Friday, May 15, 2009


Synchronicity is the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer.

—And we include in our discussions Kammerer’s recognition of seriality as a form of meaningful coincidence, which, while not considered by Jung, is encountered in such events as the significant repetition of songs, numbers, and phrases.


Synchronicity is not a word we have grown up with. The concept may not be firmly in our minds, and because we don’t have a label of mental framework for it, we may not notice it. Researchers in communication have found that when we lack a word for an object or a concept, we can’t identify it—and this can happen in the most literal of ways. For instance, in China, there is only one word for red—and people literally do not distinguish between rose, crimson, pink, and scarlet. They lack the vocabulary and therefore the perception that red comes in more than once shade.

So when synchronicity happens, many people overlook it or call it something else. They might say, "I got lucky," or "That happened just in the nick of time," or "It came out of the blue," or "It jumped out at me." Later on, when asked if they have experienced synchronicity, they can’t remember any. All those incidents are filed away in their memory, but under the category of luck or happenstance.

When you watch a 3-D movie, you put on special glasses and suddenly see images emerge that had been invisible before. Learning about synchronicity is like putting on 3-D glasses that allow totally new dimensions to pop out when you look over your life. Those dimensions have been there all along, but now you have the eyes to see them. Once you know what synchronicity is and how to look for it, you begin to notice it everywhere.

In order to understand synchronicity as it appears now, has appeared in your past, and will appear in your future, let’s look at the circumstances in which synchronicity shows up in your life and at the patterns it takes—single incidents, strings, and clusters.

As you read the following descriptions, read actively. Scan your memory for similar events. Think of what’s happened to you in the last few weeks and months and see what patterns emerge.

We experience synchronicity most often when we’re open and aware, which in turn is affected by the outer conditions in which we find ourselves and the inner conditions in which we put ourselves.

Special circumstances such as births, deaths, and times of upheaval are outer conditions that push us toward openness because, as the ground shifts beneath our feet, we feel more vulnerable.

Mundane circumstances of daily life can be rich with synchronicity if we have the right inner conditions—if we make ourselves more open to the world through personal awareness and inner work.

Let’s examine each of these.

Among his patients Jung observed that synchronicity often happens during circumstances of emotional intensity and upheaval, and often peaks right before a psychological breakthrough. These situations of an "aroused psyche" include such life-changing major events as:

• Births

• Deaths

• Falling in or out of love

• Turning points or personal crises

• Rescues from danger

• Travel

Our awareness and uncertainty is heightened during these times of turmoil, change, and challenge. When we’re groping for solutions, or even learning how to appreciate unexpected joy, we are much more open to input from all sources. Synchronicity may reassure us, point us in a whole new direction, or give us the missing piece we need to make everything work.

Life passages such as births, romances, and deaths are times when the worries of daily life recede as we are drawn into the currents of a larger existence. Our ordinary routines are disrupted, our thoughts are focused on the changes in process, and our senses are wide open. We know that when the child is born, when the wedding is over, when the funeral is done, our life will be different in ways we can only dimly perceive now. We probably have a jumble of conflicting feelings. Along with our joy at a birth may come fear about our new financial responsibility; along with the grief of death may come relief at the end of suffering. We might be looking for direction, for answers, for reassurance that the good and right thing is happening. Beverly Fox Martin of Greenwood Lake, New York, tried to adopt an infant daughter for five frustrating years, and even had a name picked out—Kathleen, after her mother. On her mother’s birthday, Beverly went to her grave and prayed for her mother to intercede for her in heaven. She walked inside her home to hear the phone ringing. It was the adoption agency with an infant daughter. And what name had the child’s birth mother given her? Kathleen!

When we’re in love, synchronicity seems to jump out all over the place. We feel light-headed, happy, open; the world is smiling back at us, giving the relationship a sense of destiny. Irvin Thomas placed a personal ad in the local seniors paper that Joy Thompson saw only because she was throwing away someone else’s trash. They fell in love, and had to laugh at a peculiar coincidence: twenty-five years earlier, her children adopted a lost puppy and, out of the blue, named it Thomas Irving.

Synchronicity can also intercede at important points in a relationship. After a concert one night, Pamela LaTulippe of Boston broke up with her boyfriend. The next day walking down the street, she ran into the stranger who had sat next to them the night before. The woman told Pam what a wonderful couple she and her boyfriend made. Pam saw that as a sign she was supposed to work it out with him—and she did.

