Synchronicity: The Chance of Your Life

by A.V. Boston

Originally printed in the MAY-JUNE 2006 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Boston, A.V. "Synchronicity: The Chance of Your Life." Quest  94.3 (MAY-JUNE 2006):87-89.

How often has something happened to you, which goes beyond your normal understanding of coincidence or chance? Have you experienced events, that although factual and beyond dispute, were brought about through circumstances that would baffle the best CEOs and leave the most brilliant scientists flat-footed? Well, you are not alone.

During his research into the phenomenon of the collective unconscious, Dr. Carl Jung, began to observe coincidences that were connected in such a meaningful way that their occurrence seemed to defy the calculations of probability. He used the term "synchronicity" to define occurrences which went, in his opinion, beyond chance.

Mathematicians may cling to chance and probability theory, but that sounds like a worn-out mantra from the 1960s in the face of what appears to be a rising tide of synchronous activity. Or perhaps the tide has always been there, but people are only now starting to learn to feel it and float on it. Remember, years ago we knew nothing of radio waves but today, although we still cannot see them, we do not doubt their existence. Likewise, synchronicity is not only applicable to Jungian psychology, but has become a familiar term in daily life. Due to an increased awareness of synchronicity and synchronistic events, there are more examples to explore. 


Lost and Found: The Impossible is The Miraculous 


Barbara lost a valuable pearl necklace given to her by her stepmother. She searched for it for days, but to no avail, and finally had to accept that it was lost. Six weeks later, her husband brought home a newspaper, which was something he almost never did. The next morning, while having breakfast, Barbara glanced down to find the newspaper lying on the table and opened to the classifieds section. She saw a small advertisement that read "Pearl Necklace Found".

In utter amazement, Barbara phoned the person listed in the ad, and yes, it was her precious pearl necklace. The person had found the item in a truck lay-by and was amazed it had not been crushed. Heavy vehicles continually drove in and out of that area and the necklace had been lying there for about three weeks before it was found. Furthermore, the woman who had placed the advertisement ran the ad for three weeks in a row; and, oddly, the day that Barbara's husband broke with routine and brought home the newspaper was the last day the ad would be run.

This true story of synchronicity has several remarkable elements. The person who found the necklace was a very honest and responsible person who went through the trouble of advertising the valuable piece of jewelry to ensure its return to the rightful owner. In fact, the woman refused any reward and would not even agree to be compensated for placing the advertisement. Barbara's husband decided to do something totally out of the ordinary and buy the newspaper, strangely, on the last day that the ad would be run. Barbara happened to see the small classified advertisement "by accident." Additional luck was on her side for the necklace not to have been run over and ruined. Perhaps the most extraordinary twist in this tale is that the day the necklace was returned to Barbara, it was the birthday of the stepmother who gave it to her.

Most people just don't know what to make of such events; some consider them spiritually significant and take strength from them. Barbara felt heartened by the incident and did not think it was merely chance at work, she felt it was something greater, "the power of something divine, a sense that something or someone watches over us." 
Does the Universe Have A Search Engine?

Consider two more extraordinary tales of synchronicity. Roger spent the early part of his life as a Catholic priest, but later left the Church and lost touch with Joe, one of his close friends. Thirty-six years later, at the turn of the millennium, Roger decided he would like to close off what he called "unfinished business" with some people he had known over the years, including Joe.

Even though he didn't know where to contact Joe, Roger sat down and wrote a letter to him. After writing the letter, Roger told himself he would search for Joe through the church. No more than an hour after Roger had completed his letter, the telephone rang and it was Joe. The thirty-six year gap was closed without any search at all.

Edward J. Sweeney, in his book, A Merchant Seaman's Survival: An Escape Story of World War II, writes that he was one of only a few survivors when the Turakina, a merchant ship he was working on, was torpedoed during WWII. After being rescued, this astonishing Englishman was imprisoned on a German battle ship for several months and then endured three different prisoner of war camps. He escaped from the first two camps and was later released from the third. His story is one of a horrendous experience filled with many "lucky break" incidents.

Some fifty years later, as he started to gather together material for his autobiography, Sweeney "chanced" upon a magazine, which had a double-page spread of a painting that depicted the dramatic and fiery sinking of the Turakina. Sweeney had not known such a painting existed. He was astonished at seeing it in the magazine and contacted the artist, who lived in New Zealand, and received permission to use the painting for the cover of his book. According to Sweeney, as he began research for his book, there were many other such incidents where information flowed in unbidden. Is it possible that once we begin to think of someone or something, the universe begins to behave in the manner of an Internet search engine?

