read this sign

July 31st, 2011

From time to time someone writes to me with a question that silences me. They put their heart on the page, and I know there is nothing I can say or do for them. Although I’m not ever able to provide the answers someone is looking for, these missives always help me to articulate something that speaks to people where they are instead of where I am. I sent this reply to someone today, and looking it over I realized it could help me and others take a hard look at where we are.

Where are you?

Readers are almost never where I am, sitting side-by-side with me in a Zen retreat, using the medicine for human ills prescribed by Buddha 2500 years ago. But the distance between us still compels me to try.

I am not a bestselling author, and I don’t have the first idea how people become a success. I don’t know how to fix a relationship, manufacture happiness, or realize one’s passion. I don’t know the alchemy that turns fiction into fact or pain into pleasure.  If I did know how to do that, I would be doing things the easy way. But I’m not. I am doing things the hard way. We are all doing things the hard way, as best as we can.

In short, I am not in the manifesting-your-dream business. I am in the waking-up-from-your dream business. The former is more popular and lucrative than the latter. I’m sure it is more temporarily uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. What it entertains is fantasy. I don’t put my faith in fantasy. I put my faith in the path you least desire, the path you most avoid, and the option of having no other option.

All my faith is in the practice of simply noticing where you are, seeing things as they appear, and neither clinging to nor rejecting them. I don’t know where you are going to end up and neither do you. Life’s purpose is to keep going, step by step, using the smallest increments and the easiest implements – using what’s at hand. This is the faith that sustains me because it is real, not what is yearned for, imagined, or guessed at.

I can only ask this: what you are overlooking? What are you resisting? What are you rejecting? What part of your own life have you abandoned? Your answers appear right there. And I am not talking about a psychological search. I am suggesting that you take a look at what is right in front of you.

We usually feel lost because we have exiled ourselves from our own life, looking for big signs rather than small ones. Following the small signs is what keeps us in motion. Motion is what takes us places.

I can’t give you any answers. They are always going to be found right in front of you, when you get close enough to read them. And even though this doesn’t look like an answer, it is.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. “I’m not ever able to provide the answers someone is looking for…” But you do, very gently, remind us of the answers we need. It’s in our delusion, we look for other,*better* answers. Thank you for this wonderful Sunday afternoon post.

    Comment by Hugh — July 31, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

  2. Thanks. This is a very nice piece.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — July 31, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  3. I looked up while reading this, and there in front of me is my nine year old daughter, swimming in the hotel pool in her giant goggles. I keep hearing that it’s not enough to be a mom, and that thought is deeply internalized. I’m sure I’ll always find something more to desire, but while I’m sitting here just now I’ll take it as my sign that as read this she was the first thing I saw.

    Comment by Janet M — July 31, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  4. Dumb question–but what are some examples of small signs? What sort of things are right in front of us? Strangely, when I look at my life right now, I don’t see any signs. I was so with you at the beginning–love the part about all of us doing things the hard way and the best way we know how. I love the part about waking up from dreams rather than realizing dreams. But I think I’m signless right now. Thanks for this though–I’m going to look!

    Comment by Tara — July 31, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  5. Everything in front of you is a sign, Tara. See how we think signs only look a certain way? The signs are always changing, too. I can’t see through your eyes, only my own, but there are ten thousand things in front of you. Follow those signs.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — July 31, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  6. Signs and teachers and truth and joy at the recognition of these things– always in front of you, always, always in front of you.

    What a lovely gift to have these words in front of me this evening. Thank you for this beautiful (sign)post.

    Comment by Connie Assadi — July 31, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  7. Wayne Dyer you are not. But I think that’s a good thing. This is a pretty brilliant little essay — no easy answers, but the truth that I, for one, keep needing to hear. So often I fall into the rut of “yearning,” when instead I would do so much better to wake up from the dream and work with what’s right in front of me. It is not an easy pill, this. Thanks for offering it with compassion.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — July 31, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

  8. Beautifully said. Thanks for this reminder to wake up from the dream that real life is ‘out there somewhere’, and not right here, right now, right where I am.

    Comment by kathleen — July 31, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  9. For me I think the urge to look for a sign (and thinking signs only appear a certain way) is synonymous with looking for life to have meaning. Sometimes I look at what’s in front of me and see endlessly redundant tasks, and rather than DO them I end up thinking about them, which leads to resenting them and worrying that I’m not accomplishing something grander in the world. And it’s then that I’ve made myself an exile from my life.

    Comment by Kathryn — August 1, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  10. It was the only answer I could have received, given that I wasn’t looking for an answer per se, but rather, a response, another signpost in the Universe. Right in front of me.

    Thanks for writing.

    Comment by Ashley Watson — August 1, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  11. This reminds me of a line from a Dan Albergotti poem:
    “Review each of your life’s ten million choices.”

    Ten million choices. Ten million signs. Ten million moments.

    Comment by Jena — August 1, 2011 @ 8:17 am

  12. As always, thank you, Maezen. I sometimes feel as though contemplating my life is like looking at abstract expressionism. When I first went to museums to see it, I felt compelled to “make it into something.” That kind of looks like a blue dog…yes! It’s a blue dog. It made me feel better somehow. Now, as I sit every morning or evening, I find myself resisting the need to make the practice “into” something, to make my life a blue dog. But it just is. And that is enough.

    Comment by Robin — August 1, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  13. Robin, this is brilliant and wise.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 1, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  14. I love this. So many things about this are lovely. Here’s just one: “All my faith is in the practice of simply noticing where you are, seeing things as they appear, and neither clinging to nor rejecting them.” There’s so much peace in just that.

    Comment by katie murphy — August 1, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  15. i love this. and not least because it pulls the rug out from under all of the “manifesting the dream” hoo-hah everyone who’s taken a workshop feels the need to market to me. so many people i know want to be oprah. they want to be the sign. they want to be MY sign. i like the way this flips that. apologies if i sound petty and mean.

    Comment by katy — August 1, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  16. yes.

    Comment by denise — August 2, 2011 @ 6:46 am

  17. oh karen, true and simple, but not easy. trying to breathe in and be still with this wisdom. to see what is. to be with what is (vs. striving and efforting for and even dreaming about what could be). trying to move awake, with feet on the earth. thank you for your kindness and compassion in this teaching.

    Comment by melissa — August 2, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  18. This thread of thought reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words about making all our daily ‘doings’ our practice. Janet M and ‘not enough to be a Mom’, don’t listen to others judgements of your choices. My girls have grown and left home, and now I see what a blessing it was to be ‘just a Mom’.

    Comment by Jude Smith — August 3, 2011 @ 3:10 am

  19. Love this, partly because it flies in the face of so much of what I do—strive, prioritize, cling & reject.

    I have two sweet friends and every few years we choose a “manifest your dream” kind of book to read together (despite living in different states) and encourage each other in reaching our goals.

    I love the camaraderie, the connection our Sunday letters provide to each other’s daily lives when we do this. But I feel I’m learning something here that makes me wary of goals in general. I’ve given them your books, but I know the response to choosing one of them would be that you don’t ask us to “do” anything.

    I know that isn’t true—you do ask us to do, but it is the hard thing: to open our eyes, to see, to be where we are, and it seems we’d rather a book that asked us anything but that.

    Comment by Deirdre — August 3, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  20. “Read this sign” reminds me of the quote “There are no ordinary moments. There is never nothing going on.” ~ ‘Socrates’ (Nick Nolte) in ‘The Way of The Peaceful Warrior’

    Comment by Tom — August 17, 2011 @ 1:42 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month