Professor of Physics and Astronomy
A slightly different version of this paper is published in
Quest Magazine, May 1996
Synchronicity experiences, even if shrouded in mystery and separated from us by a chasm of time, usually hold extreme importance for us. Although the unreliable bridge of memory is our primary connection to them, they continue to shape our lives long after they occur. Let’s define Carl Jung’s much abused term of synchronicity by beginning with a first-person account of such an experience. This anonymous story, along with another one I discuss later, is taken from my recent book, Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making, which inspires this article. Both stories are in the words of the protagonists.
Values and Pearls
I recounted this story to a friend of mine. He believed that trolls were behind synchronistic events. He himself looked a bit like a troll, in fact.
My first lesson in value that I can remember came when I was about six or seven years old. I traded rings with a girl in my Sunday school class. Although mine was a genuine pearl ring in a 30-karat gold band, I didn’t much care for it. I much preferred my friend’s pretty shiny red ring (that I realize now was most likely from a 10-cent bubble gum machine.)
When we both got home, our parents were shocked and I remember the girl’s parents coming to the door, apologizing profusely, and the dramatic exchange of the appropriate rings took place. It was almost ceremonial. Obviously I had done something quite wrong. But I had no idea what it was since I had no conception of collective value at the time. All I knew was that hers was shiny red, and in my opinion much prettier than my dull white one with the thick gold band. This event had a huge impact on me. After this event I only wore the ring a very few times as a little girl, kept it in my jewelry box most of the time, and never thought much about it again.
As a young adult in my twenties, I was involved in a serious love relationship. It had reached a stagnant point where I knew that if things didn’t change, it wasn’t going to last. Another man arrived on the scene. He was foreign, quite exotic, and very attractive. I absolutely delighted in the excitement of being around him and started wondering if I should abandon my long-term relationship for an exciting fling.
One afternoon I was thinking about the coming evening and a possible date with this new person. I had left the evening open just in case something would arise. I started actively entertaining this possibility. I got out of my car, reached into my pocketbook for parking meter money, and pulled out the very pearl ring from my childhood. To this day I have no memory of how it got into my pocketbook. As I retrieved the ring, it was instantaneously clear to me that if I were to have this affair, I was going to once again trade my pearl for the flashy imitation. This time however, I had a very meaningful relationship to lose in the process. I knew somewhere deep inside that the benefits gained from sticking with my meaningful relationship (although not totally apparent to me then) were ultimately more valuable than possibly losing it to a whirlwind short-lived passion.
How did the ring get there? I have no idea. I must have gone to my parent’s apartment sometime before this event and brought back several items from my past-or then again, it may have been the trolls.
This lesson of seeing deeper value in life has been a continual theme for me. I am continually placed in situations where I have had to be very aware of the flash and glitter of appearances. It seems to require an inner self-reflection to discern the deeper meanings in experiences. Often in my life, I have learned about the deeper meanings from choosing the flashy red bubble gum rings and have been terribly disappointed. My experience of pulling out the pearl ring fifteen years later also had a profound message for me. I recognized at that moment of holding the ring in my hand that I was at a turning point and that I could no longer be naive about the choice I was making. By the way, I did choose the long-term relationship.
A further synchronistic item: Vic Mansfield built a computer program that uses a random number generator to chose a “random” paragraph from many thousands of possibilities in Paul Brunton’s book Inspiration and the Overself. The program is set up so that each time my computer is turned on a “randomly” selected paragraph is displayed on the screen. As I turned on the computer to complete the editing of my synchronicity story, the following paragraph was displayed:
The Sufi-Muhammedan sage-poet, Ibn al-Arabi:
O Pearl Divine!
While pearl that in a shell
Of dark mortality is made to dwell,
Alas, while common gems we prize and hoard
Thy inestimable worth is still ignored!
