How the Mind and the World Around You Co-create the Wisdom You Need to Thrive
Throughout centuries different cultures and tribes across all continents looked towards nature for wisdom and meaning and saw themselves as part of a wider system. For example, a number of African tribes and Native American Indians view all things (living and dead) as having a spirit. Nature and the universe, which we as humans are a part of, have many valuable lessons to share with us, provided we are open to notice and learn.
Everything we come across has the potential to be a sign. By sign I mean something that matches, compliments, reflects or mirrors aspects of our own consciousness in a way that is significant and of value to us. And we know this because our mind takes note of a sign or registers it in a conscious way. A sign stays with us. It lingers. Signs guide, mentor, warn, call forth and remind us of things that can help us learn, thrive, cope, lead and ultimately come to understand ourselves. When we become aware of signs and let them speak to us, we stand to benefit greatly. In this way, our minds and the world around us collaborate to help us tap into deeper wisdom and intelligence our ancestors used routinely. There are times when this process seeks us and times when we can tap into this process to help support ourselves. This article gives insight into this method of personal support.
For a while now, I have been interested in the power of our unconscious mind and its deep wisdom to guide us if we can tune into its intelligence. This intelligence seems, to me, to extend far beyond our physical bodies, our own experiences, and what we come to know or learn. It transcends time and comes to us from somewhere bigger; yet it feels like a part of us when we become aware of it as if it’s always been within us. To me, signs represent a means by which we can recognize and tap into this wisdom. Our external world carries parcels of messages in pretty much any form, whether it’s nature, people or inanimate objects– many are meaningless to us. Our minds and senses pass by them, but we don’t contemplate their meaning.
These signs may indeed be there for someone else. Some signs, however, touch us deeply and if we stay with them for a moment, they communicate with us. They speak the wisdom we need.
We are actively drawn to some signs: when we seek a specific book on our shelf that we seem ready to read; that hike we ache to take; a specific object we want to hold or have next to us, or even a random object; and work we can’t seem to forget. I believe they are all signs that the wider, intelligent and unconscious mind uses to help our conscious mind cope with our world, heal us and facilitate our development and growth. Of course we have freedom to choose whether or not to listen to those whispers and intuitions, and what we ultimately do. But it starts with a belief that the universe is constantly there supporting us in meaningful ways.
Here’s how I arrived at this way of thinking: a few years ago, while on a holiday with two great friends, I was in need of emotional healing and set off on a morning hike. I didn’t plan it; something within me made me put on my boots and set out at dawn along the coast. As I crossed the threshold of our dwelling, a thought bubbled up (seemingly from nowhere) urging me to open my eyes and note things that would appear on my journey as signs–containing a message–for me. I set off on my trek, aware that I had accepted this invitation consciously and opened my mind and heart to let whatever came along that my mind noticed, to offer me a message.
The trek turned out many magical signs indeed. I had brought some paper and a pen so that I would write them down and what I felt they meant, though, oddly, I didn’t need to. My mind was never clearer and able to remember the signs I came across. Later, back at the lodge, I wrote a summary of this experience noting the specific order of the signs and what they had to say and read it to my two friends, tears rolling down my cheeks. I’d gone on this trip at a time when I was coming to terms with a personal loss and in need of finding hope and inner strength to get through that life stage. The signs I became conscious of on my walk not only gave me that faith and belief, but they came in the right sequence. And when I got to my last sign I felt a distinct feeling of being done and being able to return.
I remember sitting down at the edge of a rock overlooking the ocean, saying a gratitude prayer for returning transformed. It was as if nature herself was teaching me everything I needed to know, remember, and see, what I needed to believe and trust. It was a very powerful spiritual awakening in many ways, but it opened my eyes to the power of something that could transform and improve my thinking beyond anything I could’ve imagined by providing and seeking me. All I had to do was be open to the invitation.
I repeated this exercise after I arrived at “a lovely prairie of Cornwall” (how the locals describe Coverack) two years ago: a tiny but absolutely gorgeous cove on the Lizard peninsula, both remote and amazingly peaceful. (Life on this southwestern edge of England moves at a different pace entirely.) I had gone there to become a writer and arrived at the retreat heavy-hearted. After publishing my first book, Get Productive!, I was keen on creating other works and looked forward to the week of giving myself up to the creative process next to a calm, beautiful seaside. I had two books in mind and the idea of working them up for my editor filled me with excitement and a sense of deep fulfillment. (I’m attracted to creating and sharing knowledge with others, especially things that can improve our lives. I have massively benefited from words and ideas of other writers and thinkers and like the idea that I can contribute back to such communities.)
Right before my arrival to Cornwall, however, my partner and I separated. The trip, which was intended to give us time to enjoy being together, turned bittersweet. I’d gone to Cornwall to do what I loved, but the person I loved was no longer a part of the journey. Being there that late summer, I felt a distinct loss of something that felt like a part of my soul. Accepting our respective freedoms to part and do what we each wanted to do individually felt right on a rational level, but it hurt me deeply emotionally. I felt betrayed, abandoned and used.
