I was driving down the interstate, thinking. I had found myself in a very strange place in a relationship I was dealing with at the time, feeling trapped and desperate. It was that typical feeling that follows when the state of affairs at hand just doesn't seem fair or right. As I drove, I saw with horror a young deer running against traffic on the side of the interstate in a place that was particularly unlikely - there are high drop-offs along that particular stretch of highway and I couldn't help thinking, That poor animal. How did it get up here? But I drove on, minutes later finding that I couldn't shake the imagery of running against the traffic, against the grain, of frantically not accepting what was happening and getting into a precarious situation. Suddenly, there was an answer to the endless loop of similar thoughts that had been running through my head. I had to persevere like the young deer I had just seen. He was in a terribly difficult position, but it was one that he was responsible for and so was the situation that I was in. I had made my bed. Now I had to lie in it until things changed.
Human beings are incredibly complex creatures. We are not made to be robots, automatically going through life with no real interaction with the rest of the world - emotionless, efficient but lacking any real connection with all that surrounds us. And yet, as our lives have become increasingly more fast-paced, everything that exists in the peripheral has taken a back seat to the next stop on our journey, and in the process we have lost out on the depth of life itself. It's one of the main reasons that so many who find themselves with the resources necessary will take the time out for their own type of spiritual pilgrimage. I can think of nothing more inspiring, personally, than sitting in a silent monastery overlooking the Himalayan mountains, breathing in the fresh air, not worrying that my cell phone hasn't rung in days, not thinking about whether the coffee pot is off or that my neighbor forgot to water the plants! In the process of being the ultra-efficient, multitasking, revenue-producing automatons that we at times appear to be, we find often that there isn't the time in the day to go deeper, to understand the connectedness that underlies what we believe is separation.
The world as we know it is full of signs. We don't think of them as this, generally, because of that believed separateness that exists. Why would a cow standing in a field, minding his own business, mean anything to me as I drive by? Did the cow walk out to that particular pasture specifically so that I could see him? Probably not. In fact, as I pass by, it's doubtful he even recognizes my presence. But my mind suddenly attaches to the cow because there have been an inordinate number of cows recently peppering my dreams, my waking life, my visit to the dentist's office when I noticed a magazine on the seat next to me talking about the state of the cattle industry. What does it all mean?
Learning to understand the signs that life is offering to you can be a very enlightening process. Living according to those signs might not be the easiest thing, but usually it's the most necessary thing at the time. If you've got so many irons on the fire that you can't tell which way is up and you're pulling your hair out because there's just not enough time in the day, a billboard with the words "SLOW DOWN!" in big, bold print could be a big indicator to you concerning the course of action you should be taking.
But how can we figure out what those signs mean? How is it possible to know whether or not something actually a sign?
Pay attention. The most important aspect to finding the signs that life is presenting to you is to be aware of life, period. It doesn't mean scrutinizing every little thing, but it does mean picking up on patterns, noticing the things in the picture that don't quite fit or that appear a little too conspicuous. It's said that often what you're looking for is in the one place you'd never think to look, and because we think everything must be incredibly complicated, often the one place we never look is right in front of us.
Does that mean that when you got indigestion after eating at the Mexican place the other night, life was sending you a message? Well, yes and no. Of course, you should keep it in mind the next time you have a hankering for a burrito, but those aren't really the signs that I'm talking about. It's a little less obvious most of the time, but it comes in context. What about your current life situations appears on some level to be reflected back to you by the world and the constant change that is occurring there? The constant presence of a butterfly could signify the need to let life, or the wind, carry you instead of trying to control your every waking moment. A train broken down at an intersection and backing up your morning commute to work might mean that future travel plans will be disrupted. The large amount of violence going on globally, not to mention the nasty weather that seems to be taking place could be indicative of a larger social problem going on in our world. Pay attention, see the patterns, and start to reflect on what they mean in your life.
Keep a journal. All this journaling! Everyone tells you to keep a journal nowadays and for every small thing! There are diet journals, meditation journals, Tarot journals, journals about journals! Add another one to the list. One of the most efficient ways of keeping track of the signs you believe you are experiencing is to write them down. It doesn't have to be long and drawn out. One or two sentences should be just fine. But the point of the exercise is to begin to see patterns. If, during times of financial woe, you tend to see or be confronted with the image of - oh, I don't know - a fox, perhaps your lesson is to be shrewd in business dealings and anything that involves the movement of finances. Still, if you don't write it down, then you may not pick up as easily on the pattern that is forming.