In her transformative synchronicity experience, the inner psychological state (the erotic dilemma) meaningfully correlates with the objective outer event (the found ring) without the inner state causing the outer or vice versa. Like Jung, I use cause in the conventional sense of one well-defined thing producing or effecting a change in another well-defined thing through exchange of energy or information. For example, high wind caused my apple tree to blow over, the news caused me great sorrow, or my anxiety caused me to forget his name. Clearly her psychological state and the finding of the ring were meaningfully related, but neither the psychological state caused the ring’s appearance nor the other way around. Jung called such meaningful and acausally related correlations between outer and inner events synchronistic.
Although the “troll theory” of synchronicity is offered tongue-in-cheek, it’s a typical causal explanation resorted to in our desperation to find an explanation for these unusual experiences. We imagine elfin entities moving things like rings about so that they have a meaningful relationship to our inner psychological state. The trolls are hidden causal agents. But this causal view, where one object acts directly upon another through some material or energic link, is incompatible with the acausality Jung believed was a hallmark of synchronicity. Being unconsciously fettered to causality we revolt against Jung’s claim that in synchronicity there is an acausal relationship of meaning linking the inner and outer events. Since there is no energic or material relationship between them, no causal connection, it seems like there is no relationship at all. Here synchronicity presents its first challenge to our normal worldview.
If, on the other hand, with Jung “we entertain the hypotheses that one and the same (transcendental) meaning might manifest itself simultaneously in the human psyche and in the arrangement of an external and independent event, we at once come into conflict with the conventional scientific and epistemological views.” Even if we resolve this conflict with these conventional views, we can easily succumb to the error of attributing a causal power to the meaning-to the idea that some nonmaterial principle or intelligence is causing our experience. We might, for example, believe the unconscious causes synchronicity experiences. Old beliefs do not die easily.
Notice that this synchronicity example does not involve any dreams. From a cursory study of synchronicity, one can easily be misled into believing that synchronicity always involves a relationship between a dream and an outer event. On the other hand, it is crucial to have an outer or objective event meaningfully correlate with an inner psychological state. No matter how stupendous the inner experience, if it is not acausally connected to an outer event it is not synchronicity.
In this ring example, the meaningful connection between inner psychological states and outer events was expressing a clear intent, a recognizable urging from the unconscious. A deep lesson about values was being learned through synchronicity on two levels: the obvious interpersonal level-in this case between lovers-and a lesson about properly valuing our relationship to the highest in us. Both lessons exemplify the archetype of value and both employ the symbolism of pearls. The Ibn al-Arabi poem that came up through the “random” selection process during the final editing raised the issue of value to a high level. The poem used the symbol of “Pearl Divine” for our highest self which gets associated with the body-“in a shell of dark mortality is made to dwell.” All too often we overvalue trinkets and “O Pearl Divine! . . . Thy inestimable worth is still ignored!”
To understand the critical role of meaning in synchronicity, we must understand more fully how Jung used the term and connected it to his pivotal notion of individuation. Maybe then we can appreciate why these experiences exert such a fascination for us so long after they occur and why they challenge some of our closely held beliefs about our relationship to the world.
II. Meaning and Individuation
The realm of the visible, of images, known contents, feelings, thoughts, and desires-what Jung calls the realm of consciousness-makes up only a small fraction of the total psyche. Consciousness is enveloped by a much larger invisible component-the unconscious. The conscious part of the psyche is like a tiny volcanic island heaved up from the ocean bottom and surrounded by a vast expanse of water, which, like the unconscious, occasionally threatens to destroy its own creation.
According to Jung, our psychological evolution is largely determined by the invisible component of the psyche-the unconscious. Yet the conscious part of the psyche has a critical role to play because the unconscious is often reacting to it. Although we have been largely consumed by our interest in visible ego consciousness, depth psychology has clearly shown that the dark, invisible aspect of the psyche-the unconscious-displays a profound wisdom in directing our evolution. Although by its very nature the unconscious cannot be known directly we can know it indirectly, through its observable effects upon consciousness. The interaction between the unconscious and consciousness is primarily one of unconscious compensation-what Jung understood as the self regulation of the psyche.