The death of a loved one can thrust in front of us life’s questions, creating openings for new understandings and making us more receptive to synchronicity. When Pina McGee’s mother passed away, Pina and her siblings found a letter to them in her Bible. In the letter she had included a poem. Two days later at the memorial service, the rabbi read a poem that he said had fallen from a book in a library years before. He said it seemed to him to apply to her. It was the very poem Pina’s mother had included in the letter.

Turning points occur when we have come to the end of the old and are on the cusp of a new life: we graduate, or lose our job, or buy a house, or our child leaves home. When our beliefs or values change, we may be prompted to leave a relationship or career, or stop drinking heavily, or move somewhere different. Whether we welcome the change or resist it, uncertainty is often present: What lies ahead? What can we do about it? Often in these times, synchronicity appears in dramatic ways. It moves us along, and it gives us a sense of reassurance and certainty about what we’re doing. Unsatisfied with his life and job in Kansas City, Raymond G. Spinnett was meditating one evening when he saw a clear picture of himself working as a laboratory technician in California. Two days later, he quit his job, hitchhiked out west, and took a bus to El Segundo to answer a newspaper want-ad. He couldn’t locate the address on the ad, and, discouraged, stopped at a sandwich shop. The waiter said, "Wait! It’s a misprint! This isn’t an address—it’s a phone number!" Raymond was the only applicant, and was immediately hired. "The typographical error in the ad reserved my new job for me," he says. It turned out to be the same job he had envisioned a few days earlier, thousands of miles away.

Stories of rescues—someone being in the right place at the right time to save the day, and maybe a life—fill our daily newspapers and television reports. The rescuer and the person rescued were on paths that converged at exactly the right time, and often at least one was in that spot for the first time. Karen and Bruce Pane were driving to work through Brooklyn when they saw an apartment building in flames. Holding Karen’s coat taut between them, they caught six-month-old Amanda Morales as her mother threw her from a fourth-floor window. They had never been on the street before, and were there only because they were circumventing a traffic jam.

Another time when synchronicity abounds is when we’re on the road, away from home. Amid new surroundings, eating new food, talking to new people, we may find ourselves looking for clues in ways that we generally don’t in our familiar workaday world. It seems to happen particularly with travel that involves risk: if our plans are open-ended rather than set in stone, if we’re traveling along rather than with a tour group, if we’re submerging ourselves in a foreign culture rather than skipping over its surface, then we’re more likely to have meaningful coincidences. Suzanne M. Rodriguez was traveling through India, and she was deliriously happy. On a small train chugging up a mountain gorge, she threw out her arms in a burst of ecstasy and cried, "India!" At that precise moment, the train passed a rock on which was painted in foot-high letters, "SMR, I love you."


When we’re open, responsive, and attentive to both the world around and the world within, we set up an environment that welcomes synchronicity. Then we may find synchronicity occurring every day, in the most ordinary of places: on the telephone, at the office, at the grocery store or shopping mall, in the library, at school, in the car.

Renee Schwartz of Dundee, Illinois, drove twenty miles to a new shopping mall, and searched its enormous parking lot until at last she found a parking spot—which turned out to be right next to her mother’s car. One night, Renee was sitting on the sofa talking with her twelve-year-old—named Destiny because she was conceived when condoms broke three nights in a row. When Renee got up, Destiny asked, "Where are you going?" "Kansas!" joked Renee. Twenty minutes later, Renee asked her daughter where she’d like to live if they ever moved. Destiny got a piece of paper and drew two circles, one for Illinois and one for Texas, where they had traveled. She made an X halfway between and said, "Here, two states up from Texas." They opened an atlas to see where that was, and the X fell on Kansas City. The next day, Renee learned that the company she worked for would likely be moved—to Kansas City.

The more aware we are of our surroundings, the more likely it is that synchronicity will occur—and the surroundings can include such things as overheard conversations, articles in the newspaper, billboards, and songs on the radio. Steven Cooper of LaGrange Park, Illinois, was on his way to a country club to drop off cassette tapes he had duplicated for a cellist who was playing there. Driving down the highway, he crossed train tracks and didn’t know which way to turn—until, at that moment, on the radio came an advertisement for the country club, and the announcer said, "Turn right at the train tracks."


Whether in special or mundane circumstances, synchronicity presents itself in many ways. It can be as dramatic as a firecracker or as subtle as the passing of a breeze across your cheek. You can understand in a flash what it means or its significance may engulf you months or years later. It can change your life forever or it can glance off you, leaving barely a trace of memory.

To understand how synchronicity manifests itself, we’ll look at the three patterns in which it appears in our lives: single synchronicities; strings of synchronicities that drive home a point; and meaning-packed, multilayered synchronicity clusters.

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