Originally printed in the September - October 2002 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Abdill, Ed. "Synchronicity: The Gateway to Opportunity." Quest 90.5 (SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2002):170-174.
By Edward Abdill
A good friend is desperately in need of work. She has quite literally spent her last penny. Within the month she will be homeless. She has applied for a live-in housekeeper job with a wealthy family. She has told you that she used your name as a reference. There is a business phone in your hallway that is answered by answering machine. You never pick it up. You prefer to retrieve messages. One day, passing through the hall, the phone rings. For absolutely no apparent reason you break all precedent and decide to pick it up. An unfamiliar voice is calling for your opinion of a job applicant, your friend. The prospective employer wants a face-to-face interview with you about your friend. You grant it and convince them that the woman would be an excellent employee. She is hired and, within the week, has a home, food, and an income.
Is it coincidence? Karma? Dharma? Synchronicity? Why did you just happen to be in the hall when the phone rang, and why did you pick it up when you never answer that phone? Perhaps we can never know for sure. Yet, certain universal principles may help us to better understand that curious sequence of eventsâ€”first, one of the most fundamental of all Theosophical ideas: that all existent reality arises out of one eternal, immutable, and boundless principle.
What we call the â€œrealâ€ world is different states of being within the one, ultimately indivisible whole. Every atom, every rock, every organisim, and every galaxy is a temporal state. The ultimate Real is like H2O, which exists in various states as steam, liquid water, or solid ice. Yet no matter how different each state appears, each is but a temporal manifestation of H2O.
The universe is analogous to that. Everything, including human beings, is made of the same stuff. Everything is interconnected. All is an emanation of the One. If that is so, then all action at every level will have an effect on the whole. A pebble dropped into the Pacific Ocean will eventually affect every atom of that vast ocean. A human thought sent out into the vast ocean of thought will eventually affect the whole mental field. As the poet, Francis Thompson, wrote:
Thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.
Everything in the universe is interlinked, and any disturbance at any one point will cause an effect at all other points.
Most intelligent and educated people agree that the physical world is interconnected. We accept interdependence in ecology, for example. Sociology and economics also reveal that there is an interdependence among groups of people, obviously so in cities and nations, but likely true globally as well. Poverty in one area tends eventually to impact on all surrounding areas. Economic depression in one country is likely to affect other countries.
The Theosophical view is that interdependence exists not only in objective reality but in subjective states as well. If that is so, then synchronicity is a natural and even inevitable phenomenon under certain conditions, just as H2O goes from steam to ice under certain conditions. We know that our own thoughts and feelings affect our physical bodies, but if the entire universe is interconnected at both subjective and objective levels, then our thoughts and feelings will have effects beyond the limits of our own body.
In addition to the theory of interconnectedness of subjective and objective states, several other Theosophical principles relate to synchronicity: karma, evolution, dharma, and intuition.
Karma is the most fundamental law of the universe. Simply stated, it is â€œaction-reaction.â€ If objective and subjective states are interconnected, then action on any level and at any point will affect the whole.Thoughts and feelings may produce ulcers and heart attacks. Physical illness has an effect on our emotions and thoughts.
But the interconnections may not be just within a single system, such as our own body. Our thoughts and feelings may be affected by distant causes, and in turn they may have undreamed of consequences in remote places and on the distant future. Two seemingly unrelated physical events may be the end result of the same emotional, mental, or spiritual forces. Karma may help us to understand how synchronicity is possible.
The Theosophical view of evolution is that the whole of creation, including our own bodies, arose first at the inner most subjective levelâ€”at a level that might be called Divine Mind. In this view, the outer physical world is the result of inner causes, just as any conscious action on our part arises first in the mind. The whole evolutionary process can be seen as the gradual unfolding of a subjective state. The inner order asserts itself on matter much as a magnetic field orders iron filings on a paper held above it. Evolution proceeds â€œwithin-without,â€ but unlike a static magnetic field, the inner order is more like a dynamic field that gradually molds substance according to its own nature, thereby revealing itself in visible matter. In mystical terms, it is the Word (Logos in Greek) made flesh. In synchronicity, outer events may owe their origin to inner causes.
