Ever glanced at the clock at 11:11? Or been daydreaming about moving to Antigua when a bird flew down and stared you right in the face? Those aren’t just coincidences; they may have been signs from the Universe.
Reading these signs and symbols is all about being in conversation with everything around you. Understanding them is less about chasing outside validation on what color you should dye your hair next or if you should go on that second date, and more about noticing, playing, and being present in the world.
If you’re trying to recognize signs and symbols, I invite you to let yourself act like a kid with eyes wide full of wonder. So often, our adult, analytical brains take over any sense of mystery. Try and let that go. The more you look, the more you see. Spiritual practices are about curiosity and trusting yourself. Listen—the Universe is talking.
Here are some examples of signs you might see:
A squirrel stares at you for a second too long, you run into five different spiders in a day, a butterfly lands on your fire escape—this may be a message.
My rule with these things is “gut before Google.” Animals have different historic and cultural meanings and associations, with some commonalities—for example, creatures with wings are often linked to freedom, seeking higher perspective, transformation, a need for more precision, or adaptability.
An animal’s traditional symbolism can be learned by reading books, examining animal decks, and searching for websites that haven’t been updated since 1999, but an animal or insect’s significance is best identified based on your own history with it. Maybe your grandmother loved owls, so an owl could represent encouragement from her. Or the last time you saw an otter it was a GIF of two of them holding hands, floating along, which reminds you of companionship and going with the flow. Trust yourself and your inner library first, and then seek outside sources for further insight.
Seeing 11:11 when you glance at your clock, glimpsing 222 on a house you walk by, or noticing $5.55 on the receipt for your coffee is no coincidence. These repeating numbers are sometimes called “angel numbers.” "Angel" does not have to mean a large, winged being, but the presence of any spirit, the Universe, power, or whatever else you believe in.
Repeating numbers aren’t the only significant ones, either. If you turn your phone over as the clock strikes 9:29 and think, “Oh my god! That’s my mother’s birthday!” trust your instinct to see that as a sign, too! Different numbers have different meanings according to numerology, but you can also accept the 444 on that passing man’s T-shirt simply as a nod and a wink from the Universe.
You think about asking someone something and then they call you; you hear a song on the radio that has the exact lyric you needed to hear at that moment; you think of buying a house and a bus passes with a real estate agent’s ad. These moments of synchronicity are telling you that things are aligning exactly how they should. It’s all about riding the wave, bb!
Dream decoding is an ancient practice, and there are varied cultural meanings attached to different dreamtime scenarios (ever been told that when your teeth fall out in a dream, lots of cash is coming your way?). But, again, the best way to cut through all of the noise is to determine what was significant for you, and the meaning that symbol has in your waking life. If you remember dreaming about a bird, what does a bird represent to you? Remember what the bird was doing, what color it was—those all can be clues.
Another way to play with the dream world is to ask for a sign before you sleep! Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and ask for whatever sign you need (like, “Hey Universe, if I’m supposed to move into that apartment on 3rd street, show me a red car in my dreams tonight") and see what happens!
Here’s what to do when you *think* you get a sign from the Universe:
Drop into the moment.
Smile as you see the butterfly flutter. Lock eyes with its wings and see where it’s going. Stop and give yourself a moment to take it in.
Notice the sensations in your body.
Do you suddenly feel comfort? Release? Exhilaration? This will tell you more about what the sign “means” than any website or book.
What were you thinking about when you saw that sign or symbol?
Were you thinking about moving out? Changing your career? Were you missing a lost loved one? If you can, identify where your energy was at the moment you received that sign, and reflect on how it changed when you experienced it.
So, you saw 333 on a bus pass you by at the moment you were thinking about asking out your hot neighbor. What are you going to do with this information?! Sometimes, the answer is simply to call a friend, tell them what happened, and talk about how excited you are to see things unfold. Sometimes, it’s planning out how you’ll make your move. Or it can simply be a moment to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing the Universe is listening.
If you’re being given signs, it’s because the Universe thinks you’re doing something right, and it trusts you to make the right next step, at the right time, from your own intuition. Trust yourself!
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.