The Scarab at the Window

But, of course, synchronicity is not merely functioning as a planetary lost and found or a universal search engine. There is seemingly something even more powerful at work, as this legendary story from Jung's explorations epitomizes:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to the golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetoaia urata) which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient has remained unique in my experience. (Jung 438)

After the remarkably synchronistic appearance of the beetle, Jung's patient, who had been psychologically resistant, experienced a breakthrough in therapy. What, if anything, drew the beetle to that window at that moment? What interconnectedness existed between the insect and the two people in the room? What caused the insect to become an agent of transformation?

Since I began my research into this subject, many astonishing incidents have appeared and many such provocative questions have arisen. Is there some process at the base of it all? Is it the divine that causes all things to grow and flower or is it some other magnetic energy force at work? But what could it be other than a supernatural force anyway? How often does something unexpected occur, seemingly out of the blue, that completely changes someone's direction, even though they had not been thinking of it at all? Do such chance happenings have meaning? Is it a trampoline underpinning our every step or is it nothing more than chance or a wink from the cosmos?

The Search for Answers

Many people entrenched in the current Western analytical approach to education and learning find these synchronistic events irritating because there is no explanation for them. At the same time, they cannot all be dismissed as "just in the mind" and something subjective like a religious belief, which is the usual bin for what cannot be accommodated in existing mental templates.

In his article, "Synchronicity: The Gateway to Opportunity" (Quest September-October 2002), Ed Abdill noted that Theosophists believe in the unity and the interconnectedness of all things and that thoughts carry their own energy patterns and link back to each other. Abdill also outlined the concepts of dharma, karma, and intuition, and explored the possibility of their roles in such happenings. But, ultimately, he had to conclude, like everyone else, that presently we have no adequate explanation.

Although the interconnectedness and unity of all things might prove to be a sufficient explanation for some Theosophists, for me it seems to be an easy way out, rather than a valuable consideration of the facts.

Ponder these cautionary comments from Annie Besant's 1913 pamphlet "Investigations into the Super-Physical" which I came across "by chance" while seeking additional theosophical perspective:

All students should understand something about investigations into the superphysical, in order that they may avoid blind incredulity which accepts all, on the one side, and the equally blind incredulity which rejects all, on the other...

Our one great danger, as H.P.B. recognized, is the danger of getting into a groove, and so becoming fossilized in the forms of belief that many hold today... The Society is intended, always has been intended, to be a living body and not a fossil, and a living body grows and develops, adapting itself to new conditions...

Nothing could be more fatal to a Society like ours than to hall-mark as true, special forms of belief, and look askance at anyone challenging them... If the Society is to live far into the future, as I believe it will, it must be prepared to recognise now, quite frankly and freely, that our knowledge is fragmentary, that it is partial, that it is liable to very great modifications as we learn more and understand better...

We are not dealing with theories, or flights of fancy or a mixture of the two but with records of observation...

It is the recording of observations that I am particularly interested in, because I believe, if there is a valid theory behind it all, it will emerge if sufficient data is collected and analyzed. 
 
The Divine Touch

In his 2002 Kern Seminar held in Wheaton, Illinois, Dr. Huston Smith confided that many such events happen to him on a daily basis. ''Nowadays" he said, while beaming happiness at the inexplicable, "I like to think of them as a touch from the divine."

Another similar quote comes to mind that says that a coincidence is "when God performs a miracle and decides to remain anonymous."

Whether divine or not, synchronicity remains a mystery that gains weight as more incidents are recorded. Typically, people have one or two such experiences and relegate them as odd or as "just one of those things" in their lives. But when they learn there are many such incidents, and that people are having them everywhere, then these events acquire new significance. The tide rises and as it does so, the cries for exploration and explanations rise with it. 
 
NOTE: If you have experienced any synchronistic incidents and would like to share it in the interest of ongoing research for a book, please send it to Quest Magazine who will forward it to me. I look forward to hearing from you.

References

Besant, Annie. "Investigations into the Super-Physical." Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House. 1913.

Jung, Carl, Gerhard Adler, and R.F.C. Hull. "The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche." The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 8. Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press. 1970.

Sweeney, Edward J. A Merchant Seaman's Survival - An Escape Story of World War II. Margate. 1999


A.V. Boston has earned her B.A. in English Literature and Post Graduate Psychology at the University of Canterbury. She also holds a Visual Arts Diploma and University Lecturer Teaching Diploma in Media & Communications. This is her first contribution to Quest.


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