I was given a prediction by a tall stranger the other day, an old soul adept at reading the signs. “Mackerel sky” said Rodney, a farmer from out Laidley way, as he gazed at the clouds. And he went on to predict “twenty-four hours dry”. And, as further confirmation, “Rain before seven – dry by eleven”. I met Rodney as, in his other capacity as a roadworker, he escorted me across a road in Ipswich. I made a comment about the weather and he told me it was going to be dry all day. And brought out the rhymes as proof. (He was right, by the way).
I imagine Rodney knows a lot about signs of the natural world, and what they mean. I bet he’s adept at observing the skies, the clouds, the winds, insect and bird life and using these to predict future conditions. Like indigenous people who were able to read the world around them like a book. They could tell how far away a storm was by watching the direction in which ants ran around their hole, or where water or food was by the behaviour of birds. I, on the other hand, am not skilled in reading those signs at all. Without the aid of my smartphone, the only weather forecasting I know is the one that goes “Red at night – sailor’s delight. Red in the morning – sailor’s warning”. If I gaze at the clouds and decide its safe to put the washing out, it’s just as likely to rain.
But I guess I don’t know these things because I’m not reliant on the weather or the natural world in such a direct way. Unless I’m planning an outdoor event, it doesn’t really matter to me what the weather is doing on a particular day. It doesn’t affect my livelihood in the same way as it does Rodney’s, or people who live off the land.
It got me thinking about how we learn to read the signs that relate to what’s important in our lives. The things that affect our well-being and survival are where we need to be good at observing what’s happening. Then we can use that information to make decisions and take wise action. Sometimes, after something devastating happens, we look back and say “I should have seen the signs”. Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but still, awareness is something we can cultivate.
There are probably many signs we pick up on without realizing it. When we get a ‘gut feeling’ about something or someone, we are picking up on a whole lot of subtle signs, and shape our response accordingly. With experience, we learn to read the cues.
Sometimes signs may be glaringly obvious to us, but not to others. I can drive around in the car for weeks and remain happily oblivious to strange rattles and sounds that my husband picks up on within 5 minutes. “That doesn’t sound good at all” he’ll say. “We better get that to a mechanic straight away’. On the other hand, I”ll notice something going on with one of the family and be amazed that he can’t see it. “How can you not notice how important this is to him? Can’t you see the signs?”
I guess we are programmed to pick up on different things according to our natural inclinations. But I believe we can also learn to be more observant. We can consciously pay attention to the signs that are there and spend some time thinking about what they mean, and how we can use that information. In other words, we can aim to live a more reflective life.
Sometimes we can be good at paying attention to the signs in one area of our lives, whilst completely missing others. We might be really on the ball at judging what our work situation needs, or what’s required for family harmony, but miss reading the cues our body is giving us about our physical health, or our own emotional well-being. Or vice-versa – we can read our own internal signs, but not pick up accurately on what others are needing.
What are the arenas of your life that matter for your well-being? What do you need to know about in order to live well? What signs do you need to be able to read?
Something to think about as you go about your day – and, according to the signs, I predict it will be worthwhile exercise!