[SL: Enjoy the latest in a series of leading-edge articles I’m republishing from my popular free ezine, DNA MONTHLY.]
The word “synchronicity” was coined by CG Jung in the forward to the 1949 English translation of the I CHING, the Chinese Book of Changes, by Wilhelm and Baynes. “Telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition,” he wrote, “are all synchronicities—meaningful coincidences between persons and events in which an emotional or symbolic connection cannot be explained by cause and effect.” Jung went on to say that what we in the West considered to be random chance, the ancient Chinese presumed to be a significant confluence of events, and therefore meaningful for their lives.
Washing the dishes one evening, I found myself thinking of a friend—also named Carolyn—with whom I had hitchhiked in Europe years earlier. A couple of adventurous students, we had met going over on the boat and teamed up to roam around France together. The people we met called us “Les deux Carolines.” I had last seen her in Paris, and we had exchanged a few letters since, but then had lost contact. The next morning, she phoned. “I was flying into San Francisco,” she told me, “and suddenly thought of you. So when I got in, I took a chance and looked you up in the phone book. And here you are!” She was visiting her old college roommate, who had the same name as my newborn daughter and whose husband had the same name as my husband. When we all got together, there were two Carolyns, two Rebeccas and two Herbs.
I believe all of us have experiences like this. We think of an old friend and get a phone call from her the next day; we miss a train and then meet the love of our life on the next train; we hear an unusual name and then come across it four times in the next two days. Sometimes a chance remark spoken in conversation will show up on the next page of the book we happen to be reading—or writing.
I suspect there are actually many kinds of synchronicity, and whether we think of these various types of coincidences as pure chance or as having some significance, we still feel a sense of wonderment when they occur—as if we have just entered some kind of magical realm. We feel the presence of something that transcends rationality or logic, as if some invisible guiding hand has intervened with grace for us, placing in our path the very person we needed to meet; the timely phone call that makes all the difference; the chance encounter at a party we almost skipped; the fortuitous surprise. “What a coincidence!” we exclaim in amazement.
During a vacation in Vermont, I learned quilt making from a woman who lived at the farmhouse I visited. Months later, back home in California, I was ready to bind my first quilt, but had no idea how to begin. I telephoned Vermont to speak to her, but was told she was in Australia and was expected back within the week. I laid all the pieces out on the floor and was staring down at them trying to figure out what to do next, when the phone rang. She was at the other end, calling from a pay phone at the San Francisco Airport. On her way home from Australia, the plane had been re-routed because of bad weather. She was calling to ask if she could stay the night with me. She had, of course, no knowledge of my call to her house an hour earlier. I picked her up at the airport and we spent a happy afternoon catching up and binding my quilt together.
Creative projects—especially those which involve benefit to others—often call up these helpful coincidences, as if the universe itself were responding with nudges of encouragement for our efforts. At Daily Bread, a hunger organization I work with, I have learned to simply trust that assistance will show up after a new project is initiated. “Trusting without expectation” seems to be the essential ingredient. If I can relax and make no specific plans about exactly what I wish to happen, then almost invariably the very help we need marches in within the week—sometimes in forms I would never have anticipated.
Whenever I embark on an idea and it feels “right,” there is an internal quietness and relaxed ease that I have learned to recognize. It’s as if I’m located in the center of myself, the way I feel when I’m well balanced on my feet. There’s a sense of being in the right place at the right time, and that I can trust myself to follow my intuition wherever it takes me. Worry, doubt and uncertainty all seem irrelevant and in the way. Somehow or other I can count on all the pieces coming together with a minimum of effort on my part—if I let go of control, give in to the pleasure of the moment and, most of all, have faith in whatever is happening.
This is not always a popular position to take, especially when there is money involved, but in my experience when I feel a combination of relaxation and the anticipation of an adventure, I take it as a go-ahead signal and shrug my shoulders at resisters. Invariably, the results validate this approach. Conversely, if I plan too much in advance to make something happen because I think it ought to, often it will take twice as much time and effort and go awry anyway, having to be done again at a later date.
A caterer donated a commercial refrigerator to us, free, if we would move it. We didn’t need a refrigerator, but we badly needed a freezer. However, after much discussion, we decided to accept. The first attempt to move it failed because the truck broke down; the next time, our helpers had the wrong date. When we finally got truck and helpers together, we discovered that the door the refrigerator had to go through wasn’t wide enough. Finally, with thanks and apologies, we gave up. Two days later an anonymous caller donated a freezer—delivery included.
