Over the last few days I’ve felt inclinations towards writing again, and I was letting it soak to sense if it was a persistent sensation. Last night I went to bed too exhausted to do it, but with the intention of beginning today. When I woke I had received an email from somebody who had stumbled upon my work logs and encouraged me to continue writing, and of course this was perceived as a sign that my inclinations were indeed correct.
I’d say I’ve developed a light hearted approach towards signs of this kind. I used to be the hyper-rational person who’d discount signs as fantasy and superstition: the universe does not bend itself to make evident the path you should walk, that would be giving you too much self-importance. As a hyper-rational person you proactively fight the meaning life seems to offer. The gut is the inferior brain which must be kept in check by the neocortex.
But at some point the meaningless life becomes so barren you become willing to indulge in some fantasy. “Well, I know these signs to be fantasies, but I might as well follow them and see what happens”. And then life gives you feedback on your gut instinct.
Some years ago, in Mexico City, I was particularly distressed, and I went to a buddhist ceremony to meditate. Among the dozens of practitioners, a tall, slender man in his fifties caused a big impression on me. He simply had a strong presence and a perfect lotus posture, but aside from that I can’t pinpoint what caused the impression. I sensed that I had to speak with him.
When the mediation finished I sought him out to no avail. I shrugged and put a minus one score to “follow the signs” directive that I was exploring at the moment.
Exactly one year later I encountered him waiting at the elevator at the building where I used to work. I froze on sight: I was certain it was him, but again this could be my mind playing tricks. We got in the elevator and I saw that he was carrying “Surely You are Joking, Mr. Feynman”, a favorite book of mine. I mustered the courage to commend his taste in books and mentioned that he seemed familiar from meditation at the buddhist center. He apologized for not remembering me. I laughed and introduced myself, and he mentioned he worked at the Chinese school in the building.
Of course, the first thing I did when I arrived to the office was to google him, I had gathered his first name and his workplace, and soon enough I had his LinkedIn profile: ex-developer at Microsoft, owner of the Chinese school. I thought it humble of him just saying he “worked there”. I let my excitement subside before contacting him to propose meeting over coffee, which took me two weeks.
After a substantial amount of time in business related conversation I explained honestly my conundrum: I had seen him only once before, his face had burned into my memory, and lately the problem of “signs” was causing a lot of distress in my life, because it was not compatible with my worldview. I explained that his presence was a sign to me and perhaps he could give me more insight into the problem.
I was relieved that he didn’t take me for a crazy fellow, and at the same time his response left me unsatisfied: he shrugged, and said everything happened for a reason. “But let’s take Feynman, for example. He was next to his wife when she died, and her clock (which was a gift from Feynman) stopped at that precise moment. He decided there was nothing mystical in the experience, the clock broke down frequently, and perhaps the nurse picked it up to note the time of decease, and that’s how he explained away the coincidence”. He shrugged again, “it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me”.
We spent some more time speaking of synchronicities and anecdotes and what not. At the time I was disappointed at the whole thing: a huge build-up of signs for the new age woo of everything happens for a reason. Still, it was a pleasant meeting and I was glad to have followed through. Signs may not be truth, but at least they take us down interesting rabbit holes I thought.
Then, as the years have passed, I’ve come to understand a couple of things better: the signs are a product of your consciousness, but this doesn’t mean they are not real. They are subject to your biases, desires, yearnings, fears and emotions. If you encounter the girl you like at the supermarket, you see it as a sign that you should speak to her. And there is wisdom in this! You walk at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and a cat jumps out the trash and scares the shit out of you. Your consciousness might interpret it as a bad omen. There may be wisdom in this too.
However, understanding these signs up as literal messages from the universe will only set you up for disappointment in the best of cases, and restraining orders in the worse ones. These are prompts, suggestions and confirmations from your subconscious that you are on the right or wrong path.
As I recall the conversation I had with this Buddhist man I find myself more in line with his attitude: it’s not that important, accept it as meaning, not as truth. It’s wonderful to experience shared signs and meaning with other people, don’t be that person that shoots down other’s people fantasies because you identify as a rational person.
Today I begun a month long project with a former mentor of mine, Javier Cañada. After lunch I was alone at his office, so I sat down to meditate. I dozed off and for a split second I dreamed I was munching on a carrot. I had dreamed about carrots before.