowing can be used to communicate and work with entities of many types.

Having lots of water energy can be challenging, as it often feels like one could drown in other people’s stuff. It can also make it difficult to have healthy boundaries, and to have a strong sense of one’s self. Many people who get labelled with Borderline Personality Disorder have a lot of water knowing, and usually they have not been taught how to work with it in a healthy way. Developing a meditation practice can still the choppy waters in the mind of someone who functions strongly through the water modality.


The mode of air is the closest of the four elements to what is called logical thought. Poets, writers, mathematicians, and scientists often have lots of air knowing. But this still isn’t the same as “thinking” in the way we usually conceive of it. People who are considered exceptional in the field of science often talk about getting flashes of insight in the form of mental images or symbols that appear in dreams. They are often highly visual, and can be sensitive to color, light, and sound. Einstein reportedly conceived of many of his paradigm-shifting theories by, for example, imagining himself flying along next to a photon traveling at the speed of light.

In terms of extrasensory awareness, air knowing is correlated with the most stereotypical form of getting information about reality beyond the physical world. People who see and hear energy and entities are functioning through the air mode of knowing. While this gift is often coveted, it is actually said to be the least reliable form of extrasensory awareness. Our eyes can play tricks on us. Shamanic journeying can be an especially satisfying, therapeutic practice for someone with lots of air consciousness.


The mode of fire is quite different than the other elements, in terms of knowing. Traditionally knowing is a receptive process, and involves receiving awareness from one’s surroundings. Fire likes to act on the world around it. But you can still see the intelligence of fire showing up in people who are good at inspiring others, and getting things fired up. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, people with lots of fire consciousness are more likely to do the overwhelming, so working with and learning to direct and regulate the energy can be helpful.

Fire is a valuable tool for providing inspiration, and encouragement. The power of fire can also be useful for clearing people, bodies, and spaces of unwanted energies and entities.


Most people function through some combination of the elements. If you have no clue where your awareness is strongest, studying your astrological natal chart can help you grasp which elements are the most present in your consciousness. Working with particular modes of knowing is a key aspect of strengthening extrasensory perception. Recognizing which elements may be weak or overpowering in your chart can also provide clues to practices that can help you attain greater balance, health, and well-being.