From Wikipedia: “Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s.”
One can look at synchronicity in terms of deep non-material causation, or as an interpretation of events that are not causally connected but to which humans give meaning. If someone’s car breaks down outside a diner, and then he goes in and meets his future wife waiting tables inside, he might conclude that the car trouble was meant to be, designed to connect him to his soul mate. It could, however, have been mere coincidence.
I’m a believer in the first kind of synchronicity, that there are forces at work beneath the material that bring things together and create important opportunities and life experiences. On its face that seems a strange belief, so why do I hold it?
1. The inherent question of meaning. Why is there something rather than nothing? This question is unanswerable in any objective sense. We can’t know. This world is space-time, a realm in which you can’t get something from nothing, and where time progresses from start to finish. Our space-time world cannot simply be, because that would contradict its own laws. It had to come into existence at some point. Why? How? The big bang 15 billion years ago may answer “how,” but that just pushes us to ask why the big bang occurred.
2. The inherent limits of materialism. Our thinking is materialist and rational. We focus on measurable “stuff” in the world and try to generalize how that stuff acts and interacts. Up until the 20th Century that seemed good enough. Thanks to Isaac Newton people knew this was a clockwork universe and theoretically if one knew the speed, position and attributes of all that existed one could calculate both the complete past and the future yet to come. By knowing the laws of physics, each moment had within it information yielding complete knowledge of the past and the future.
Modern physics blew that world to smithereens. Now reality is relative to ones’ frame of reference, space and time are unified, and thanks to quantum physics, knowledge of the present only yields probabilistic knowledge of the past and future — and there is uncertainty even in that. Matter, the “stuff” of universe, breaks down into ever small subatomic particles, which themselves are not so much particles as ‘ripples in fields.’ Things that we see are mostly illusion: Atoms are 99.99999999% empty space, meaning all matter we experience from our bodies to buildings and even the planet is almost completely empty. A few interacting ripples in fields create the reality that our sensory organs interpret as the world we believe we inhabit.
In that light, the idea that material reality itself may be subject to non-material causal forces is quite plausible. Especially since the act of observing is what solidifies a probable quantum reality into an actual one, material causality may itself be a misguided interpretation of our reality.
3. The limits of rational thought and reason. Reason is a tool; our assumptions about the world determine where reason leads. Alter the assumptions, and reason yields a different answer. Rational thinking and reason can’t determine meaning or truth, they only can help us figure out what works in the world. Material causation may be an interpretation of reality that seems to work in the world, but there is no inherent reason it should be seen as superior to synchronicity or the idea that there are non-material deeper, “spiritual” forces at play.
4. Intuition and Sentiment. Intuition is often wrong. Remember how the Republicans “felt” Romney would win, while the hard statistics analyzed by Nate Silver predicted the result we got. We learn not to trust intuition. Yet there are two kinds of intuition. I may intuit something about the goings on of the material world (e.g., “I feel the Vikings are going to win this week.”) or I may intuit something about life itself – its meaning and my purpose.
Since reason cannot determine purpose or meaning in life, it makes sense to follow ones sentiment and intuition about those higher issues. Intuition may be stronger there than in guessing particular material phenomena.
I am absolutely convinced that we are, to draw on another Police allusion, “spirits in a material world.” What really matters are the connections and interactions with others, not the material stuff that surrounds us. Synchronicity operates at that level.
Looking at life that way I have to change focus from the pursuit of goals defined in terms of material success towards what I learn from my life circumstances, and how I connect with and help/teach/learn from others. That’s true reality, the material stuff is stage scenery. It creates the story lines in which we live our lives. But the story is not the purpose, the story is the vehicle in which we pursue our purpose.
So when I go through the day I notice chance encounters, events that happen seemingly out of the blue but which connect to my thoughts, actions or personal dilemmas. I try to see meaning in everything and everyone. I see people and situations that push me away, realizing those dramas and situations are not for me. Others draw me in.
Life lived this way becomes magical and meaningful. There is a purpose, there is something profound in living day to day. To get lost in the material pursuit of success and gain is akin to falling into a dream or trance; we need to wake up and experience the present and the meaningful.
And life lived magically, with an eye to meaning rather than stuff, goals or plans, has a reward: one recognizes that happiness is available to everyone. That’s because happiness cannot come from other people, stuff, success in the world or even family. Happiness comes from inside, achieved by being open to the magic, focused on meaning and purpose. That banishes fear and despair. And once happiness is claimed one can turn to family, the world, stuff and other people with a renewed sense of confidence and clarity.
Don’t believe me? Practice living that way. Look for meaning, look for coincidence, look for signs and signals in the daily routine. Look for magic. Pay less attention to worldly pursuits and more towards whether or not you’re living a life that provides joy and meaning. Just try it and see if it works!