Sometimes a single, fortuitous coincidence prepares the way for the next opportunity, which then leads to yet another remarkable coincidence—all unpredictable and often involving people and events far removed from each other in time and space. In such instances, we may feel watched over by a ministering angel, or like an agent for a much larger set of circumstances than anything we can consciously control. At times it may seem that we are the agents, or go-betweens among people we may not even know, helping things happen between them as we play merely the role of “connector.”
According to Jung, the world has an underlying order, a “collective unconscious,” like a shared memory in which all beings are bonded by deep patterns that connect us to each other and to the cosmos. In such a universe, synchronicities are literally “co-incidences”: simultaneously occurring events whose meaning or significance is immediately apparent to the person experiencing them.
In the course of my research several years ago, I found a reference to a large-format book published in Germany early in the century, which dealt with color and its effect on the body. Visiting the local libraries and bookstores, I came up with a blank. I felt that restless sensation one feels when only one thing will satisfy, and came home from my bookstore search disgruntled. Then the phone rang. It was a woman I had never met who said, “About a year ago, a friend gave me your name saying that you and I were interested in the same questions. I am an artist fascinated by vibration from the point of view of color and light–and I understand you are interested in vibration from the point of view of sound. Is that right?”
“Yes,” I gulped.
“Well,” she said, “I’ve got a book here I’ve been meaning to lend you, and I’ve got some time today. Can I bring it over and we can finally meet?”
Of course, it was the very book I’d been searching for. She came, we met, I borrowed the book, and we’ve been good friends ever since.
From time to time co-incidences will be dramatically illustrated when several seemingly unconnected activities begin to merge and each becomes relevant to the others. When this happens, everything appears to be a sign for everything else and everything is potentially useful. I’ve learned to pay close attention to every insignificant detail when this happens because it seems to occur when the stakes are very high.
Jung writes, “The understanding of synchronicity is the key which unlocks the door to the Eastern apperception of totality that we find so mysterious.” Indeed, the ancient Chinese oracle, the I CHING, or Book of Changes, is based on a belief system which assumes that the manifest world as we know it is a reflection of an underlying reality in which all things are connected and in the process of continuous transformation. Nothing ever stays the same. According to Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian thought, the whole cosmos is perpetually in motion, every particle shifting in relation to every other particle, everything synchronized in time and space.
In this tradition, each moment in time sounds like a single chord. The notes of every force in the universe sound simultaneously, singing the harmony of the Whole—NOW. Everything everywhere is part of NOW. Everything is interrelated, inter-dependent, inter-penetrating NOW. Nothing exists outside NOW, from the shimmering of subatomic particles to the swirling of the galaxies. NOW becomes NOW becomes NOW …
The Chinese, who have used the I CHING as a divination tool for centuries, do not have the same difficulty as we in the Western world accepting that a “chance” pattern created by a toss of three coins can be helpful as an inner guide. To use the oracle, one asks a question six times, throwing the coins each time to indicate a pattern of changing lines which refer to a particular reading in the Book. The pattern may seem purely random to the uninitiated, but the “hexagram” received as a result of the tossed coins is invariably to the point and relevant in specific detail to the question.
To the ancient Chinese, it was simply a fact that correspondences exist between our individual lives and the grand sweep of the universe at any given moment in time. The laws governing the overall design are the same as the laws governing each person’s life, and so, by the law of resonance, when we ask for guidance at a specific time, we naturally receive advice that matches our question.
I was a young woman, newly married to a university science professor, when I was first introduced to the I CHING. My husband was rather dismayed by my interest in a document as “irrational” as the oracle, and when I requested a copy as a birthday gift, he outright refused. It was one of our first fights, and we were both hurt and confused by the encounter. Unbeknownst to me, he bought a copy for me anyway—against his better judgment—and threw the coins to prove to himself that his skepticism was justified. But he had somehow gotten a defective copy, and the pages of the “hexagram” he received were blank!
Mystified, he returned that copy to the bookstore, exchanged it for another and then changed his mind, by this time angry. He returned that copy to the bookstore, too, determined not to buy me a gift he didn’t believe in.
