Coincidences. Recently Daniel Johnson wrote about those in his life. Some were meaningful. Ironically I discovered his article by coincidence because he cited a story that involved my friend and how she met her husband at a party she had not intended to attend – in my village, Sausalito.
Even today that story warms my heart and brought to mind a holiday party this year that I thought I could not attend yet unexpectedly could. There I fell into conversation with two people who will become lifelong friends I feel.
What are the coincidences that startle you?
No one in Beatrice, Nebraska, will forget what happened just prior to church choir practice on March 1, 1950. All fifteen members of the choir were due at practice at 7:30 p.m. The minister, his wife, and their daughter were delayed when his wife decided to re-iron the daughter’s dress.
One member took longer than he expected to finish his sales report; another couldn’t get her car started; two others lingered to hear the end of an especially involving radio program; a mother and daughter were delayed when the daughter came home late from babysitting; and so on.
Ten separate and quite unconnected reasons for fifteen responsible people meant that all would be late that one night.
Fortunately, none of them arrived on time at 7:30, because at 7:35 a furnace explosion destroyed the church building. Mathematician Warren Weaver recounted the story in his book, Lady Luck: The Theory of Probability, calculating the staggering odds against chance for this uncanny event as about one in a million.
What are the stories that reverberate in your mind, then guide you?
Two people set up a woman friend on a blind date, five years apart. They were the only blind dates she ever went on. One was on the East Coast and the second on the West Coast – both with the same man.
A singer’s career changes direction from opera to musicals after he walks into the wrong audition and successfully wins a prime role.
Just when he is feeling particularly alone in the world, a man runs into a close college friend on a remote outpost on a South Pacific island.
In each of these real-life stories, coincidences changed lives. Some coincidences are almost too purposeful and too orderly to be a product of random chance – but then how do we explain them?
When you experience synchronistic events, you might see them as a signal to change your life, especially if you initially resist the message as outside the usual “story” of your life.
We Make Choices Through the Stories That Stick in Our Mind, the Stories We Keep Telling Others
When you meet friends or family at the end of a day, you are often asked first, “How was your day?” Kids ask, “Tell me a story.” Each of our lives is a story. Synchronistic events call attention to the structure of the story we are living. What if you were a character in the story of your life, but not the only author?
When external events so precisely mirror our own inner state that the impact of a coincidence cannot be ignored or its significance denied, and our lack of control over the events is indisputable, we are faced with the question: If I am not the author of my story, who is?
Synchronistic events confront us with the possibility that sometimes the stories we make up about ourselves, the stories we would like to live, are not necessarily the stories we are actually living or – to go a step further - are meant to live.
An “odd coincidence” can wake you up and point you in a new, truer direction, rather than the life path you should be on. Synchronistic experiences can be the turning points in the plot we can use to lead our lives more meaningfully and to experience our fundamental, unavoidable, and potentially much more conscious connection with all others.
Synchronicity Can be a Way to Feel Connected to Others
Synchronicity is emerging as a phenomenon from many directions of study, as diverse as quantum physics, medicine, and astronomy. As Arthur Koestler observes in his book The Roots of Coincidence, synchronicity reflects the presumption of a “fundamental unity of all things,” which transcends mechanical causality and relates coincidence to the “universal scheme of things.”
Synchronicity is when traditional notions of causality are not capable of explaining some of the more improbable forms of coincidence and, further, when no causal connection can be demonstrated between two events but at least one person feels a meaningful relationship exists between them.
According to historian Koestler the human psyche has the capacity to “act as a cosmic resonator.” Some people believe that individuals and the universe “imprint” each other, which leads them to a belief in the ultimate ”oneness” of the universe.
Everything is “interrelated and mutually attuned,” wrote Arthur Schopenhauer.
In exploring the parallels between modern science and the mystical concept of a universal scheme or oneness, Koestler compares the evolution of science during the past 150 years to a vast river system in which each tributary is “swallowed up” by the mainstream, until all are unified in a single river-delta. The science of electricity, he points out, merged during the 19th century with the science of magnetism. Electromagnetic waves were then discovered to be responsible for light, color, radiant heat and Hertzian waves, while chemistry was embraced by atomic physics.
The control of the body by nerves and glands was linked to electrochemical processes, and atoms were broken down into the “building blocks” of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Soon, however, even these fundamental parts were reduced by scientists to mere “parcels of compressed energy-packed and patterned according to certain mathematical formulae.”
What all this reveals, then, is that there might be what Koestler refers to as “the universal hanging-together of things, their embeddedness in a universal matrix.” Many ecologists subscribe to this sense of interrelation in the world – what the ancients called the “sympathy” of life. Some scientists are moving to this worldview.
Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigione is studies the “spontaneous formation of coherent structures”- how chemical and other kinds of structures evolve patterns out of chaos.
Karl Pribram, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, proposed that the brain might be a type of “hologram,” a pattern and frequency analyzer that creates “hard” reality by interpreting frequencies from a dimension beyond space and time. That means the physical world “out there,” is, in Pribram’s words, “isomorphic with” (the same as) the processes of the brain.
If the modern alliance evolving between quantum physicists, neuroscientists, and others is not just a short-fused phase in scientific understanding, a paradigm shift may be imminent. We might come to see a new image of the universe, that it functions not as some great machine but as a great thought – unifying matter, energy, and consciousness.
Thus, the synchronicity you see can be the confluence of forces that you, well-connected to others, are using to guide you on a fruitful path of wise choices. That could be a comforting belief for mindful “us” to carry into the year 2010.
We Aren’t Crazy to Fear Losing Control
Synchronous events can be unnerving because they show we do not have complete control over our life patterns, and we, like all animals, fear the apparent loss of control in our lives. The fear of losing control (as when we experience coincidences that cannot be explained) makes our emotional lives threatening to our rational minds. It also challenges the assumption that we are separate from each other.
If we are open to feelings, we can feel not only our own feelings but the feelings of others as well. We then “know” that we affect each other in ways of which we cannot be completely aware.
Synchronicity brings us in direct contact with the collective unconscious, where we are in danger of losing our own standpoint while realizing the common pool of connection.
The Comfort in Feeling Connected
Theologian Rudolf Otto described “numinosity” as that experience we have when we feel we are undeniably, irresistibly, and unforgettably in the presence of the Divine – our experience of something that transcends our human limitations. This heightened quality of feeling that accompanies synchronistic events is their most striking characteristic.
If synchronicity is, above all, a connecting principle, then the quality of feeling produced by a synchronistic event – the numinosity and psychic energy it evokes – is the medium by which such a connection is made. The symbolism of a specific incident of synchronicity shows you the place in the story of your life where you are connected with all other human beings.
What You Can Do With Synchronicity
o Have a clear vision of your path in life, and be equally open to seeing the coincidences that “tell” you to consider another direction.
o Notice how meaningful coincidences reveal your inevitable connection with everyone, even those you do not “know,” and thus you must …
o Be aware that every action you take has immediate and continuing effects on many people, even those you might never meet face-to face.
o When coincidences happen, especially those that have an emotional impact, consider what special meaning they have for you regarding your beliefs, especially about who you are and what you “should” or could be doing.
Become more conscious of:
o What you most value.
o The best gifts you have to offer the world.
o What you can let go and stop trying to do or be.
o How many things are outside your control, no matter how hard you try.
o How you are often supported by a common river flow of other people, if you can just recognize their commonality in the symbolism of the synchronistic events that happen in your life.
Prepare Yourself for Helpful Change
Synchronistic events are often “wake-up calls” for you to make a change in your life. How do you work with synchronicity? Be open to the meaning in what you did not want to happen. Set aside your agenda, and consider that your story should take a different turn. Consider the possible symbolism for you in the incident.
If you are in a work or personal relationship, consider the real reason you are together, what you are to learn. See how you can use the experience to tame your ego, to move to a larger perspective.
Do not rely on your own ability to control and manage events, people, and objects. The most creative and effective part of your work can emerge only when you lay aside your own agenda and permit randomness to have a place in the story of your livelihood.
If you resist the meaning of a synchronistic event, you are likely to experience similar ones again and again, until you face the meaning.
Every movement forward in life has three parts:
1. Recognition that the current situation no longer fits or works. An event can make this clear. When the event is synchronistic, we see that there might be more to our story than we thought before. Events that might be frightening or bad are, in fact, openings to a new life.
2. We enter a state of confusion and transition. We imagine how things might be different.
3. Then something happens. We get some help, our feelings become clearer. An opportunity presents itself. We take some action, and we move to a different, more satisfying way of being.
Our lives are full of meaningful events we deliberately set out to cause for ourselves in pursuing work and relationships. These are intentional actions.
Synchronistic events, however, by their very accidental nature, urge upon us another truth about our lives – a truth that we are in the habit of ignoring – that the meaning of our lives, the plot of our life stories, is not written simply by what we know about ourselves but comes from a much deeper place, from our innately human capacity to experience wholeness through living life in more aware connection with others.
When an ”accidental” twist of fate reorganizes our lives and shows us something we did not expect, we have two choices:
1. Numb out, ignore it, and move on so we’ll bump into a variation of it again and again, until we take notice.
2. Notice what it means for us and become more truly alive and connected with each other.
Which patterns of accidental meetings and conversations with others stay uppermost in your mind? How can they guide you to open the next chapter of the adventure story you want for your life now?