The primacy of the inner is not an idea peculiar to Theosophical writers. Teilhard de Chardin, the paleontologist, claims that the saber-toothed tiger has the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger because it has the soul of a saber-toothed tiger. Plotinus in the Ennead 6.9 says that those who believe the world is governed by luck or chance and depends upon material causes are far removed from the divine and from the notion of the One. Jacob Boehme, in The Signature of All Things, claims that the whole outer world and its forms are a signature (or identifying characteristic) of the inner world. Shakespeare in Hamlet writes,
Thereâ€™s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
And an old proverb holds that coming events cast their shadows before them.
Is there something that, as Shakespeare puts it, shapes our ends? Are we destined to be born at a particular place, live the life we live, have the relationships, joys, and sorrows that we do? The concept of dharma addresses such questions.
Neither dharma nor karma are fatalistic. They are both statements of natural law. Karma is the over-all principle, and dharma is a specific case as it relates to our own inner self. The term dharma cannot be translated easily into English. It has been defined as â€œduty, law, righteousness, religion, doctrine, essential nature.â€ No single word captures its full meaning. Dharma is linked to karma (action), and to morality (right action). Annie Besant (Dharma 21) defines it as our inner nature at its current stage of evolution plus the law of growth for the next stage of evolution.
Dharma is also linked to purpose. In near death experiences, people often say that they returned because they â€œhad something to do, had a duty to fulfill.â€ There was some purpose in their lives and it needed to be completed.
I had a good friend, Ros Wilson, who at age 11 had a near death experience in a dental chair when the mask used to give her gas was inoperative and she was nearly asphyxiated. She found herself out of her body and saw people who asked her to come with them. She replied, â€œI canâ€™t go now. I have things I must do.â€ Ros was never interested in religion, and she had no knowledge of Theosophy at the age of eleven. Yet, she knew that the task she had to do in that incarnation was not over. She was unaware of just what it was she had to do, but even at eleven she knew that there was a purpose to life.
Dharma may be thought of as an inner pressure that prods us toward self-fulfillment, toward inner growth and the development of our potential. It is always at work in human beings, but we can choose to move with it or to resist it.
When we do not heed the inner pressure, life gets more and more difficult because the inner pressure (dharma) is an expression of natural law and our essential nature. Try as we may, we cannot violate the laws of nature or the law of our own being. We may try to be something that we are not, but we can no more succeed than we can digest food for someone else. Not only is the dharma of another dangerous, it is impossible to fulfill. By analogy we might consider an acorn. It strives to become an oak tree. It can never become a rose bush, however hard it might try. Dharma is unique to the individual. We cannot fulfill anotherâ€™s dharma because in one sense our dharma is what we essentially are. It is the inner self unfolding, developing, and expressing itself.
Carl Jung spoke of the principle of synchronicity as an explanation for how the Chinese book of oracles, the I Ching, works. He suggested that, at any given moment, the coins (or yarrow sticks) can fall in one way only and that the sticks, the book, the inquirer, and the question are all linked together. Interpretation of the I Ching, or of the tarot, or of astrological charts, is quite another matter. Interpreters run the gamut from con artists to sensitive and highly intelligent people; hence interpretations can be anything from insipid to insightful.
How do synchronistic events occur? We really do not know. All we can say is that given the likelihood that the universal principles we have considered are real, then there is at least a reasonable probability that synchronicity is a natural phenomenon. If there is indeed an interconnectedness of everything, especially of the subjective states with the objective world, then what we think, feel, and long for may bring about action in the external world because, in fact, the external world is not separate from our internal world. There is only one world.
