To the casual observer, my happy-go-lucky ninety-pound mutt is anything but subtle. He bangs on the shade, covering the back door, when he wants to go outside. He carries his metal food bowl and drops it in front of you on the hardwood floor when he’s hungry, rattling your skull in the process. If he’s feeling mischievous, you better guard your socks and underwear because they’re bound to go missing in hopes that you will soon be in hot pursuit to retrieve them. 

There is no denying that my dog is an excellent communicator.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to slow down, and in doing so, I discovered something amazing. My dog is a master of the art of subtlety, but I’ve been too distracted to notice. He gives a series of nonverbal cues as to what he wants and only escalates them to an annoyingly loud level when I don’t acknowledge his previous attempts. 

When he wants to play fetch, he will look in the direction of his toy bin and then look back at me with inquisitive eyebrows, a big smile, and a wagging tail. Then, he will bring a ball to me. If I don’t get the hint, he will drop it at my feet and stare at it in hopes that I will follow his line of sight and engage in playing. If I haven’t started playing by now, he assumes I must not like his initial toy selection, so he will get a different ball and go through the motions again. It is only as a last resort, when it has become apparent to him that I will only respond to the most obnoxious and painful tactics, that he will drop the ball in my lap and start barking incessantly at an eardrum-piercing level.

The universe, it seems, uses the same playbook as my dog.

The universe speaks to us in whispers all the time in support of achieving our goals and building the life of our dreams. The message may come through as a nagging gut feeling of unsettledness or a desire for something different or new. It may manifest as a series of unexplained coincidences and synchronicities that carry a special meaning. Or it may literally be whispered in the form of good advice given from a friend or stranger just when it’s needed most. 

Debi: You know what you need?
Marty: What?
Debi: Shakubuku.
Marty: You wanna tell me what that means?
Debi: It’s a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.
Marty: Oh, that’d be good. I think.
—Minnie Driver and John Cusack, “Grosse Pointe Blank.” (1997)

If we don’t listen to the initial whispers, we can expect to eventually hear a scream—and it may be our own—from getting a much-needed swift spiritual kick to the head from the universe. This is called a “Shakubuku” according to Minnie Driver’s character in the movie, “Grosse Pointe Blank.” (If you look it up in the urban dictionary, it is more appropriately spelled, “Shockabuku.”)

This sudden reality-check painfully thrust upon us could come from an unexpected job loss, illness, divorce, or any other life-altering event. (In a story, you would call this the “inciting incident.”) It’s the universe’s way of forcing you to pay attention to something that’s been out of alignment in your life that you’ve been ignoring for way too long.

Don’t wait for things to escalate to that point. Quiet down, observe the subtle cues, make the necessary changes, and then throw the ball and get back into the game. Life is a lot more fun that way.