An Example of Unconscious Compensation
I’ll develop the idea of unconscious compensation using some personal case material. The tale revolves around shoes-feet and their accouterments are important to us Pisces.
Since Jung taught that important dreams are largely compensations and reactions to the conscious situation at the moment, it’s always necessary to appreciate the conscious background for a given dream. Furthermore, if we want to understand the dream images symbolically, we also must know the dreamer’s associations and relations to the dream images. Symbols, although rarely as obvious as in the following example, are the best possible expression of an unknown content, which seeks expression or revelation to consciousness. Their meaning is never fixed, but depends upon the detailed associations and history of the dreamer toward them. For truly archetypal dreams, personal associations are often missing or inadequate and then mythological and cultural amplification is necessary. However, for the present example, I only need to supply some historical background to show how the unconscious is applying its compensation, how it’s attempting to balance my conscious attitude, to regulate my development.
My graduate career in physics and astrophysics started out strongly at Cornell, but my soul cried out for other kinds of development. After several upheavals, I left graduate school in the middle of a Ph.D. dissertation. Then a furious immersion in various forms of psychology and a job in an experimental ward in a mental hospital heavily influenced by Jungian psychology plunged me deep into the unconscious. It was exhilarating excavation that nearly transformed me from a staff member to a patient in the hospital. My possession of the keys to the ward doors was often all that distinguished me from the patients. Eventually I returned to finish my Ph.D., but the road was not smooth. I was pulled in several ways at once and it was difficult restarting graduate work. I often felt out of place and undeserving of my generous fellowship. Things got so bad that one day when my graduate advisor was walking toward me in the hall, I ducked into the men’s room to avoid him. I didn’t want to admit that I had made so little progress since last seeing him. While lurking around in the men’s room waiting for my advisor to pass, I tried to decide whether my psyche or my graduate work was in worse shape. Things soon turned around and eventually I finished the Ph.D. in fine form. During my low point I bought a very fashionable pair of Italian shoes. They were ankle-high with a pointed toe, a slightly raised heel, and very shiny. Putting on these dressy boots made me feel like a macho Ph.D., not some inadequate neurotic ducking into the men’s room to avoid people.
Before the shoes had gotten very scuffed, I was hired in a tenure stream position at Colgate University. My research was moving along nicely, teaching was going very well, everyone seemed pleased with me, and even my meditation seemed to deepen. I thought with great satisfaction, “At this rate I’ll be president of the University in a few years!” During that time a particularly belligerent person called to hassle me, but I was in the shower. I knew this would be a difficult struggle, so I jumped out of the shower and jokingly prepared myself by putting on my “power boots.” I stood there naked, except for my shoes, and argued forcefully on the phone, while my wife held her sides laughing. Then the following dream occurred:
I was visiting a mental hospital and noticed several deeply disturbed people around the periphery of the room. I then began an animated conversation with a pig who stood upright on his hind legs and wore a stylish three-piece suit. I was amazed but it seemed important to humor him and carry on the discussion. He bragged about being a spiritual titan, having an IQ of 110, and being very popular with the ladies. I listened politely and examined him carefully. I noticed his impeccably tied necktie and the meticulous cut of his suit. My eyes followed his legs downward and I noticed to my great surprise that his cloven hooves were standing in my favorite boots!
I awoke laughing from this delightful dream and got the point immediately. It was the pinprick needed to burst my psychological inflation, my completely unrealistic assessment of my abilities. Well before this experience, I had learned the subjective interpretation of dreams where each element of the dream is seen as a projection or personification of our psychological structures at that moment. Each aspect of the dream symbolized-was the best possible expression of-an aspect of my personality. It was inescapable; this simple but powerful dream was applying a much needed corrective to my psychologically unbalanced condition. If my wife said, “You need a more realistic assessment of yourself. You are inflated-a pretentious pig,” you can imagine my response. At best I would have been resentful and defensive. However, the unconscious cornered me with this preposterous pig symbol expressing my unflattering psychological truth. As Jung says, “The more one-sided his conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear as an expression of the self-regulation of the psyche.” After that dream, interest fell away from what I then called my “pig boots.” It was impossible to wear them anymore.
