What Synchronicity Means to Me in Everyday Life
Synchronicity: those mysterious moments when inner and outer worlds collide. Do they prove there's some sort of purpose at work in the universe? I'm not saying that (but I'm not not saying it either). In my personal experience, an eye towards synchronicities can have a profound effect on well-being.
Before you get the wrong impression about me, I’d like to emphasize I am fairly new to Taoism and the Western philosophies which relate to it such as Carl Jung’s teachings on synchronicity. So I hesitate to speak dogmatically about these terms and would rather direct you to the experts such as Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. For a video introduction to some of these ideas, you can watch this 1993 interview with her on the Thinking Allowed program.
Open to Synchronicity
For me personally, opening up to a lifestyle which embraces synchronicity is not about incorporating any particular prayer, mantra, or ritual into my daily routine. Rather, I regularly concentrate on “zooming out” of my immediate wants, fears, decisions, obligations, etc. and focus instead on an expectation of having an experience.
Understand that this isn’t about “affirmations” or “name it and claim it” or any other school of so-called positive thinking. I’m pretty allergic to teachings which veer uncomfortably into cult-adjacent territories. (And I have real experience with cults!)
In general, I’m most comfortable with an “apophatic” spirituality—aka letting go and emptying one’s self of the active pursuit of any particular goal or ideal. It’s about allowing the dawn of an enlightening and beneficial future appear to you in the fullness of time. Or to use another metaphor, you’re in a boat, but you’re not really paddling. You’re just letting the stream take you where it will. You might have to do some prep work ahead of time to find the stream, find a boat, and get in the boat…but from then on out, it’s largely out of your hands.
(This is one reason I love going on long walks and traveling whether locally or farther afield. It increases my “experience surface area” — aka the likelihood I’ll experience a synchronicity.)
Let’s dive a bit into this concept called “synchronistic events” or “synchronicities”. They are, according to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli,
…corrections to chance fluctuations by meaningful and purposeful coincidences of causally unconnected events.
Or in less flowery language, synchronicities are the things which happen to you that—in your own mind—start to rise above mere random chance and become “imbued” with some sort of meaning. You could say that life suddenly takes on a narrative form.
Some basic but obvious examples of things which happen to me:
- I walk by my favorite café and discover it’s closed at that particular time. Bummer! But rather than focus on the setback of not being able to go to the café, I instead keep walking along open to the possibility of a new experience. Suddenly I discover there’s a new outdoor popup restaurant in a cool location not far from where I’d been with an amazing view. I sit down at the perfect table with the perfect view. Synchronicity at work.
- A contract I’ve worked on for quite some time prepares to wind down, leaving a looming gap in my schedule (and my cash flow). Rather than panic or frantically dig around for gainful employment, I open myself up to the cosmos. Suddenly I find myself chatting with a past acquaintance and discover they know someone who’s just started looking for a freelancer to join their project. Turns out I won’t really have a gap after all. Synchronicity at work.
- I intend on driving to a particular destination, but I miss the exit I meant to take off the freeway. Rather than grumble and figure out the fastest way to circle back around, I decide to head off to another town entirely. I end up finding a really awesome area to explore, or perhaps a new retail outlet that’s even more relevant to what I was looking for. And then there’s the gorgeous sunset I only got to see because I happened to find that particular road on that particular hillside. A whole slew of experiences I would have missed out on if I’d taken the exit I’d originally planned. Synchronicity at work.
- Or how about those little “coincidences” which happen on a regular basis…like I’m thinking of somebody out of the blue, so I reach out to them and find out they’d just been going through some challenging times which only now I can relate to. Or some music runs through my head from an artist I’d lost track of some years ago, so I look them up and find out they’d released a brand new album on that very day. (True story!) Or I comment on an announcement of a cool new piece of technology, and when I investigate it a little further I find out one of the people who worked on it was someone I knew well over a decade ago and always wished I’d kept in touch with.
Of course I fully understand that all these types of events some people might simply label “luck”, or “good fortune”, or just a few random-yet-subjectively-positive occurrences in a sea of mostly mediocre events or even awful circumstances. Life’s a bitch and then you die, a pessimist might say.
Apple TV+’s recent animated feature Luck showcases a character who seems wildly unlucky. Every single thing which seems to happen to them day-in, day-out, is a disaster in the making. Do some people really feel like that? Like they’re cursed? Maybe!
I haven’t always felt lucky. In fact, there were times when I genuinely felt unsafe just being alive. However, as I continue to seek out this spiritual path I’ve recently come to understand as the Tao (aka the ongoing flow of “synchronicity”), the more I believe this is a real texture of reality. The more awareness I gain of synchronistic events, the more it solidifies into an regular facet of life.
The Skill of Mindful Observation
I’ve written before about mindfulness, and in particular the book Mindsight by Dr. Siegel. Learning the skill of mindful observation and how it can transform the neural wiring of our brains truly changed my life. It’s a skill you can apply at any time to gain deeper access to your inner life.
Try this: the next time you go outside, stop focusing entirely on your destination, and focus every single moment on the journey. (Yes I know, what a cliché! Geez! But…like, there’s totally truth in it!) Observe: What is the color of the sky? What patterns do you see in the path beneath your feet? What is the color of that person’s hat? What unique sounds do you hear? What is the feeling of the vibration within your inner ear as you step with your left foot, then your right foot, then your left? Or perhaps you’re using crutches, or are in a wheelchair. How does it feel to grip the handrim? What is the sensation of resistance as your path heads slightly upward vs. sloping downward?
