Rather apt subject for my very own Red Book! Have you ever felt that there appeared to be enough meaning to a surprising collision of two events that made you think: there must be something more to this than mere coincidence? If so, you may have experienced what Jung calls synchronicity. And I don’t just mean when you have been thinking about someone you haven’t seen for a while, and within a short time they phone you. That may be ESP, but doesn’t necessarily imply synchronicity.
I have been alert to synchronicity certainly since around the age of nineteen. This is also the age I was when a growing disassociation from a church-based Christianity started to metamorphose into a more personal and heart-felt interest in the deep workings of my own spirituality. At some point later in my life I gradually crossed over to the side of doubting that there was any possible framework on which a spiritual belief can be supported. Science, and the likelihood of alien life forms, ensured that my faith would keep on eroding. About a year before Elle died, and having joined a meditation group next door with a very special lady called Val, I seemed to draw this period of my life to a close. I told Elle that I had reached a faithful landing, and that I didn’t need to have all the answers; I was comfortable knowing that all my life’s experiences pointed more to the likelihood of truth lying in the spiritual realm than not. Now I find that it is scientists, psychologists and philosophers who are giving a foundation to a greater and deeper understanding of my world.
I have been listening to many lectures by different people on the most recurring figure in my life, Carl Jung, who I now understand better in my own left-handed right-brained abstract way. I have been led to a book that has made Jung more accessible to me, and more particularly, his definition and understanding of synchronicity. It has provided me with confirmation, including the ability to better interpret and gain a greater understanding of the meaning of those moments that I always knew were, at the very least, significant. The name of the book is Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making, by Victor Mansfield. It serves me well on the three subjects that I find are the greatest help in developing my faith: science, psychology and philosophy.
I am going to use an example of an occurrence of synchronicity in my own life to illustrate why I have always held that these moments are of the utmost importance. But first I need to give the outline of Jung’s definition, and a few other thoughts.
Jung first described his theory in the 1920’s but it wasn’t really taken seriously until a lecture he gave in Italy in 1951 to a number of intellectual thinkers of his time.
Simply put, his theory is this:
Synchronicity is the experience of meaningful coincidences if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.
The following is an example as given by Jung in his book, Synchronicity, to explain what he means by the term:
“…My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably “geometrical” idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself. Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab — a costly piece of jewellery. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the windowpane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results…”
Jung was well versed in mythologies and ancient cultures, and he knew what the symbolic meaning of the golden scarab was. It was sacred to the Egyptian’s God of Creation, Resurrection and Immortality, or put another way, rebirth. It was even believed that the beetle carries messages that bring our attention to renewal, spiritual maturity, and the powerful influences of the invisible side of life.
With a bug in mind I can’t help remembering Elle’s haiku seven years before she died, and mine in response since her death:
Obscure miniscule creature
Little ugly bug
How often have you been seen?
Little bug I see you now
Oh the Bodhi tree
Fly away and on with me
Back to Jung, this confirmed that the meaning of the event ran even deeper than just the most incredible coincidence. This example is the first of many he used to illustrate his theory. He believed, as do many of his followers today, that almost all anxiety and depression, and its further deepening psychoses, was as a result of a dissatisfied subconscious; a subconscious looking for deeper answers to the meaning of life than just being told to make the most of a world that has no intrinsic meaning – that all that has happened since the beginning of time is purely coincidental.
The optimum idea though is that the coming together of two acausal events should bring with them a deep meaning that adds something to one’s inner movement towards one’s own higher intelligence, or, as it is most often called, to the individuation of the psyche or self. In Jungian psychology this is described as a process of inner transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness and, over time, are to be assimilated into the whole personality. If the process is more or less successful, the individual will become a well-functioning whole, rather than a fragmented, probably ineffective and therefore a non-directional personality.