Unconscious Compensation as the Foundation for Individuation
Jung often used a biological metaphor in describing unconscious compensation, saying it was the psychological equivalent of the body’s self-correcting tendency, like a fever or the swelling of an infected wound. However, it’s much more than a striving for psychological equilibrium. Merely striving for equilibrium would be a recipe for boredom and stagnation, not growth. Instead Jung found by examining long series of dreams that he could clearly discern an overall pattern, a purposive guidance, playing itself out in the life of the dreamer. The unconscious, through a series of specific compensations, like carefully directed rocket bursts, guides the person along a particular trajectory, unique to that person. Through symbolic understanding of our dreams, fantasies, and emotional responses to the inner and outer world, we discover this dynamic process and attempt to cooperate with it. In this way, that immense, not directly knowable part of the psyche-the unconscious-guides each person to a unique expression of wholeness, their unique identity, which is an expression of the divine ray within-the self.
Of course, not every compensation is a deflation as in the previous example. Unconscious compensation takes extremely varied forms. It can range from succoring a suffering ego to throwing new light on an old, recalcitrant psychological attitude. Its form is determined by both the needs of the moment and the long range purpose of the unconscious-the individuation process.
The archetype of the self is the intelligence expressing itself in the individuation process. Like every universal archetype it provides the psyche’s nodes of meaning and springs for action. Besides structuring our meaning and behavior, the archetypes account for the detailed structural similarities in worldwide myths and fairy tales. For Jung, the self is primarily the archetype of meaning and its meaning is usually infused with numinous feelings. Consciously actualizing and expressing the self’s intent in life is the process of individuation-our highest good.
The personal realization that there is an intelligence superior to our ego and our personal will that works through unconscious compensation to guide our development is one of the greatest joys of inner development. It’s the psychological equivalent of the Copernican Revolution. The self replaces the ego as the center of life. In this psychological revolution we do not look through Galileo’s telescope to see the phases of Venus or the moons of Jupiter. Instead we learn the symbolic method and peer into the depths of our own soul and there discover the traces of the self, its urgings, hints, and sometimes imperious decrees. What a relief and inspiration to know we are guided by a wisdom greater than our ego’s drive for self-aggrandizement. Each time we contact that guidance, that self as the archetype of meaning, we are renewed and inspired and make progress toward our unique wholeness. Though many unconscious compensations thwart our personal desires, each time we directly experience that process our belief in the meaning and purpose of life is strengthened. In this way psychological development moves toward religious transformation.
Considering the archetype of the self as a purposive intelligence or meaning, as expressing itself in an unfolding “vision” of what we are meant to be, is a truly revolutionary idea. Only when we seek to make this process conscious and intentionally attempt to actualize this vision of our potential wholeness, to bring it into concrete reality, does it truly become the individuation process.
For Jung, activating and implementing the individuation process is the highest goal in life. The ego must develop a dialogue with that primordial wisdom or meaning, that ray of divinity within us, the self, and consciously realize its vision of wholeness in our everyday activities. This is the alchemical opus, the transformation of the base metal of our unrefined psyche into spiritual gold, a process honored in worldwide myths. The two case studies presented here dramatically illustrate episodes in this process.
Of course, meaning is a broad term and usually has a very personal component. We can endure almost any kind of suffering and hardship if we can grasp its meaning, if we can somehow connect the pain with some deeper significance. On the other hand, an outwardly comfortable life can be unendurable misery without an adequate sense of meaning. For Jung, meaning, individuation, and synchronicity are most intimately related.