I sometimes overhear conversations people are having at a coffee shop, or walking along the street, etc., and many times it’s all about personal anecdotes. Nothing wrong with that per se, but you rarely hear someone engage in conversation like “I heard the most remarkable birdsong the other day” or “the sensation of carbonated bubbles on my tongue is really something!” I’ve actually grown to find myself annoyed at movies or TV shows which are primarily centered entirely around “dialog”—aka every single aspect of the character or plot development is related to conversations between two or more actors. I wish I could watch more onscreen stories where individual humans are gaining insight or pleasure simply from existing in a particular environment and experiencing it. (Hard to convey on-camera? Yes! But that’s no excuse. And expert filmmakers get this right.)
Why are we so shut off from feeling, from sensation, from emotion, from awareness? Why are we so often embarrassed even to talk about it? Have you ever stopped to consider the absolute marvel that is the perception of reality? How is it that we can even contemplate the smell of a rose, or the sting of a bee? Yes, even pain can sometimes be subsumed into a larger experience which overall is not unpleasant. I’ve sometimes noticed that if I actually lean into a physical hurt (admittedly one that’s not too gut-wrenching) instead of trying to ignore it, fearing it, or dwelling solely on its unpleasantness, it may slowly dissipate. Our interpretation of what is happening to us in any given moment is far more under our direct control than we realize.
Our emotional states, the ebbs and flows of feeling and sensation and comfort and distress and anger and exuberance, can be a source of tremendous strength and guidance. I was raised in a culture (conservative Christian evangelicalism) which had a dysfunctional and sometimes horrific relationship with emotions. Pair that with a superficial reading of Spock in Star Trek and other “stoic” figures in pop culture, and you end up with a warped conception of emotional maturity. That is, you must “master” your emotions so they don’t betray you and so you won’t “give into temptation” and be led astray.
Over a long, hard, difficult, and sometimes agonizing process spanning many years, I have learned to become far more accepting and trusting of my emotions. I don’t try to suppress them, fear them, or casually dismiss them. I examine them. I turn them over, like diamonds in the rough, gazing upon the beauty within.
Examining Emotional States
I might say to myself: I’m feeling anxious today. But why am I feeling anxious today? Contrary to popular belief, that’s not an invitation to examine your schedule or ruminate on some immediate annoyances. The why is always deep within yourself, within your body, within your soul. Maybe something in your schedule is interfering with a pursuit you truly value, and the fact the pursuit you truly value isn’t happening because of that interference is causing a general feeling of being ill at ease. Or maybe something somebody said to you in that meeting was triggering because of a reason which has literally nothing to do with that person or the thing they said and everything to do with a somewhat analogous event which happened to you 26 years ago and you never quite got over.
I’m not saying you should be constantly examining your unconscious thought patterns and fragmented memories of past events. Too much self-focus can turn into a repeating cycle of unhelpful rumination. Rather, you can learn how to become a detective in the events of your own life. You can conduct an “objective” investigation and discover insights about how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it and what it might prompt in you to change how you perceive the world.
To bring this back to synchronicities, I think Step #1 of opening up your awareness of the Tao is to create space for “wandering” in your daily schedule, and to use those times to zero in on the environment around you in the most minute details. If you’re always focused on “this appointment” and “that meeting” and “this obligation” and “that responsibility”…and then you’re super exhausted so you use your downtime to watch TV or engage in idle chit-chat with friends or randos on the internet or whatever…well, I’m afraid it’s literally keeping your brain from zooming out of frenetic activities and instead contemplating the nature of reality. (Note: I’m certainly not guilt-tripping you into watching less TV! Nothing wrong with that! I’m just highlighting the easy patterns we tend to fall into and the value of sometimes short-circuiting those patterns in the pursuit of greater mental health.)
The Story of Every Day
In closing, I increasingly find myself having days where all of the various “disconnected” events and little choices I make along the way somehow combine into a larger tapestry which feels cohesive and life-affirming. To someone else though, if I described all of these events and choices and how they all seem to flow from one to the next in an organized fashion, they might not recognize any pattern at all! I’m just making it all up. Any truly obvious connections could just be chalked up to “dumb luck”. The universe is indeed random (perhaps in a deterministic way, but there’s no way for us to know what that is). I’m fooling myself if I perceive any meaning at all in any events.
But the whole point about synchronicities is that they’re meaningful to YOU, not necessarily meaningful to anyone else. And that’s perfectly fine! It’s all about connecting your inner world with the outer. Your synchronicities aren’t someone else’s, and neither are their synchronicities yours. (But in those special moments when two or more people’s worlds collide, it’s very exciting stuff. Many books have been written or movies made about this very subject!)
So to be clear, I’m not advocating for “divination” or “prophecy” or any other sort of guru-led practice showing you either a past or future synchronicity. Nor am I encouraging people to become superstitious and “find meaning” around every bush. No, your clock saying 6:54 this morning when you woke up doesn’t suddenly mean a $654 check will arrive in the mail. No, that’s not Jesus suddenly manifesting in your latte crema.
You can’t force meaning on a whim. The perception of synchronistic events will naturally arise within you if and when they are meant to. It’s just part of the fabric of life—if you choose to see it.
Some days I forget to see it. Other days I desperately look and find nothing. Sad days. Tired days. Frustrating days.
But with greater and greater frequency, I do have a good day. I catch a glimpse of the Tao. I feel its energy surrounding me. Synchronicities occur. My life has a sense of purpose. Nothing is “wrong” with me. I’m where I need to be, when I need to be there. I am free to become who I was born to be. And there’s no better feeling in the whole wide world.
Photo credit: Osman Rana on Unsplash