Again perhaps this condition of non-direction has more to do with the plethora of ‘mental illnesses’ of today. So few of us give attention to the state of our souls, because ‘soul’ has religious connotations, and not many people in the West have any form of contemplated and internalised faith. I am always astounded, every time the subject of mental health comes up, that all the elected-to-speak experts talk about is how important it is to acknowledge their illness or disease, but no one seems to be interested in asking the question – why are so many people, particularly our young people, suffering varying forms of mental dis-ease. I think the numbers are around one in four people who will suffer some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Well, I think these numbers are unacceptable, and certainly indicate that something about modern life is going horribly wrong. The advice being given seems to be saying that while yes, we should talk about it, we should not be baulking at the idea of giving out earlier, and without deeper investigation, more medication for depression and earlier. Give out Ritalin to more ADD or ADHD children, despite the many destructive side effects. (I am a bit cynical of who has been driving the direction of the latest studies!) I believe the way Ritalin works on ‘overactive’ children is to suppress the part of the brain that supports play, which I understand to be a vital component of learning what it is to become an adult, and how we develop our socialising skills, which already children are not given enough time to do before being sent to school at the age of four and a half years old.
There is a lot more that can be said to substantiate Jung’s theory, and also to explain it more deeply. I highly recommend the book if you are interested. I found it to be both intellectual in its approach while equally being being accessible to anyone interested in learning more – I always think of this as a sign of someone who really has a good grip of his/her subject. It is not necessary to make the written language bear proof to your intellect – I came across enough of that while studying art at university. It seemed to be the required credentials for most post-modernists!
There have been a number of occasions in my life when I have witnessed interesting coincidences, and while many of them carried some interesting meaning, I would not call them an example of Jungian synchronicity. There have also been many moments when I would say I experienced ESP and other paranormal experiences. Again, unless they led to a transformational experience, they too would not fall into the said category. But I have experienced enough that do qualify. It also makes perfect sense to me as to why there has been a greater cluster of synchronised events since Elle’s death, and equally that events of the past have revealed their meaning to me through the illustration of synchronicity.
First of all, the event: about three weeks after Elle died, the family and our friend, Zoe, decided that it would be a good idea for Zoe to take on Elle’s car. Another three weeks later, and with the car parked outside Greg’s home, the moment came for us to take it to our mechanic to give it the once over. I would drive Elle’s blue Seat, and Peter would drive ahead of me. We arrived at Greg’s, and before going in for a coffee, Peter and I decided to make sure it would start. If we were not intending to go in for a coffee, Peter would have dropped me, stayed in his car and I would have followed him straight away in Elle’s. It mattered from the point of view that we were together when we opened the boot of the car, and that we were not in a hurry at the busy mechanic’s shop to clear the car and hand it over. It points to the emphasis placed on the meaning of the moment, and gave us time to respond to what lay in front of us, and to how it was presented, which also served to raise our awareness by piquing our curiosity at what we observed.
I was anxious about the whole procedure. I turned the key and it started without any hesitation. I gave it a good ‘rev up’ and switched off the engine. As I walked around the car I suggested to Peter that we should make sure there was nothing left in the boot. It was simultaneous with this point that I realised that internally the car was most unusually spotless, empty and dust-free. When we opened the boot there was a single pile of three items. Curiously, at the bottom of the pile was a plastic bag containing twigs that Elle must have collected from somewhere, and for something. On top of this was a rather dilapidated straw hat. Finally on top, and facing correctly towards us, was a photo that Elle had printed onto glossy A4 paper. Across the top of the horizontal photo, almost filling the whole page, were three sentences Elle had written.
Peter and I recognised the photo’s content straight away from a story that Elle had told us around the April or May in the year that she died, and our attention was secured. Again there are many steps even as to how she came to tell us the story. And without the earlier story there would have been no synchronous event.