The principles themselves are not so hard to define or even to understand in theory. But to see how each works out in detail would require the ability of an adept. We are ignorant of far more than we know. Nevertheless, whether or not we understand how it operates, synchronicity is an observable fact.
This is not to say that every seemingly synchronistic event has profound meaning. Synchronicities range from apparently insignificant ones to those charged with life-changing significance. The following cases are real examples.
My wife and I were going to see Dana Ivey in a show one Saturday. That same day the New York Times had an article about the life of an actor, written by Dana Ivey. That is the only article I have ever read by Dana Ivey, and it appeared on the day we were going to see her for the very first time in an off-Broadway play. The coincidence was fascinating, but it did not change our plans or our lives in any way.
As a woman was walking on a street in Washington, DC, she was trying to decide whether she should go on with her study of homeopathy. As she turned a corner, she came upon a statue of the founder of homeopathy, the only one she had ever seen. She continued with homeopathic studies and found them of practical value. This was an event that helped her decide to continue her studies. Yet her continued studies did not seem to be radically life altering.
Occasionally synchronistic events are potentially life saving. A woman was leaving work and began to take her usual route walking home. She met a friend she had not seen for years who was going in the same direction, but by a different street, so the woman walked with her. Later she discovered that a Mafia shoot out occurred on the street she usually walked, at just about the time she would have been there. Had she not unexpectedly met that friend, she might well have been caught in the crossfire.
Synchronistic events with life-changing significance do not occur daily. Yet, when we arrive at a point in life where the next choice may profoundly affect our future, synchronicity may precede or surround that point, or a single synchronistic event may, if we pay attention, influence us to choose wisely. After graduating from high school, I took a two-year course in Spanish, in which a conversation examination was based on a paper I had written in high school about comparative religion. The instructor of the five-student class was a Peruvian woman who happened to be a member of the Spanish-language branch of the Theosophical Society. That branch had fewer than thirty members in a city of about eight million. The day after the exam, the instructor gave me a pamphlet on Theosophy. Nothing else has ever changed my life so completely. Could it have been chance that I was in that small class taught by a woman from a tiny group of Theosophists?
Whether or not we call such events chance, coincidence, or synchronicity, nearly everyone is aware that at least occasionally two meaningful yet seemingly unrelated events come together in time. If we are convinced that such occurrences must be chance, that will end it. On the other hand, if we clear our mind of preconceived ideas and quietly reflect on the situation, we may get an intuition that will lead us toward new and more fulfilling directions in life.
Intuition of this kind is not a psychic hunch. Rather, it is a flash of understanding. It is an insight that comes from the unknown. One moment we are hopelessly trapped. There is no possibility of escape from our dilemma. The next minute we know exactly how to free ourselves. There is no time between not knowing and knowing. It comes in a flash. It is a valid intuition that the mind comprehends.
Without a quiet and open mind, we may stare meaningful synchronistic events in the face and not see their significance, or we may assume all kinds of significance in events that have very little to do with us. To understand, the mind must be free of disturbance. It must be momentarily free of active thought. It must be as still as a mountain lake, crystal clear, and unmoved by the waves of thought. It must be a meditative mind.
Although there are no shortcuts or fool proof methods to develop our mind and intuitive faculty,meditation is a major factor in such development. Through focused intention and effort we can develop a quiet mind, an open mind, and an inquiring mind. We can bring about the conditions within ourselves that allow the light of intuition to flash into our mind and reveal the truth of any situation. Such remarkable ability does not come instantly or without concentrated effort over time. Yet the great teachers of humanity have assured us that it is possible. We can do it if we do not expect miracles. We can do it if we realize that perfecting the ability may take lifetimes. We can do it if we donâ€™t give up. We can do it if we TRY.
Edward Abdill is a former member of the national Board of Directors and past president of the New York Theosophical Society. He is a national and international lecturer for the Society. He and his wife teach and perform Scottish country dancing and play the hammered dulcimer.