You think of a long-lost friend, and she gets in touch with you that very night.
Glancing at the clock over the course of a few days, you continually get repeating numbers—11:11, 5:55, 2:22.
You take a seat in a coffeeshop, and the conversation at the next table oddly, unbelievably, but precisely parallels your line of thought.
All these are examples of synchronicity, a term coined by Carl Jung a century ago to describe the coincidence of outer and inner events that are linked by meaning, rather than linear causation. Synchronous events arise in a temporal dance marked by a “falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity” (Jung again). They reveal hidden patterns, weaving together events in a web of meaning that packs a gut punch of recognition.
Messages From the Universe
Synchronicity has woven its threads through my life, patterning it with significance and sometimes downright spooky meanings: the dozens of tiny rainbows that greeted me as I woke my first morning on the Tibetan Plateau; the ex-lover who met and almost immediately married my partner’s ex-lover, the dream that directed me to just the right graduate school.
On a more mundane level, I frequently get messages from the universe that are astonishingly, sometimes comically, apropos. Contemplating a conversation with my partner, I see a New York Times headline proclaiming: “Palestinians Call Kerry’s Formula for Talks Insufficient.” Or, driving to work one morning, thinking of leaving that relationship, I read the following on billboards and bus placards, all in a row:
What’s the Real Cost?
The Bitter End
See Where It Takes You
Explore Your Next Chapter
Ask for a Banquet!
It took me a while longer, but I finally got the message.
Here’s an example of synchronicity from early in my career as a therapist. I’m working with a client on a piece of heart-wrenching trauma. She’s on the verge of dissociation, and I’m feeling less than confident on how to proceed.
Synchronicity is an ever-present reality for those who have eyes to see.—Carl Jung
Cause and effect don’t play a role in any of these stories. My client’s shallow breathing didn’t cause the EMTs to manifest on the doorstep, but somehow there they were, delivering just the right symbolic message at just the right time—dressed in just the right costume, to boot. Synchronicity is this kind of magic: events arising in the same moment as an expression of the same content. These are not random happenings, but expressions of a deeper underlying order.
Synchronicity and Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca’s propensity for unearthing unconscious contents from the psyche makes it a prime trigger for synchronicities. In ceremony, understandings, emotions and visions arise in an overwhelming flood of connectivity. We see and feel everything, all at once—so much that it’s hard to remember.
Ceremony itself can be a mass of synchronicities and connections; thoughts and images popping up as new linkages are forged. And sometimes, the gates open in the days and weeks afterwards, as your life seems transformed, synchronicity after synchronicity arising everywhere around you, things falling together and flowing together.
For many people, ayahuasca provides the most powerful direct experience of the numinous in their lives.
These magical experiences may not last long, but they have great value nonetheless. Synchronicity offers a kind of corrective experience for the ego, broadening your world view as it opens you to a greater sense of wholeness. It’s a signal from the universe that you’re on track, a kind of everyday magic affirming you’re in a state of flow. That felt connection with the universe is important for all of us, both individually and collectively. Synchronicity is one way of sensing psyche embedded in the world. It makes life more magical, more interesting, and much, much more fun.
The Shadow of Synchronicity
Like everything, this magic has its dark side. A run of synchronous experiences can generate a sense of self-importance, inflating one’s identity, as in: “I’m special; this is happening to me” (not you, is the implication). The most intense version of this is a form of mania, when you’re on a roll, perfectly surfing the giant waves breaking all around—to the complete exclusion of others.
In a kind of manic state fed by synchronicity, you can ignore the feedback from the universe that’s saying Slow Down, or Stop. You’re simply blind to it. When the energy is this intense, it’s impossible for others to break through the grandiosity and connect. An inflated consciousness is “hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with,” noted Jung, adding that this state inevitably leads to self-destruction.
Synchronicities are not to be grasped and reified, but held lightly, with an open palm.
