Several times over the last few weeks, my attention has been drawn to the phenomenon of synchronicity in my own life and those of friends. This morning while waiting at the airport a friend emailed me about a series of events which were completely unrelated but each a verification of the other. Her reaction sums up the power of synchronicity in action, “oh wow, look at this for confirmation!” The information she shared seemed to fit, connect, and confirm her own questioning, while at the same time being random and unconnected. The word synchronicity is so much part of our language but where did the word come from? Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung coined the term synchronicity and defined it as “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved” (1). Synchronicity is a complex phenomenon, difficult to prove by standard scientific methods, precisely because it omits the unpredictability of nature (2). In essence, C. G. Jung saw a pattern and in the pattern of unpredictability, he formed a theory. Typical scientific research requires that a theory be repeatable and the results within a slight margin of error in order to be considered ‘successful.’ C. G. Jung was a scientist, a researcher of the unconscious, and a lifelong mystic quester. At the same time, C. G. Jung was exploring the depths of the human psyche, the depths of the earth's oceans were also being investigated. Isn’t that interesting? That at the same time the deep nature of the human mind was being examined for the mysteries it holds, so too were the depths of the ocean! As a result of both C. G. Jung and Sigmund Freud’s research, Depth Psychology became a fundamental branch of psychology. At the same time, Oceanography became a respected branch of science but that is a whole other subject.
Synchronistic events punctuate our normal world, shaking us from our waking slumber. The unexpectedness of synchronistic events and the fact that multiple seemingly random obscure events do not happen every day is or should be enough to command an individual’s attention. I say unexpectedness because the individual is not actively looking for a particular answer to show up, i.e. present itself to the questioner in a specific way. But what actually causes synchronistic events to occur and why should we assign any meaning at all? This question is rather like determining the order of firsts between the chicken and the egg. Do we create questing from inside of ourselves to which the external world responds or does the external world present something to which we then attach meaning?
Synchronistic events bring together two worlds, the mental and the physical. Our unconscious holds a myriad of images, feelings, experiences, and memories. As human beings, we assign a value to everything we have ever experienced in life: the good, the bad, the heartbreaking, the joyous, the exquisite, and the ugly. Life happens at a pretty fast pace and so humans do not process each experience fully. We can’t, there isn’t time, or we do not have the emotional or psychological capacity. So there is always going to be a residual aspect, large and small, overt or subtle. In other words, we often suppress, repress, ignore, or vilify the emotions we feel in order to fit in with our familial and social frameworks. We learn throughout our childhoods what is acceptable and what is not and all of it to some extent goes into the great container called the psyche. Think of an iceberg, only a small portion of an iceberg is visible from the surface but there is actually a very large percentage of an iceberg resting beneath the surface of the water. Our conscious and unconscious minds are like the above and below portions of an iceberg. Humans are only really aware of a small portion of what makes us, us.
Since our unconscious minds are full of aspects of our life’s experiences it is inevitable that some of the things contained within our unconscious will bubble up to the surface of our consciousness. The aspects that rise to our attention do so in order to bring about a level of change in our lives. These are the parts of us that need to be seen, heard, or felt. In other words, they are the parts of us, which need healing and thus bring about a change in our lives-seemingly mundane through to the profound events which make us do a 180 turn.
Because human beings have free will and let’s face it, most of us are pretty stubborn when it comes to making changes in ourselves (behaviors, thoughts, and feelings) or our lives in general, random repeated messages are one way of getting our attention. You could think of synchronistic events as a call from our psyche, inviting us to keep opening ourselves to life’s mysteries, leading us on unexpected journey’s whether they be in the world outside our front doors or the world inside our own deep and longing souls. We must trust and follow these repeated messages as if they were lights on a darkened pathway.
It may seem as if we are seeking or assigning meaning to external events. To some extent that is true, but the external event does not happen first, it happens in response to our own deep need for change. Perhaps it is helpful at this point to remember that even C. G. Jung understood that synchronistic events are scientifically provable precisely because the events themselves are random and only meaningful to individuals who align with the symbolism. I understand that this is difficult to grasp, especially for those of you who need proof. Please try to stay open, for even scientists change their theories!
The friend I mentioned at the beginning of the blog was very quick to understand the meaning of the events that showed up in her life. She took them as a positive sign that she should follow a particular path. But what should we do when the meaning is not obvious or not clear? Remember that not all synchronistic events are easily pieced together and require one of two things from us: to examine their possible meaning on a deeper level or time. If you chose to look deeper, look at the symbolic meaning of the image, symbol, or name. Do you receive any new insights? Think about the qualities of the situation (image etc.), or examine how you feel- yes, feel. Do the synchronicities make you excited, nervous; bring clarity and calm, or anxiety? Lastly, if the events create an aha moment, follow them- trust your own deep wisdom about the changes you need to make in your life.
Citations: also known as extra reading for the curious
Jung. C. G. “On Synchronicity.” Collected Works of C. G. Jung: The Complete digital Editions. 20 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. Vol.ebook Collections (EBESCOhost). 520-531.
Tannion, Nicola Nemoni. “Ancestral Resonance: The Irish Other and the Irish Otherworld.” Diss. Pacifica Graduate Institute. 2017.