In the end, I received the I CHING as a gift from someone else. On the night of my birthday, I asked my husband if we could read together the text of the “hexagram” he had originally thrown. Reluctantly, he agreed. The text spoke to the issue of people with divergent views learning how to negotiate their differences peaceably. Still unsatisfied, he threw the coins again. The reading he received stated that a person was a fool who asked the same question twice.
It is only in contemporary Western thought that things exist in splendid isolation in a three-dimensional world and that God—if there is a God at all—is high in His heaven and out of reach. The great Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, whose origins are lost in the mists of time, is said to have postulated the following basic law of existence: “That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below, for the miracles of the Universe are part of One Whole Thing.”
The teachings of Hermes Trismegistus emphasize that the same laws of Being hold true on every level of the Universe—on every scale and every span of time—and that the form and substance of our world arises from basic, recurrent patterns inherent in the larger Universe. The solid-seeming forms of the three-dimensional world as we know it—the “below” of his teachings—are a reflection of the corresponding elemental motions of the unseen, transcendent Universe—the “above” of his teachings. “Above” and “below” here refer not to directionality, but to degrees of density and subtlety difficult to describe in everyday language.
For example, the spiral shape appears everywhere we look, from swirling smoke to seashells to nebulae. It coils in the DNA molecule and whorls on a baby’s head. The bloom of a rose, the spin of a tornado, whirlpooling water, the unfurling of a fern all follow the same pattern, each in its own context, each on its own scale. Our lives also trace a spiral course as we come round and round again to the same dilemmas, each time presented with a new opportunity to experience the world from a slightly higher perspective. On every level, these forms reflect a basic motion of the cosmos.
Basic “movements,” such as the spiral, are like energetic maps which pervade all of existence, acting as blueprints which ultimately give form to everything we know. In our everyday lives they exist in the ordinary realities of our physical world for us to notice or not, as we wish. But whether we perceive them or not, they are writ both smaller than we can see and larger than we might ever guess at, inherent and immanent at every level of the Cosmos. In the last twenty years, high-speed computer technology has revealed to scientists what the wisdom traditions of many cultures have been pointing to in myth, metaphor and symbolism through the ages: the universe is a complex dance of many dimensions and the patterns laid down by this ongoing dance are the basis for all matter and life.
Scientists and the sages now agree that underlying every leaf, pulsing vein and many-branched river system is a recognizable geometry, a set of basic proportions that seems to repeat itself wherever one looks. Scientists typically acknowledge this geometry as “Pythagorean,” while sages often refer to it as “sacred harmony.” In other times, temples were designed according to these proportions and music was sung based on these intervals. The knowledge seems to have been lost during the late Middle Ages and until very recently was termed “esoteric,” or hidden knowledge, but computers may have begun to make this implicit order more “exoteric.”
In 1975 mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot put into his computer a simple equation representing one of these basic patterns and programmed the computer to repeat the pattern hundreds of thousands of times. The resulting graphics came out looking like forms in the natural world! On his computer screen appeared shapes both organic and inorganic: coastlines, mountains, river systems, plants … These shapes, he discovered, showed the same exact pattern at whatever scale he examined them. A coastline, for example, was made up of a myriad of tiny, perfectly proportioned reflections of itself, repeating over and over. (“That which is below is like that which is above …”) At the microscopic scale the image appeared to be a chaotic jumble of motion, but at the level visible to the human eye it was a recognizable form, easily identified, not chaotic at all.
Convinced that he had stumbled on a new way of looking at the form and structure of the Universe—a geometry of the natural world, as it were—, Mandelbrot called his discovery “Fractal Geometry,” suggesting the basically fractured or chaotic nature of all matter.
Contemporary mathematicians and physicists studying these phenomena as Chaos Theory, Non-linear Dynamics, Nonlocality Theory and Quantum Mechanics are observing that there is an inherent roughness to the world, a kind of wild diversity. They describe it as frenetic, haphazard, highly textured, unpredictable. Although they have not gone so far as to accept the fact that all phenomena are linked by interactions too subtle to be measured, they do acknowledge that the Universe is constantly changing on every scale, and that every particle responds with acute sensitivity to the unpredictable gyrations of each new moment. Fractal Geometry now shows that in every dimension this exuberant, complex tangle reveals itself in greater and greater detail, system within system. Wherever we look, we see that each discreet bit of activity and information is a subtle reflection of the Whole.