On a slightly less delusional level, here’s a different problem: enthralled by synchronicity, we can become captivated by the delusion that everything is meaningful. Projecting meaning onto everything to reify our self-image, we misuse the power generated by synchronous experiences. When everything is interconnected, everything has equal meaning, and all our actions must fit into this elaborate, self-constructed landscape—it’s just plain exhausting. There’s no freedom to be found in this kind of obsessive and self-deluding prison. Far better just to be open and receive. Synchronicities are not to be grasped and reified, but held lightly, with an open palm.
The Magic of Synchronicity
In modern society, far from believing everything is meaningful, we swing towards the opposite pole, dismissing synchronicities as “coincidences” and the very suggestion of them as “superstition.” From a rational, left-brain perspective, it’s pure making-it-up. Or else it’s confirmation bias, the tendency to notice evidence that supports subconsciously selected patterns, and ignore other equally random pieces of information. “Synchronism is the prejudice of the East; causality is the modern prejudice of the West,” noted Jung, who drew on ancient Eastern traditions like the 2800-year-old Chinese I Ching in developing his concept of synchronicity.
Left-brain objections aside, opening to the power of synchronicity offers us much-needed food for the soul. Following the thread of meaning is what makes human life worth living— Jung knew this, and sought this out. We desperately need more of this kind of magic in our lives.
Attention to dreams, symbols, and synchronicities can open the door to a sense of belonging in the world and knowing our place in it, as well as to communication with larger, unseen forces. Ayahuasca illuminates this territory, for some—indeed, many—providing the most powerful direct experience of the numinous in their lives. I feel this is a huge part of the draw to ceremony.
The Shamanic Worldview
Synchronicity opens a magic door into an intelligent universe that communicates with and responds to us. The view that nature is intelligent and endlessly creative also happens to be the worldview of shamanism. Again, ayahuasca opens this door for many. It’s not that the world suddenly become infused with intelligence; rather, we begin to perceive differently, realizing that it’s been that way all along.
Synchronicity signals we’ve stepped out of ordinary time and into the magical consciousness of transformative kairos.
From an integration perspective, synchronicity offers a channel through which the magic can keep going, a way to practice, hone, and refine our awareness in everyday life. Intuitive practices based on synchronicity (astrology, Tarot, the I Ching, dreamwork) offer ways to continue expanding our understanding, deconstructing our old world view and offering a more spacious and satisfying one. For people trapped in a solidly and solely material, square-edged universe, synchronicity offers an element of magic, a missing spark. The possibility of intelligent two-way communication with the universe can be mind-blowing.
Inner and outer worlds unite in synchronous moments, the line between the two blurring with thrilling abandon. From a shamanic perspective, it’s a sign of the universe at work. Repeated synchronicities popping up in one’s life are considered to signal alignment, a state of being in the flow, along with the message to pay attention ever more deeply to the direction life is flowing.
Synchronicity is life itself showing us what we need to know, in inexplicable yet somehow deeply meaningful ways. Walking the path of patterns, guided by the emergence of meaning, we begin to understand how psyche and world interweave.
Ways to Play
So how do you evoke this magical energy? Synchronicity can’t be pushed or forced, but it can be invited. Turn on your curiosity and be on the alert for signals, which often show up in symbolic form. Bring to mind something you want more information on, ask, and notice what arises next.
Your biggest obstacle is probably going to be doubt, as in “Am I just making this up?” Be willing to suspend your disbelief, just a for a while, and play the “what-if” game: What if this song I just overheard meant something? What if that movie had a message for me? What might the connection be?
As with intuition, you need to dial down the volume on self-criticism and shift into the potential for trust. Play with what your intellect doesn’t know, but your sixth sense just might. Watch; listen; suspend analysis and judgment for a time, and just receive. Your ability will become increasingly refined with practice, as the channels open wider and the messages get more complex and interesting. As with dreams, the simple act of paying attention invites more to arise.
How will you know when it does? Synchronicity evokes a spooky shiver, a frisson of delight tinged with awe that signals we’ve stepped out of ordinary time and into the magical consciousness of transformative time, kairos. It’s that “cubic centimeter of chance” that Casteneda’s Don Juan spoke of: “All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of change that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time.” The trick is being ready to receive it.
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