It’s an age old question: Is life nothing more than a series of random events? Or is there a delicate underlying order that connects us with events, people, and ideas? Are the things we often consider mere coincidence really earmarks of this subterranean framework, pointing us in the direction we need to go?
Psychologist Carl Jung believed that life was a reflection of a deeper order, something he called synchronicity. At one point or another, we’ve all experienced it, and probably more often than we realize. You find yourself thinking about changing careers, and you sit next to someone on an airplane who has done just that and offers you all sorts of advice. You’re feeling badly about an argument with your partner and you open a magazine to an article about ways to repair relationships. You’ve been cooped up in the house with whiny toddlers and are longing for an escape when a friend calls you unexpectedly and offers to babysit so you can go out.
I’m most often aware of synchronicity in hindsight, looking back on things that have happened in my life and realizing they were “meant to be.” Back in 1992, finding myself relieved of some family obligations that had been holding me down for years, I had been wishing for more opportunities to work in music. One afternoon I’m preparing to fry chicken in my electric skillet, so I spread some newspaper on the kitchen counter to absorb the spatters (a trick I learned from my grandmother who fried a lot of chicken when I was growing up). The section of the paper I “happened” to open was the classifieds, and my gaze “happened" to land on an ad for a piano accompanist.
That job changed my life - because of it, I met people who would impact me and my life in more ways that I can count. Literally, nearly everything I do now, every friend I have, even my dogs, have come as a result of that job and those people.
A lucky coincidence?
I really don’t think so.
Since then, I’ve tried to become more aware of those meaningful coincidences in life. They can be easy to miss, even though in retrospect it seems as if they’ve struck you like a thunderbolt. A few years after I started my accompanying job, I was still estranged from my father, still consumed by anger, but beginning to feel the first stirrings toward forgiveness. A chance conversation with a co-worker whose mother had died suddenly was the spark that moved me to contact my father after several years of non-communication.
The principle of synchronicity applies to creative work as well, particularly writing. In her new book (A Writer’s Guide to Persistence) Jordan Rosenfeld writes: “Synchronicity is the way the muse speaks to you - it’s one part your subconscious mind making connections that your conscious mind misses, thus urging you toward opportunities, and another part the language of patterns, the quantum physics of creativity. Synchronicity requires you to be open and present. You must look for it. You must not write things off as accidental."
The ability to take notice of those kinds of synchronous events requires the ability to sense when something is more than just a happenstance occurrence. It requires focus and attention to the details of life, to looking up and around and not just down at the screen in front of you. It requires really listening to the voices of friends and mentors in whose words and advice you may find the inspiration you don’t always even realize you’re seeking. It requires time and patience to take hold in your heart and spirit.
This is difficult for me. I’ve spent my life among practical, logical people, who dwell in the land of making and doing rather than the land of sensing and being. Taking up residence in that sensory realm means I have to separation from my normal world and spend quality time with just myself - and not the me who is busy ticking off her “to-do” list, but the me who writes in her journal, loses herself in a good book, or plays the piano. The me who sits quietly watching the birds at the feeder. The me who really hears the music playing on the stereo. The me who really hears voices in conversation around me.
So as spring finally begins to take hold here in Michigan, I find myself pondering ways to do this, to invigorate my senses and awareness and bring the fruits of that to my writing.
“We live in a world of beautiful patterns and unexplainable beauty,” Rosenfeld writes. "Our lives are like novels - we have such a short time to explore, discover, overcome obstacles, fight antagonists, make allies, and transform or discover our stories. What you do in your life can be empty and robotic, or it can be transformative, pushing you to new heights.”
Jung himself believed that synchronistic events were more likely to occur when a person was in a heightened state of mental and creative awareness. Learning to engage in life on a deeper level, learning to sense the synchronicity that makes itself available to me, is one way to transform experience, to achieve new levels of insight and meaning.
It’s also a way to add depth and direction to writing. I’ve spent the winter floundering with new projects, wondering where to direct my writing energies. Recently I’ve connected with some new readers of Life In General who reinforce comments made by so many of you already - how the stories I share in the book have helped them feel more understood, less alone in the world, and comforted by our connection through words. Comments like these seem to come at exactly the right moment - when I’m feeling as if I have nothing left to say. Clearly I do have a mandate for my writing, and it fits perfectly with my personality. I am, as an elementary teacher once described me, the “perfect little quiet helper.” When I focus my energy there, that’s where I perform the best.
So here then is my call to the universe: How can my next writing project help others? What can I share about my life or my experience that will create new and valuable connections? May I be open and observant to those synchronistic moments which lead me in the right direction.