Given my earlier experience with the sign process, I again opened myself to a similar exercise on this trip. And as soon as I shifted my attention to observe what the world around me had to teach me, I found all that I needed– deep wisdom came from a lovely carefree dog playing with the surf. It reminded me to stay present in the moment just like he was playing happily in the water. A pair of giant teddy bears at a café gave me a deep sense that I was not alone in wanting unconditional love and that one way to experience it was to, in fact, offer love, cuddles and a sense of unconditional acceptance to other people in my life from colleagues to friends and family. My next signs talked to me about the courage one needed to open one’s heart and the trust that is required to do it. This sign helped me acknowledge the courage I had stepped into to enter this specific relationship and to acknowledge the power and resolve love brought as a force to help me along. The signs helped me realize that as hurt and bruised as I was, I had, in fact, become stronger. It was a comforting reminder. The ever changing sky common to that part of England reminded me, like a wise mentor, that all things, whether pain or joy, are fundamentally transient. Like a bee, we can choose to exercise our character and the gift of freedom to seek nectar where we believe it exists. My partner felt it laid elsewhere and to love was to accept that and let it be.
I have previously written about a couple of techniques I have used with my clients using a similar process in other blogs.
These are some of the ways we can tap into the unconscious mind to find the answers we need. Those answers, however, sit within us–they are in a subconscious mind that’s part of a larger consciousness. All we have to do is access it to cease our suffering or, to put it another way, to live our lives instead of merely existing in them. To do that, we have to become mindful and present, learn to pay attention and be curious. The process requires patience, trust, and the ability to observe and reflect on what is. The mind creates the meaning it needs as if a script is being read from somewhere distant, yet it feels like it’s from our very heart.
Whether you embark on an exploration yourself or choose to notice what stands out in your environment and what the world around you may be telling you, sharing this process with someone else can be very helpful. It provides another mirror to reflect what we feel and think to create context and meaning for what is happening in our lives, for we share experiences through stories and narratives. This is helpful when our lives are going well; it can help us live more deliberately, with awareness and meaning-making and in situations where we are unable to create the results we want. In the latter case, this process can help us uncover things within ourselves that impede our progress.
In my view, through personal experience as well as a practitioner, the subconscious is immensely wise; with enough practice we can learn to benefit from this wisdom. I can’t claim that I know the answer or have found a reliable key to this pathway, however, I frequently experience moments where I am intensely aware of its existence and my world is filled with incredible peace, order and faith that all is as it should be. And that’s very reassuring.
For example, the other day I stepped outside my front door and was greeted with a view of a tree across the street: it was a beautiful frosty morning and the beauty of the sight made me snap a photo. The action was guided by a powerful urge to share its beauty with the whole world (or at least all those who follow me on Twitter). I followed the reflex, aware of it but not stopping to reflect on its meaning very much because I was running late for a morning brunch.
The tree turned out to be a powerful sign. Later that day, somewhere at the back of my mind a thought bubbled up, seemingly from nowhere, telling me so– it told a beautiful story of empowerment, strength, change and perspective, that the tree was a sign highlighting my life. The conscious recognition of this, as I sipped my tea, brought me clarity, focus and reassurance about my life choices. The tree was, in fact, a sign and a gift.
Perhaps our minds can’t help but tell stories and make meaning. As a neuroscientist, I know this. The mind uses whatever is present in our environment to help us construct stories, reinterpret events and piece together what seems to be our reality, yet there’s something about this process that’s full of mystery and power we seem to know little about.
Practices such as mindfulness, reflection, play, guided visualizations and many other techniques seem to help facilitate our ability to tap into our consciousness as a resource. What I find is that when we become open to this experience, the stories our minds manage to construct are ultimately healthy. The process continues until we find the missing link or uncover a sufficient number of elements to make meaning and solve another part of the puzzle that our lives seem to be.
In my experience, it is a fun and healthy process, both for my clients and myself. That intelligence seems to always be supportive, reassuring and often helpful in pointing us to what we may need to do, understand, or know, provided we entertain it long enough to feel the process come to a natural end, and to trust it like one trusts a leading tango dance partner. I’ve experienced this natural stopping point as a distinct energy shift, so when looking for answers, don’t be afraid to brave a journey into your own mind. But don’t simply entertain your thoughts as they bounce off the inner walls of your existing mental mind-map for how the world works either. Let it out into the world and let the world around you reflect back what it is that you need to know.
And it will.
In my book, Get Productive!, there is an exercise called “Random Walk” to help you discover more about yourself. The exercise is an invitation to open your eyes to what your daily context reflects back. Here’s another way to begin a similar self-discovery process:
Consider what attracts you at the moment
How does what you do, read, pay attention to or ignore serve you?
What does it show you that you need?
If you’re interested in this area, you may like the following books:
The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in Your Life! by Colette Baron-Reid