Wouldn’t you be shocked to see a sign like this on the roadway? There’s this fabulous website that allows you to make a custom road sign on your computer. It got me to thinking about the signs that get our attention, and the ones we pass by without a second look.
I’m old enough to remember family road trips across the country and the “Burma Shave” signs that were all along the roadway. (If you are younger than about 40, you’ll have to look that up on Google or Wikipedia.) There were other famous landmarks throughout the Midwest that began their billboard advertising hundreds of miles ahead of their location: perhaps you’ve seen signs for “Wall Drug” or the “Corn Palace,” or the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Now, billboards are regarded as a blight on the landscape. Then, we looked forward to seeing the signs, since they made the trip more interesting, provided hard-to-find letters for the alphabet game, and let us know where we were in our journey.
Your nervous system is always giving you information about your past, the present moment, and the future, just like signs on the highway. Frequently you may notice the same things: the temperature of the room is too hot or too cold, there are crumbs on the kitchen counter, the nightly news left you depressed and anxious. More personally, your wrists may be numb again after working at the computer, or your neck or low back signal a familiar ache. Some signs are so familiar that you drive right by. Some signs eventually jump out right in front of you and say, “STOP!”
I raised my children in New Braunfels, Texas, on the edge of the hill country. New Braunfels is best known as the home of the original famous water park, Schlitterbahn; and for the “Snake Farm,” immortalized in song and by countless billboards all over the state. In the 12 years I lived there, I probably drove past the Snake Farm on I-35 at least once a week. Did I ever stop at the Snake Farm? No. . . I got to see it recently on the television show “Dirty Jobs,” though, and understood my instincts to pass it!
Some signs are life and death: in “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, the Harvard-trained neuroscientist recognized the signs that she was suffering a devastating stroke. But some signs point the way to an undreamed-of bliss, of happiness and fulfillment. The joy you feel when painting, listening to music, running, or writing; the peacefulness you feel in the presence of your beloved pet; the concentration and flow you feel when you are wrapped up in a novel or a project; all are signs that invite you to pull over and pause awhile to enjoy an attraction. Signs pointing toward the good are probably ignored much more than signs pointing toward trouble.
However, the sign is not the thing. The sign points to the thing. As you develop your awareness, you can develop a more accurate filter to determine which signs — like the Snake Farm, for me — are better if passed up, and which signs will keep you out of trouble, or lead to delightful new experiences. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that each of us is capable of learning, growing, and improving, of “fulfilling our vowed and unavowed dreams.” You make your own signs as you find your way.