A clinical psychologist describes how paying attention to remarkable coincidences can promote our self-understanding and enhance meaning and purpose in our lives.
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by an amazing coincidence? Indeed, has this happened on so many occasions that you now believe that such incidents are not just a coincidence? This leads us to the notion of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. Examples include improbably encountering someone, or receiving a phone call from them, immediately after we have thought of them for the first time in a long while. It might include a life-changing opportunity arising just at the right time, or having an auspicious meeting with someone who can help us take the next step on a path we are pursuing.
Synchronicity involves a particularly uncanny and meaningful timing of events. It links our inner and outer worlds in a way that suggests that there is some kind of hidden order in the universe, as though some things are ‘meant to be’. Many people dismiss such notions as mere superstition and suggest that coincidences only seem meaningful because people are actively looking out for them. It might surprise them to learn that Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who coined the term synchronicity, developed his ideas partly in response to conversations with Einstein. Furthermore, he only wrote about it after the active encouragement by Wolfgang Pauli, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics. It links with principles in modern physics.
As a clinical psychologist, I was also initially sceptical about the notion of synchronicity. Our training in scientific method emphasises the need to be rational and objective. However, psychologists also encourage people to test out their ideas based on direct personal experience. My beliefs changed when something changed dramatically in my direct personal experience.
Early in my career I encountered the book The Aquarian Conspiracy, by Marilyn Ferguson. It further explained Carl Jung’s notion of synchronicity. Not only did I then experience an explosion of synchronicity myself, but I could not ignore a remarkable increase in my clients’ reports of amazing coincidences. My scientific and rational mind could not dismiss the weight of striking examples as pure chance. For example, I have now heard numerous reports from clients who had been in the throes of a suicide attempt when something highly improbable intervened to thwart their attempt. They then often felt that they were meant to live, after which they experienced a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.
Many others have described acting on an intuition that defied any rational explanation, and benefited greatly by doing so. For example, a friend explained how he was once travelling on foot alongside a highway in Queensland and decided to sleep on one side of the road, sheltering beneath a bush. He soon had a strong, but inexplicable, urge to move to the other side of the road. He did so somewhat reluctantly as the area he moved to was damp and less sheltered. Minutes later, a car ran off the road through the bush where he been sheltering. Had he dismissed his intuitive urge to move as being irrational, he almost certainly would not be alive.
It seems that synchronicity happens more frequently when people are open to their intuition as well as pursuing their sense of destiny, or following a life path that suits them well. I now consider synchronistic experiences, especially when frequent and strong, to represent a ‘tick from the universe’ that someone is pursuing a worthwhile path or life direction. Synchronistic experiences might also represent ‘a free kick from the universe’ in helping someone achieve a desired outcome. One such example is when a person decides to seek out a guide or mentor to further develop their knowledge or understanding, and then uncannily meets someone who seems perfect for that role. This leads to the expression, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come”.
We also seem more likely to experience synchronicity when we are in a state of flow, pursuing our passions and deeper interests. The experience typically energises and enlivens us. Brain science findings suggest that synchronistic experiences, and the positive emotions commonly associated with them, may release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which promotes motivation and pleasure.From this perspective, recognising synchronicity and the personal meaning we attach to it can be considered a useful psychological strategy. It can promote pleasure, meaning, engagement with life roles, achievement and enhanced relationships through the connections we make. It is therefore consistent with the goals of positive psychology, which aims to enhance each of these five domains in our experience.
Even though Carl Jung developed the idea of synchronicity from about 100 years ago, it seems as relevant today as ever. It is a concept that seems timeless as well as timely. The psychological therapy field is becoming more open to considering issues and beliefs that relate to spirituality, including beliefs that relate to deep subjective meaning that go beyond the rational. We miss out on a deeper understanding of people if we ignore notions that relate to soul. Synchronicity might not be a phenomenon that can be fully explained in rational terms, but that does not mean that it is irrational to take notice of it.
I believe that paying attention to striking synchronistic experiences, and considering what they mean to us, can enhance our well-being and help us to more fully know ourselves. For those interested, it can help to record such experiences over a period of time and to actively reflect upon what they might mean in the context of our lives. What kind of message might the universe be giving us? I have found nothing more personally helpful as a life guide, at least when also checked against a rational and grounded outlook. It is clear that many of my clients, friends and acquaintances feel the same way.
Chris Mackey is principal psychologist at Chris Mackey and Associates, Geelong, and a Fellow of The Australian Psychological Society.
The above article is based upon Chris’s book, Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence, released internationally by Watkins Publishing.
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