The background to the meaning: Elle entered our kitchen from her ‘casita’ shortly before leaving to go to work. She had no shoes on her feet. We often saw her this way at home, but I was curious if she intended going to work like that. She told me that she had no shoes to wear, rather odd, so I said that as I was about to head off into Ibiza town, and would she like me to get her a pair of flip flops. She said yes, but make them as plain as possible. I knew what she meant. A couple of days later the exact same scenario happened, and this time I casually enquired as to what had happened to her Havaianas. Peter walked into the kitchen at this moment. She immediately started with, “Oh, Mom, Dad, I nearly died the other day.” This was not an opening line we had ever heard before from either of our girls. She went on to tell us that she had been sitting on a beach, and there was a cliff behind her. Her attention was drawn to a tree clinging to the cliff-side, close to the top. (I don’t remember asking her which beach but somehow, perhaps ESP, I kind of knew the area where it was, and a friend was able to pinpoint the beach and tree for us later.) She went on to say that she got an urge to climb to the tree. It was mostly loose shale, and about half way up she felt that her flip-flops were making her ascent harder, so she decided to take them off and collect them on the way down. It was only when she reached the tree that she looked down for the first time. She said it made her scared, and she knew that the only way out of her situation was to keep climbing the cliff to a track above her. So much meaning in that too! Once safe she had taken a photo from the track. She had obviously thought a lot about the whole experience. She then printed it, and had written three sentences across the top on the part that is the white border around it. The sentences are:
Fear comes from looking back. Error comes from doubt. Keep moving forward.
Peter and I both knew that this was no ordinary moment. His initial response to the first sentence was that he always expected fear to arise from looking into what might happen next minute or further into the future. And he wasn’t altogether wrong on this. But both of us instantly saw how that could be the wrong direction to expect fear to come from. It is so clear that looking back into a time, when Elle still, lived pulls us deeper into sorrow and grief. And most certainly error can come from doubt. If one moves forward with full knowledge and understanding of what has gone on before, and commits to the movement, all should have a better chance of working out right. Nothing makes more sense to us today than the advice ‘to keep moving forward’ into our futures. I certainly recognise that the moments that slay me all happen as a consequence of looking or even glancing back. That doesn’t mean that I can’t control the moments I spend with Elle, and these can equally be in her and our future. Because I have this option I am not so deeply fearful when I choose to look back to a time when she was here with us, but generally I don’t allow myself to linger too long in that space. While Peter and I think that Elle wrote those sentences for her own benefit and not ours, we remain within the requirement of acausality. We both feel that something, perhaps her subconscious, motivated her to write them, and to create that incredible clear and totem pile, so that we wouldn’t and couldn’t miss the inherent meanings unless we were ‘blind and stupid’.
The synchronicity: while quite obvious, I will just lay it out for the sake of tidiness. Elle had died. We opened her car boot, and it and the interior of her car is incredibly clean. (The day before she died she had shopped for art equipment to give an afternoon workshop to children at Pikes on the day following her death. The fact that she had taken these couple of bags into Greg’s house from her car which, if left, would have made ‘the totem pile’ feel less personal to us, and equally, the fact of its cleanliness, made us all the more aware of what was left in the car.) Those are the two events: her death and the photograph. Also, the two events had no causal links, that is, neither event caused the other to happen, but when juxtaposed they exhibited more meaning in the sum of their parts than each event taken as separate.
The deeper meaning: I have already outlined much of the deeper meaning we took from this experience of synchronicity. But more than this it served to give purpose to my step as I ventured deeper and deeper into my faith. How can one give up on life and family, on beliefs, and a faith in the purpose of life, when you don’t feel completely abandoned in your grief? I can see that something was at work in Elle too, perhaps a preparation for what was on her horizon. There are many times I wish that if only things had worked out differently – all those ‘if only’s’ – but when I am at peace I know that something far bigger was at work in all our lives.
This is one of the stories of the incredible synchronicities that have occurred in our and my lifetime, both before and after Elle died, and not just for her immediate family. Who amongst you feel sure and strong enough to call this out as pure coincidence?
Elle’s picture, and if we needed more meaning still, the boat in the bay belongs to the ex-husband of Elle’s mentor on the island, and he died in the same year as Elle. This element translates as: if you aren’t taking sufficient notice perhaps this will deepen your understanding of the importance of this photo. It has its own inherent synchronicity.