It is important to stress that the meaning expressing itself in the individuation process is not a construction or an invention of our ego, our empirical personality. Yes, this meaning has a personal aspect because it’s intimately connected to our ego and of the utmost personal significance. But the meaning expressing the self, the transpersonal intelligence manifesting through unconscious compensation, is not the work of the ego. The ego cannot compensate itself. The ego is in need of the compensatory meaning, not the source of it. The ego suffers the intrusion of the self’s meaning, the self’s demands. It is true that the particular meaning in an unconscious compensation is finely tuned to our very personal development and we as fallible, striving individuals must concretely implement this meaning in our daily lives. It’s also true that, like any other revelation of the unconscious, our ego may pervert or distort the meaning of the unconscious compensation. Nevertheless, the meaning itself is neither our personal production nor our wish-fulfillment. We can no more consider the meaning to be a function of the ego’s desires or demands than we can consider the earth to be the center of the universe. As Jung says, “For you only feel yourself on the right road when the conflicts of duty seem to have resolved themselves, and you have become the victim of a decision made over your head or in defiance of the heart. From this we can see the numinous power of the self, which can hardly be experienced in any other way. For this reason the experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego.“
Let’s see how these ideas are embodied in another anonymous example.
Healing Old Wounds
This happened twenty-one years ago, four weeks after the birth of my first son. I was a twenty-nine-year old graduate student living in an idyllic cottage on Cayuga Lake. My wife and I were luxuriating in being parents, our healthy new son was greedily nursing, and the fall leaves swirled around us with vibrant colors.
In two successive nights I had very similar dreams of my father. I had never dreamed of my alcoholic father in my life, nor have I since. He left me as an infant and had almost no contact with me. My mother lovingly raised me entirely by herself and remarried when I was twenty-one. In my mother’s eyes he was justifiably evil incarnate. Occasionally when she was at the height of her anger because of some bad behavior of mine she would say, “You’re just like your father!” This was the nuclear weapon of curses.
Both these vivid dreams portrayed my father in a very favorable light. In the dreams he told me that he was a sensitive and poetic person who found it impossible to live with my headstrong, aggressive mother. He claimed that it really was not his fault that he left. The two successive dreams seemed very peculiar to me, especially since they were so alike. I attributed them to my becoming a father, but they were still mysterious.
The day after the second dream, my father’s brother called me on the telephone; a real shock, since I had nothing to do with anyone in my father’s family and had no contact with them for fifteen years. He told me my father was dying in a Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington, DC and that I should go and visit him. I immediately blurted out, “Would he come and see me if I were dying?” I told my uncle I had no interest in seeing him now after all these years.
I hung up the phone. Rage, bitterness, and self-pity enveloped me like live steam. Where was he when I needed him? How come I had to take my mother’s brother to the father and son banquet when I got my letter in high school football? How come my most vivid early memory of him was his stumbling into my mother’s apartment and vomiting explosively all over the walls in the bathroom? Ferocious fights between my father and mother, face scratching, me standing there in helpless fear saying, “Mommy, I’ll get you my hammer to hit him . . . “-all this washed over me. That rotten bastard! No, he made me a bastard! He cheated me of a normal childhood. He would not even pay the $5.00 per week of child support awarded by the divorce court. Maybe the half-brother I had never met, sired while he was married to my mother, would visit him in the hospital. How embarrassing it was to be investigated by welfare workers to see if my mother and I were eligible for aid. After all those years of telling people my father died in World War II, that stupid bum writes my high school and asks how I am discharging my military obligation. He never even sent me a Christmas card! Why did he screw me up like that? Let the son-of-a-bitch die by himself as he deserves!
I wandered around all that beautiful fall day with hot tears streaming down my face, alternating between bitterness and sadness. Gradually I became torn about whether I should see him after all. I started thinking how good it would be to tell him he was a grandfather. I didn’t know what to do. The battle raged. I had been reading some Jung and experimenting with the I Ching. I consulted it in desperation. The hexagram “Gathering” came up. Part of the interpretation reads, “The family gathers about the father as its head.” I was dumbfounded! That hexagram, plus the dreams, decided it for me. I realized there was something bigger operating than just my fury and self-pity. We all piled into my little car and sorrowfully drove to Washington, DC.
