Monday, December 03, 2007

Recognizing signposts

I consider myself a pretty practical, if sometimes passionate person. I believe in using logic to make decisions. And I believe there is a kind of internal computer processing that needs to happen in order to spit out answers that are sometimes more complicated to reach.

Yet I also believe the universe sends signposts to help us, if we can train the internal eye to recognize them (or the non-cochlea inner ear to hear them, if that's how you see best).

In my case, sometime in my 30s, I began to trust that there was a kind of spiritual guidance rapping on my head. I can trace it back to a particular dream, on a particular vacation in the desert, in which my grandfather (deceased more than 40 years by then) came to visit me for a day...and for some reason told me his age. When I awoke with this very strong sense of the dream (I rarely paid attention to them otherwise), I checked family records and found that his age was accurate, had he still been alive that year.

It led to me write a story that turned into a major research project that turned into a novel that still sits in my drawer today, waiting for the day I feel smart enough to write it the way it needs to be.

Some years later, I returned to the novel in a space of creativity. Finding bits and pieces of random thoughts during the summer I was home on maternity leave with my first child. One day I was inspired to write a very detailed scene in which I was in a pub dancing and singing with my Irish ancestors. The next day, a random encounter with someone led to an odd comment he made that he sensed I had just been celebrating with family. Turns out he considers himself a psychic, and he said he was picking up this vibe from me. Again, it was something I wouldn't normally have laid stock in, other than the odd coincidence of it.

But flash forward a few years, and there have been a series of other oddities that catch my attention. The rare nightmare I woke up from at 6 a.m. in New York City on the 9/11, dreaming of dark-skinned men accosting me in an alley. Or thinking more recently, as I drove under a bridge with my son, about how awful it would be to be on or under a bridge if it fell -- and four days later, that very same Minneapolis bridge did.

Or, on a lighter note, the time I was poor and had been feeling disconnected for some time. On a lark, I entered a short story contest for the first time, and ended up winning the grand prize -- a round trip flight to Ireland. One afternoon there, still battling emptiness, I took a hike into the beautiful and endlessly deserted countryside, found a rock, sat quietly and felt a profound urge to say out loud that life was good, life was good, life was good. After that trip, my short story led to a novel that led to new friendships (and an agent) that has a tremendous amount to do with the strengths in my life today.

Much of our subconscious is bizarre and random and gives no particular message or roadmap that is of any use to us. But for the creative artist who finds inspiration that comes from an unseen place and moment....or the parent who senses unspoken concerns from his or her child that requires reaching in...or the minister or volunteer or teacher who heeds a calling...or the athlete or chef or copyeditor or mother who is supremely gifted at the can sometimes be abundantly clear that there is a reservoir of "psyche" or "soul" or "angels" that surrounds us and can help to propel us. Others, more traditionally religious than I, would certainly call this inspiration from God or the Buddha master or Allah. In my case, even non-"New Agey" as I consider myself, I prefer to think of it as being aided by "spirit guides."

I do not give credit to any guardian angel for directing me or giving me my moments of inspiration, but I do believe they give signposts that might lead us down a particular path that we might not have noticed before.

I believe it is our willingness to listen, to notice, to pay attention -- and then make decisions based on what we learn -- that enables us to live mindfully and with satisfaction on our chosen pathways.

Healthy skepticism and the practicalities of daily life can certainly make it hard sometimes to notice signposts. And undoubtedly, when we are wrestling with issues above or below the surface, we might find ourselves "looking for a sign" that could then seem conveniently placed in our way. But I believe the subtle oddities of our subconscious, easy to sweep aside, are where some of the true inspiration, or the authentic messages, come from.

How is this relevant to the Choice Mom experience?

So many of us think and ponder and debate and wrestle with the logical issues that face us in deciding to take a solo journey as momentous as this one. Invariably, when our children come to us we cannot imagine why any of those things once mattered to us -- the logistical difficulties are far outweighed by the profound moments and precious snapshots of life that we get from our children.

So it is in all aspects of our lives. Sometimes we get clogged. Or we take a path that doesn't feel right but aren't sure if we should turn back. Or we mistrust our instincts and try to sidestep them with rationalization. Or we feel devoid of inspiration.

Looking back, it is the somewhat serendipitous encounters -- during travel, journaling, talking with someone new, reading, hearing an inspirational speaker or musician -- that can jump-start our process. And I think those are the times when we are open to heeding a message that is being delivered to us.

Really being able to listen is a skill we all have, even if we've temporarily forgotten how.

Most children are blessed with this ability. Have you ever had a child tell you the blunt, unspoken truth, or surprised you by asking a deep question you stopped trying to figure out yourself? Have you ever met a gifted or driven young adult who believes in the ability to get things done according to his or her vision? Does that sublime belief in the power of one's own strengths and curiosities and visions sometimes get lost when jobs and relationships and kids and household maintenance and bills crowd us?

Sometimes we live through our kids' beautiful confidences about their own creativity, and we become the happy observer of how another person's life is open to the possibilities.

We always need to regain some of that confidence for our adult selves. Life has many paths, every year of our lives. We need our visions and creativity to choose all of it mindfully. We can all surround ourselves with the people and moments we need to charge our lives when we decide to consciously and proactively find them. No, this doesn't mean going to if you're looking for a partner (although that works for some). It means listening to the random woman on the bus who you might otherwise shut out. It means talking to the mechanic about life outside the auto body shop.

It means opening yourself up to the unusual messages we can get in ordinary life. And in so doing, we keep ourselves alert to paths we might not otherwise think we can learn from.