Do the research. Gut instinct is best, of course, but if you look into it, there are a number of cultures that have consistently detected deeper meanings to many natural symbols that occur constantly. Shamanism puts a great deal of importance on the idea of "totem animals" whose energies and natural tendencies can be tapped into in order to draw strength, knowledge, and wisdom from the plant and animal world. At the very least, it's interesting to know that other groups throughout the course of history have seen something very important happening all around us - the communication of "God" through the fabric of life.
Let your heart be your guide. If it feels like a sign of some kind - if it resounds with you on a deeper level - then it probably is a sign. Remember that your gut instinct or reaction is your intuition kicking in to let you know that you should be paying more attention to what's going on. One of the ways that I knew I was in a bad relationship about a year ago was when, as I drove to meet my partner for dinner, I began to feel utterly nauseous, a feeling that ended the moment I left the restaurant. In this case, it was truly gut instinct! Not surprisingly, the relationship didn't last more than a month after that. Of course, all intuition will not be so blatant, but when it is, consider it a gift.
Think like a shaman. Shamanism is big on natural cycles, as are a large number of religions. Part of any natural cycle is the presence of lessons that must be learned, and if not learned initially, these cycles will repeat until you get from them what you need to move forward. The bad news: If you didn't learn your lesson the first time, there will absolutely be a second chance. The good news: Ask yourself what lessons you should be learning, learn them, tap into your "totem animals" or use the opportunity to grow from every situation, and you'll find life takes on a much easier, more natural flow. Think like a shaman, and never stop learning the lessons that life is asking you to grow from! Or, ignore the lessons and the cycles and just wait for them to come back around and bite you in the you-know-what.
Allow the Universe to teach you. Open yourself up to the Universe and its lessons. In fact, why not ask for them? If you've noticed that your life lacks some spice, understand first that this might be a lesson as well, but don't be shy about asking for the chance to learn and grow. If you're wondering what kind of cosmic masochist would want to do something like that, consider this: The more you know, the less you have to learn.
Don't let the opinions of others keep you from your very personal journey. Remember that whatever the Universe is trying to teach you, it's not the obligation of others to understand or agree. These are your lessons and others are being taught lessons at the same time (which may seem rather elementary to you). It's a matter of perspective and of knowing in your heart that it doesn't matter what someone else has to say about it. If someone thinks I'm crazy for believing in life lessons, for instance, that's fine. It's not an idea that makes sense to them or which endears them in any way. Don't worry about what others have to say concerning the lessons you are learning, which are very personal to you. Simply allow the lessons to happen, learn from them, and let others do the same - even if you just want to scream, "Stop, you're doing it all wrong!" You will feel the need to do that, by the way. Just remember, anything you've ever learned well was probably learned through trial and error. Give others that opportunity as well.
One night I was working the graveyard shift about two years ago and I was again caught in a very repetitious cycle of thought, puzzlement, and questioning. What should I do? Where should I go with this situation? I had decided to step outside for some fresh air. I was standing on a part of the property where there was an abundance of flowers and trees and I was staring up at the moon when I started to speak aloud to the night air, asking for help, for guidance, for some sign that whatever I was doing, wherever I was going, it was all for the greater good. "I just want to know that I'm not crazy," I said. "I just want to know that you're hearing me if you're out there!" It was one of those hot, balmy western Pennsylvania nights in late June and there was a virtual hot house of giant bugs buzzing in my ear and dive-bombing me from above. But as I turned around, in the middle of the sidewalk, there was a very large praying mantis. It seemed strangely as if it was watching me with those big eyes, and I considered it for a moment, went back inside, pulled up Google and searched for "praying mantis symbolism." The very first website that I clicked on was surprisingly apt. As I scrolled through the information (the webpage is included as a link below), I came to the line, "Meet the eye of a mantis and feel the presence of God." That was all I needed. I can't think of a better sign to receive.
Think of the Mission Impossible movies. This is your mission if you choose to accept it. But just remember, the missions will keep coming regardless of your level of enthusiasm. Why not take the hint the first time around? There's a great deal of insight to be gained in learning what the Universe wants so badly for you to know.
Christopher Berie is a freelance writer with great interest in the metaphysical arts. He has read Tarot cards for almost 16 years incorporating his knowledge of Numerology, I Ching, and the use of pendulums in his readings.