The intensive care nurse asked me if this man was my father. I confessed, with embarrassment, “I don’t know.” In fact, that ashen gray man with tubes running into his head was my father. I told him who I was and that he was a grandfather. He said, “When I get better I’ll make it up to you.” He was always making alcoholic promises he could never keep right to the end. I wept for him, for me, for my mother, for the family that never was. I wiped blood oozing from his mouth. I felt him suffer and watched my bitterness and self-pity dissolve in sadness for us all. I said a tearful good-bye and never saw him again, since he died in a few days. Nor did I ever again feel that bitterness and anger toward him. Yet those old wounds still bleed a little.
The night after that hospital visit I dreamed of a beautiful old black car from the nineteen-thirties carrying me up a stream bed behind my maternal grandfather’s house. I remember the house from living there in my infancy. Although I could make no sense of this short dream, I felt very comforted by it. I always remembered the feeling of it and wondered what it meant. Twenty years later, among the half-a-dozen pictures containing my father, I saw that beautiful black car. In my childhood I had seen that picture a few times. (See the photograph.) My father stood in front of it with his left foot on the running board and me cradled in his arm. That handsome young man seemed to beam with pride and affection for me-and perhaps some anxiety about his looming responsibilities. That is the only picture I have of me and my father.
What does it all mean? Certainly my bitterness about my father needed to be overcome, both for my sake and that of my family. Although my life has been very good, there was a hard knot of rage, hatred, and shame that was poisoning me. It had to be dissolved.
There is another dimension. Through the genuine need for self-reliance and as a defense against my pain and vulnerability I had built some real armor around me. Through time the wounds of my childhood had largely healed, but at the expense of a large build up of hard scar tissue, a sort of encasing shell. The wounds were reopened and the armor was cracked by directly experiencing my loss and my father’s suffering. Thanks to the preparation of the dreams and the urging of the I Ching, the wounds could heal more thoroughly with less hard scar tissue. The curious thing about armor is that it keeps the outside world from harming you, but it also prevents you from expressing much tenderness or from letting the world in. All in all, it’s a heavy burden to carry around.
Of course, the experience made me question my relationship to the world. What in me “knew” my father was dying? What knew that my encrusted bitterness needed softening through those extraordinary dreams of my father? How can coins “randomly” thrown connect so meaningfully to my psychological state then? I only have partial answers to these questions, but they will not go away.
Later, when I spoke to my teacher, Anthony, about this experience, he only said, “Unless we can learn to forgive others, we’ll never forgive ourselves.” Perhaps that is the best lesson.
These two examples show that synchronicity experiences always pivot around some critical meaning closely associated with the person’s individuation at that moment. They are often preceded by a period of intense emotionality that culminates in a revelation of meaning critical to the person’s individuation. Both “Values and Pearls,” and “Healing Old Wounds” are clear milestones, focal points for the process of individuation. Without connecting these experiences with the details of soul-making, the events would only be anomalous experiences-freaks of nature. Instead they are revelations of the self in both the inner and outer world, revelations seeking to transform us.
III. Challenges and Implications of Synchronicity
Here I’ll briefly discuss the challenges to our conventional worldview presented by synchronicity. I also discuss some implications growing out of these memorable events.
Spacetime transcendence: Many synchronicity experiences reveal knowledge that defies our common sense notions of space and time. As one small example, consider “Healing Old Wounds.” There the man had never dreamed of his absent father in his entire life and just before hearing about his father’s fatal sickness he had two powerful dreams depicting him in a favorable light. Of course, we can argue that it was mere coincidence, in part explainable by his just becoming a father. However, his individuation demanded that the knot of anger, rage, and bitterness toward his father be softened. It seems as if the self can obtain information transcending the usual limits of spacetime, to contact an “absolute knowledge,” as Jung calls it, which “knows” of his father’s impending death and that the son’s development demands rapprochement with his alcoholic father. I freely admit that we need more than this one small example to make a convincing case for spacetime transcendence, but that can be done. Then we are faced with the considerable challenge of understanding this elasticity of spacetime.