The late physicist John Bell showed that if two photons or two electrons are separated, no matter how far, they are still actively connected to each other. Moreover, their connection is both direct and instantaneous without the need for any mechanical intermediary between them. A change in one creates a simultaneous change in the other. His theory of non-locality posited that on the level of the “exuberant, complex tangle” of the Universe, everything is in continuous contact with everything else and nothing is separate from the Whole. (In anthropological terms, this has been referred to as “contagious magic.”)
Likewise, physicist David Bohm observed that while on this implicate, minute scale of the Universe everything is vibrating with wild abandon, in constant communion with everything else, at the level of the Whole there is an overriding, interpenetrating order. He called this “order enfolded in chaos,” meaning that what appears to be randomly chaotic, actually holds within it a deep-seated cooperative spirit. Bohm suggested that this phenomenon is akin to an intention embodied in matter, a will-to-be, an inherent awareness—in a word, consciousness. Beyond “things,” transcending even movement itself, there perhaps exists an all-encompassing Mind. Bohm wondered if it is this self-aware, all-pervading consciousness that we ought to acknowledge as the context in which all forms—including ourselves—have their Being. For it is against this backdrop of conscious Wholeness that our physical world, and all its individual entities, reveals its true nature.
In Western culture we are taught to think in terms of linear logic, where there is a specific reaction to a single stimulus and proof exists in being able to repeat the same reaction. Hard logic, some call it. But there is another approach—softer and more intuitive, nonlinear—in which things are perceived in their totality as part of a larger context. The boundaries that isolate one thing from another exist only at the most obvious and superficial level, like bubbles on the surface of a pot of soup.
In a nonlinear universe events happen all at once, arising out of the common brew, bouncing and bumping off each other in every direction. Everything is part of this movement where an impulse occurring at this moment, right here, may have unforeseen consequences somewhere else in the world far into the future. In fact, this critical dependence of everything on everything else is such that even an imperceptible shift of the tiniest element in one place can have vast ramifications on the whole cosmos, for all time. As Jung put it, “There is no linear evolution (except at the beginning of life); there is only the circumambulation of the self.”
In such a worldview, everything participates in a sensitive web of active information. Atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, people, earth, Heaven and Spirit all enter into communion with each other and join the ever-changing dance of form and structure. Like the dancing Siva, the many-armed God revolves in a constantly changing pattern while his feet stamp out the many rhythms of All-Rhythm—creating new designs at each moment in perfect, dynamic balance. From this perspective the Cosmos is like a pure tone that contains all sound the way a simple, balanced stillness contains all motion.
In a world like this, it would be surprising if synchronicities did not occur. Synchronicities, it would seem, are a phenomena inherent in the Universe, continuously appearing in the natural course of events. They pop out of the common matrix just as waves in the ocean lift, crest with a tumble of white foam, and sink back into the larger sea. Synchronicities occur all around us all the time, but it is only when we ourselves are the fulcrum around which a co-incidence—good or bad—occurs that we sit up and take notice.
These surprises, which for the most part are unexpected gifts plopped into our laps by a beneficent world, are like wake-up signals, eye-openers to the larger Universe in which we live. We might consider them a means of tuning into the frequency of the Whole, becoming citizens of a much grander world. In doing so, we may find ourselves participating in events which take place on several continents, involving people we have never met, spanning long periods of time …
Many years ago in India, I met a remarkable classical flutist who hoped to bring his music to America. He presented me with a demonstration tape, and I promised to play it for people when I got home—but in fact, I dragged my heels on it for over a year and a half. One day, however, I awoke with the feeling that on that day I had to follow through on my promise, so I telephoned a local radio station and asked them for air time. “What a coincidence!” the program Director exclaimed. “The tape for the eleven o’clock show never arrived, and we’ve been searching for something to put in its place. Could you come right down?”
I went to the station and the program was heard, coincidentally, by a member of a college for Indian music, who called me and said, “You won’t believe this, but just last night we had a faculty meeting to talk about finding a classical flute teacher. I don’t know what made me turn on the radio this morning. Normally, I never tune in to that program …”
I have wondered about what, indeed, made him turn on the radio that morning; what had made me wait all those months before following through on a promise; and what had caused my path to cross with this flutist’s in the first place? It is as if we were all tuned to the same frequency and so made contact, quite subconsciously, each following a signal we were not even aware of. Like several waves cresting simultaneously on the same sea, we were bonded by the medium of our shared ocean. Unknown to each other, we each responded to a similar impulse. And like secret agents of the same unknown design, we collectively created the conditions that brought this musician to America.
