Watching for the Signs

I have several well-read friends who are my best scouts on leading-edge thinking. I can always count on them to suggest additions to my bookshelf. They’ll say I just have to read a particular book—sometimes they’ll even mention the same one on separate occasions. The first time they suggest a particular title, I might make a mental note. But then I usually forget about it. The second time, I say, “You’ve told me that before—I should read that.” The third time? Well, I usually get the book.

My friend Lou Ann suggested several times over the course of two years that I read The Alchemist. Each time, she forgot that she had told me to read it; the book just kept coming up in conversation. I still didn’t get around to buying it, until another friend told me someone had recommended the same book to him. “He felt so strongly about it that he drove me to Barnes & Noble right then and there and bought it for me,” my friend said.

That was all I needed. “Okay, okay,” I said aloud to the universe. “I will go get the book!”

The next time I was in the bookstore, I walked around a bit aimlessly, not sure what section might have the book. But then I just happened to look down and there was a lone copy of The Alchemist sitting on top of a pile of cookbooks on one of the tables. Perfect.

(By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, The Alchemist is a great book.)

Ever hear the Buddhist maxim, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”?

The universe is constantly sending us messages. I believe if we don’t pay attention to the signs, they just get brighter and louder. As my friend Kathy Abbott used to say, “Eventually, it’ll come in neon.”

At the point something shows up in neon, sometimes it’s too late. That health complaint might have turned into a life-threatening illness, or that daily struggle into the loss of a relationship. Or perhaps basic inertia you’ve had in one area of your life finally makes you miss out on a significant opportunity.

A number of years ago, I was running myself ragged—working full-time, going to graduate school, and taking care of my young son. I wasn’t eating well, exercising much, or taking time for myself. One day, my “Check Engine” light came on in my car. Normally, one just goes to a mechanic when this happens. And I did that—but this light then turned off and on for about six months. Funny, though, the mechanics could never figure out what was wrong.

I finally got the hint. I started checking in with myself, paying attention to my body signals, and changing my behavior—and eventually the light just went off.

Sometimes, you have to be open to receiving messages in unconventional ways. My friend Cindy recently went to hear John Holland, a gifted spirit medium who connects with people who have passed away and shares messages with large audiences. When I heard she was going, I almost said to her, “Say hello to my mom for me. ” But I didn’t—I wasn’t going to bother Cindy with such a selfish request when she had mentioned she hoped to hear some kind of message from her brother.

Cindy told me the next day how amazing it was, seeing John connect with dozens of different spirits and pass along relevant messages to people in the audience. But nothing unusual had happened.

Later that afternoon, she and I were sitting down for a meeting with some colleagues at work. Someone at the table said to me, “Hey, how’s Yo-Yo?”

“Yo-Yo?” I was puzzled for a minute.

“Yo-Yo! You know, Duncan! Yo-Yo!”

I forgot that he always called Duncan “Yo-Yo.” He hadn’t actually called him that in about three years.

Cindy was sitting right next to me. She said, “What?”

The person repeated what he had said, and Cindy’s eyes grew wide. She said, “Last night, in the middle of his session, John Holland asked, “Who’s Yo-Yo? I have a message for a Yo-Yo….you know, like Duncan Yo-Yo. Someone wants to say hi.”

I almost fell off my chair.

Cindy said no one in the audience could relate to the message, so John just moved on to something else. But my mother and Duncan had a very special relationship, so I knew it was a message for him. The odd thing is, I never would have heard the Yo-Yo message if our colleague hadn’t asked about Duncan in front of Cindy.

Brian Andreas, a wonderful artist I have written about previously, has a Story People drawing called “Waiting for Signs.” The text reads: “I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, you can start any time now, & then I asked is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there’s no laughter, I know they’re not for me.”

You can call me nuts.

But I’m certainly hearing the laughter. And I’m perfectly happy being nuts while I’m waiting for my teachers to appear.