Causality: Surely one of the greatest challenges of synchronicity is its acausal nature. Since we are so chained to the causality of Newtonian or classical physics, it is nearly impossible for us to believe that inner and outer events might relate noncausally. An acausal relation seems like no relation at all. For example, if the father’s dying did not cause the two dreams about him then we wrongly believe that they were a mere coincidence. Or, even if we accept the reality of a synchronistic connection between inner and outer events, because of our unconscious servitude to causality, we automatically fall back on a causal explanation, on either trolls or some nonmaterial substitute.
Implied Unity of Psyche and Matter: An even greater obstacle than our excessive commitment to causality is the deeply held belief in the split between mind and matter. We usually believe that the inner world of feeling, imagination, ecstasy, and longing is fundamentally different from the impersonal material world guided by mechanistic laws, yet the meaningful connections between the subjective and objective worlds in synchronicity imply a unity between psyche and matter. This is difficult to accept since most of us, either consciously or unconsciously, are Cartesian dualists and believe mind is a self-contained and autonomous mental principle that gazes out upon a radically different material world. This view has in it the seeds of the alienation and isolation of the subject from the larger material world, an alienation from nature keenly felt in our time. What is more, such a view makes it impossible to understand an acausal connection of meaning between the mind and the material world, how synchronicity implies a unity of psyche and matter. Although Cartesian dualism is a familiar target for much modern criticism, as long as it holds us in its enchanted grip we are denied an understanding of synchronicity.
The spacetime transcendent nature of synchronicity along with its acausality and implied unity between mind and matter challenge our worldview in part because they seem to violate our “common sense” ideas about the world, ideas deeply influenced by classical physics, the physics of Descartes and Newton. However, as I show in some detail in my book, our modern notions of relativistic spacetime and the deep interconnectedness of the noncausal quantum world make assimilating these challenges much easier. It is not that modern physics in any way proves the validity of synchronicity, but it does provide a much more congenial framework for understanding it. Rather than review that, I’ll briefly discuss my recent appreciation of what seems like the greatest challenge of synchronicity.
No doubt the meaning in a synchronicity experience relates intimately to our individuation. But can we be more explicit and precise about the kind of meaning in these memorable experiences? In reviewing the fourteen previously unpublished examples of synchronicity accounts in my book and those collected since writing it, one thing became clear. The most dramatic synchronicity experiences always come out of our wounds, out of our lifelong vulnerability and weakness. Where do we always fall into problems, suffering, and frustration? Where are we forever found wanting, most unadapted, in most pain? Reflection shows that these wounds are the matrix, the seedbed, out of which our most profound psychological and spiritual insights grow. The most significant transformations come from these throbbing, unhealable wounds. This is hardly surprising since where our ego is strong, where we are capable and successful, is not where the higher can break into our life. Instead our lowliness, shame, incompetence, vulnerability, and weakness-our unhealable afflictions-are the doorway to our soul and its instruction.
To get a glimpse of how our wounds can be the doorway to soul, consider the two synchronicity examples given above. Out of the frustration and boredom of a stagnant love relationship and even more intensely out of the lifelong struggle of appreciating things of lasting value rather than flashy trinkets came “Values and Pearls.” Even more directly, out of the deep wound of abandonment, rage, and bitterness came the balm of forgiveness though the synchronicity experience in “Healing old Wounds.”
I suggest that the greatest challenge presented by synchronicity is neither its spacetime transcendent nature nor its acuasality nor its implication of unity. Instead, it asks us to reevaluate affliction and appreciate that our greatest healing often springs from our deepest wounds.
1. Victor Mansfield, Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making (Open Court Publishing, Chicago) October 1995.
2. C. G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 482.
3. Jung, Op. Cit., p. 253.
4. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, Collected Works Vol. 14, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 546.