Co-incidences like this are similar to the magic of falling in love. The beloved, special in our eyes, seems to stand out in bold relief from the backdrop of all the other people in the world. As if composed of more dimensions than other, ordinary mortals, our loved one shines, radiates with significance. At the same time, the very wondrousness itself of this feeling appears to be so simple, so obvious, so right. Without effort new lovers seem to vibrate in tandem, every sensor awake to even the most subtle signal from the other. In such moments, the world, awash with color, makes such simple sense.
Years ago, in the first weeks of my first trip to Italy when I was nineteen, I found myself in a small town quite against my will. The friend I was meeting in Milano brought me there for “safekeeping” until she could return from her other commitments to take me to meet her family. This was arranged without my knowledge. Since I spoke little Italian, I had no idea whether she would come for me in a day or a week. I was left to wait for her in a convent where I was locked in my room in the evenings and put in the care of a silent nun during the days.
Bewildered and frightened, I tried several times to escape, but each time was apprehended and brought back to the convent. Days passed, and there was still no sign of my friend. Finally, making an early morning run for it, I jumped onto a passing bus and made my way to the train station. I got on the first train to arrive, looking over my shoulder the whole time, having no idea where it was bound for. When it arrived at Bologna Station, I jumped off, still not knowing where I was going, but when I heard a conductor call out “Ravenna” I impulsively ran for the next train.
Sitting across from where I plopped down was an attractive fellow with a cello case, with whom I exchanged furtive glances until we both disembarked at Ravenna Station. Waiting on the same tram line outside the station, we finally began to talk to each other, and with that conversation began my courtship with the first love of my life.
Synchronicities are much like the experience of falling in love. Through them we get a glimpse into the very fabric of the Universe, its miraculousness and utter simplicity, its ordered Wholeness and the wild shimmying of its ecstatic dance. By learning to tune into this seeming paradox, we can relax and be receptive to the daily coincidences that present themselves to us like pennies from Heaven.
The more we can accept these chance gifts as real, the more they will tend to happen to us. The more they happen, the more faith we may have in their usefulness. Without the resistance of disbelief, things fall into place with little effort on our part, and gradually become part of our ordinary, daily tools of living. Like lovers, we vibrate in tandem with the Universe.
In the course of researching this essay, I found myself at Trinity College in Dublin, where the 6th Century illuminated manuscript, THE BOOK OF KELLS, is in display in a hermetically sealed glass case, opened each day to a single page. Since these remarkable illuminations are such beautiful examples of the interlaced reality I am trying to describe here, I wanted to see as many illustrations as possible. The manuscript, however, is ancient and very precious and only taken out for distinguished scholars.
For three days I returned to the Library to examine that day’s page, then on the fourth day decided to knock on the door of the office and simply ask if there were any way I might see the whole manuscript. It was a rash, even irrational act on my part, but something propelled me towards that door.
Inside, at the secretary’s desk, sat an old classmate of mine! She was a friend from years ago when I was a student of Medieval Art History in France, and is the only native Irish person I have ever known well. She is also one of the few people in existence who could vouch for my credentials to handle the manuscript. After our mutual delight at finding one another again, she intervened on my behalf and I was granted permission to examine the whole BOOK OF KELLS the following day!
The subtle signals are there to be heard. The Universe is singing all the time. If we learn how to listen, we can probably hear something new, like a harmony that resonates within our own Beings. If we then feel for the upbeat and breathe with the music, we have only to lift our arms like the dancing Shiva, stamp out a rhythm with our feet, and dance!
Copyright © Carolyn North. All Rights Reserved.
Carolyn North teaches movement and sound for healing and writes about the principles of her work, mostly in the form of readily accessible stories about ordinary people living ordinary lives. She considers her work as bridging the gap between three-dimensional thinking and multidimensional thinking, and currently is working with scientists to describe the Unified Field from both scientific and non-scientific viewpoints. As a healer, she is especially interested in the use of the voice as a healing modality. She is author of eight books, four of which are currently in print. Check out Carolyn’s work at www.healingimprovisations.net.