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On Signs and Omens

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

A few weeks ago, my frustration with my leaving room décor reached a head and with the help of a friend I managed to do a fairly big re-ordering of the space. After a couple of tries I was much happier with all of the options we tried so I started spending more time in the room to get accustomed to it. A few days later, I tried moving things around again, and then a few days after that another reorder. That evening, while I sat in my newly configured space, my cat came sauntering into the living room and jumped up on the couch requesting (demanding) petting. I've been in this apartment for two years and this is only the second time the cat has come into this room and the first time she came to spend any significant time. Wow I thought, isn't that interesting. Of course, being a cat, she is prone to fickle behavior, but nonetheless I took note. The following evening when I retired to the living room she came in again and joined me. And again, on the third consecutive night. At this point I decided that this configuration was going to stay as-is for the indefinite future, it was an omen! Does it matter whether or not this was truly caused by an interaction between myself, the cat, and the energy of my apartment. Not to me.

Recently I've been diving into the writing of Bill Plotkin, which has been fascinating on many levels. His work articulates many aspects of psychology and being human that I have known but not necessarily gotten my head wrapped around, and then he has added a ton of ideas to how I think about myself and the world. While his work is not specifically on decision-making, I highly recommend it because there is a tremendous amount of information that can help you better understand your decision-making process by having a better understanding of yourself and how you navigate in the world.

One area that is specific to decision-making and my story above, is a chapter within Soul Craft, in which Bill discusses the ideas of signs and omens. He describes a sign as an event in nature that we observe after asking for guidance, whereas an omen is an event that happens without our asking. Now I think almost everyone is aware of these ideas, the cliché phrase, "it must be a sign", which is often the object of mockery is common enough. While many people scoff at the veracity of such events being intentional communication from the universe, or caused by an interaction between our being and nature, there are plenty who take them seriously - and, I wager that most of us have, at some time in our life, experienced one or the other and felt the uncanny sense that the event was indeed intentional.

I'd like to suggest that this is not an either-or situation. Consider my previous post reporting on research of random events as decision-making aids. The take-away message from that work is that random events whose outcomes are interpreted as signs telling us which option we should choose are in fact aids because they force us to stop and evaluation how certain we are of our chosen option and this pause can be the deciding factor (and prevent us from spinning our wheels in future deliberation). If we consider signs and omens as random events that trigger us to check-in with ourselves, then I see no reason why they should not be considered as fortunate opportunities to make a decision.

Just to be clear, I am in no-way discounting the possibility that signs and omens are in fact intentional. When I consider how mysterious life is, how little we know of our own existence (why are we here, what is the meaning of life, why do bad things happen to good people...) it seems both extraordinarily arrogant and contradictory to my own experience to feign certainty on this question. This is no less relevant in the realm of decision-making where the majority of the time, we are completely unable to explain how we arrived at a specific decision!

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