“The bottom of the mind is paved with crossroads,” wrote the French poet Paul Valéry. This marvelous, mysterious line stirs up the imagination. It encourages us to think about how on the surface of the mind we may have been shortchanging ourselves. We may have been snagging ourselves in limited, linear thinking, even trapping ourselves in mental boxes.
Life is full of crossroads. We often rush through them without noticing the choices that were open in a Kairos moment. Or else we see our choices in false absolutes, duty versus pleasure, good versus bad, black or white. In the deeper mind, we are ready to take a more spacious view and roam with more freedom in the garden of forking paths, even to see that Yogi Berra may have spoken truth when he said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Kairomancers take care of their poetic health by developing a tolerance for ambiguity and a readiness to see more angles and options than the surface mind perceives. They grow poetic health by cultivating that “talent for resemblances” that two wise Greeks, Aristotle and Artemidorus, both held to be the primary qualification for a dream interpreter — and that is no less a vital prerequisite for recognizing signs and symbols in waking life.
Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history rhymes. I don’t know whether he really said that or not. The words have not been found in the canonical texts of this wonderfully noncanonical humorist. I do know that life rhymes. We notice recurring themes and symbols in dreams: running late for the plane, not prepared for the test, trying to keep the bear out of the living room. In the same way, we notice that themes and situations recur in everyday life
Pay attention when the same theme, or symbol, or image comes up again and again, just as you might pay attention to recurring dreams. When a theme or situation comes at you again and again in dreams, that is often a signal that there is a message coming through that you need to read correctly — and that, beyond merely getting the message, you need to do something about it, to take action. It is the same with rhyming sequences and repeating symbols in waking life.
When you begin to notice a repetition of a certain situation in life, you may say, “Okay, we’re going around the track again. Maybe I want to make sure that I’m not just going around and around in my life in circles of repetition, but that I am on a spiral path.” Which would mean that each time life loops around to where you think you were before, you’ve risen to a slightly higher level, so you can see things with greater awareness and, hopefully, make better choices.
There is a whole education in the art of poetic living in Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances”:
La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
Nature is a temple whose living pillars
Sometimes let slip mysterious messages;
We walk here through a forest of symbols
That watch us with knowing eyes.
[My free translation]
Baudelaire, the urban dandy, has it exactly right: we are walking in a forest of living symbols that are looking at us. When we are in a state of poetic health, we understand that “the imagination is the most scientific of the faculties, because it is the only one to understand the universal analogy, or that which a mystical religion calls correspondence.”
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
Perfumes, colors, and sounds correspond.
Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.
Portrait of Baudelaire by Gustave Courbet (1848)