Once we understand that the Universe is speaking to us, we can intentionally engage in the conversation. And the first step in becoming a good conversationalist is learning to listen.

The most important thing that I can do as a creative person is to listen and to be receptive. That entails cultivating the skill to tune into all the different kinds of intelligence around us: humans, yes, but also animals, plants, elementals. It’s overwhelming, so there’s an aspect that involves discernment and intention: ‘What is it that I need to learn now?’
— Rob Brezsny, Astrologer

When I first "came out" as a shamanic practitioner, I was not, shall we say, particularly circumspect. Among other spiritual gaffs, I immediately used the term "shaman" as my newly assumed identity, and — sidestepping conversations about cultural insensitivity — barreled onto the scene with great enthusiasm but little self-awareness. When questioned, my defense of calling myself a shaman was to simply say, "Spirit told me to". It was a testament to my inexperience that I didn't stop to wonder which spirit that voice was representing, and why it might have its own agenda.

Three years (and many humbling initiations) later, I find myself in a very different relationship to that name, as well as to that voice. The past years' trials have brought a new awareness of the necessity of discernment when working in the realm of Spirit(s), as when one opens up to one form of unseen guidance, one opens to many of them. Discernment becomes a critical tool in navigating the inputs, attuning to what is real and good. As I have come to understand, it is also is a necessity for finding one's true voice and inner calling.

One method of cultivating discernment is to expand one's awareness of what constitutes a "message". The Universe is talking to each of us, lovingly and compassionately, every single moment of our lives. We are gifted with dreams as we sleep (the way our Unconscious Mind – as well as the Collective Unconscious – speaks to us) and little synchronicities when we are awake.  Every single interaction we have with the world is generating a constant stream of messages for our interpretation if we expand our awareness enough to understand them.

These messages range from the very subtle (eg, a beautiful feather floating in front of you as you think about someone you care about) to the insistent (your phone getting bad reception every time you make an important call you're stressed about) to the utterly obvious (songs about jilted lovers coming on every time you turn on the radio after you've recently been dumped). 

That bird that flew right in front of you as you opened your car door...? Definitely a message. The jackhammer that starts up just as you start meditating...? Also a message. The way traffic got more congested the more you worried about being late to work..? Most definitely a message. The random "thumbs up" emoji from a friend at the exact moment you decide, unbeknownest to them, to take the plunge and change careers...? Also most definitely a message.

When we accept the premise that everything has meaning, the world suddenly becomes infused with magical portent. Once we start engaging with this messages, we also set an intention (either consciously or unconsciously) to expand our awareness enough to understand them. And indeed, some may be more easily understood, while others take days (or months) of pondering to finally appreciate and comprehend, and some we may miss entirely.

Just as in conversations with fellow humans, in conversations with the Universe, there is always potential for misunderstanding — or the possibility that we are not present enough to actually hear what is being said. We might be stressed, triggered or defensive; we might not like what we're hearing, so we block it out. We might also become too attached to one part of the message and totally miss the bigger picture. But over time, with patient cultivation of the art of listening, we learn to trust the inputs, as well as the process of sifting through the messages to find our deepest truth. 

The more we practice discernment, the more we trust the guidance of our inner voice. That trust is the beginning of our relationship with our true self (our Soul), as well as the unfolding of our path to purpose. In next month's post, I'll speak more to that relationship, as well as how to stay attuned to your purpose through the trials and travails (read: drama!) of your rational mind (the Ego). 

Until next time, many blessings to you and yours.