You’ve probably had the experience of thinking of someone intensely that you haven’t seen for years and then running into that person only a few hours or, at most, a couple of days later. For the materialist, such an event is dismissed as mere coincidence. For Carl Jung, one of the earliest pioneers of psychology, such an event (not apparently connected by cause and effect but by meaning) is a “synchronicity.” And, as you have undoubtedly felt, such a synchronicity makes you suspect that the mind called out to the other person or that their relative presence alerted your mind to them and drew you to where they would be.
Although he believed in the power of ESP (extra-sensory perception), Jung noted that it could not be measured, proved, or disproved by science and, as such, synchronicities could not be considered scientifically. In his essay “Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle.,” Jung says the following:
[Synchronicity] cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity. Because of this quality of simultaneity, I [Jung] have picked on the term “synchronicity” to designate a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanationC. G. Jung, Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle. (From Vol. 8. of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung).
Jung goes on to say that,
I considered synchronicity as psychically conditioned relativity of space and time. […] experiments show that in relation to the psyche space and time are, so to speak, ‘elastic’ and can apparently be reduced almost to vanishing point, as though they were dependent on psychic conditions and did not exist in themselves but were only ‘postulated’ by the conscious mind. In man’s original view of the world […] space and time have a very precarious existence.C. G. Jung, Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle. (From Vol. 8. of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung).
The shamans (“wizard priests”) of the world’s remaining tribal peoples are, it has been reported, able to “call” people to them through the use of their own mind. To do this, they will enter into a trance state and will focus their attention on the image of the person, while mentally calling them to a particular place. The person called is said to feel an urge to leave where they are and to go to that particular place, though they cannot explain why.
Synchronicities automatically make us feel that, behind everything, there is some cosmic Intelligence (or what Peter J. Carroll called “Chaos” — a kind of absolute potential infused with Divine Intelligence — or with Geist (Mind or Spirit)). Or, to put it more plainly, in the language of religion, it makes us feel that there is a God. And God, of course, appears to be interacting with us through each synchronicity, giving us “a sign.”
This is, perhaps, especially the case in the “positive thinking” movement. The individual might be looking for a better job, let’s say. They pray to God, to the cosmic Intelligence, or to the universe, for a better job. Then, possibly — seemingly, purely by chance — they run into someone at a social event who happens to need someone for the role they are looking to fill, and they are offered the job. Voilà! A synchronicity.
The positive thinking movement (also sometimes called New Thought or “mind metaphysics”) has quite a lot in common with the Western esoteric movement (previously known by such spooky names as “Magic,” “Magick,” or — yes — “the occult”). However, in Magic, it is assumed that doing a ritual to create an effect in the world (a synchronicity) might not work. Worse, he or she might get a result that is contrary to it. (There might be different technical reasons why. Unlike the positive thinker (who might use crystals or vision boards at most), the magician has lots of paraphernalia (incense, altars, statues, oils, wands, daggers, etc.) and not using the correct one, or not using it correctly, or at the wrong time, might — it is suspected — have an undesirable effect. But there might be other reasons.)
There is a story about the occultist and visionary artist Austin Spare that illustrates this point. He had a visitor at his apartment in London one day and wanted to conjure up some roses to show his friend some magic. Spare began the spell and concentrated very intensely. Then, as he pronounced the word “roses” the sewage pipes broke and flooded his apartment with dirty water.
Perhaps, the story is true. Perhaps, it is not. Regardless, we will all have experienced such negative synchronicities. We expect something to happen — and, according to logic and experience, it will — yet, the opposite occurs. For example, we expect to see a particular friend at a social gathering. We have thought about him or her all week, imaging speaking with them. We have visualized it and we believe it will occur (indeed, we have no reason to think it will not). But, then, on the night, they are the only friend who is not present.
The positive thinking movement says that this is impossible — that if we visualize a particular future and believe it, without any doubt, it will occur. Yet, we know that this is not true. Synchronicities happen. Sometimes they are positive or affirming (we think of a long-lost friend and then, a little later, we run into them). Sometimes they are negative or negating (we fully expect something to happen, and, logically, it should, but the opposite occurs). But why?
As said, a synchronicity might make us feel that there is some kind of cosmic Intelligence behind everything — that there is, in fact, a God. Yet, when we experience synchronicities, we can also come to delude ourselves that things should be easy for us, that we shouldn’t need to work at anything, and that we certainly shouldn’t need to work on improving our own self, because what we want should just be given to us by the universe once we’ve believed sincerely enough or visualized intensely enough.
Positive synchronicities often occur when we don’t expect them. (We think of someone; then we see them, But we don’t think that our thinking of them will make us run into them.)
And negative synchronicities also occur when we don’t expect them to happen.
Mike Tyson famously said that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” (And Tyson practiced positive thinking under his coach Cus D’amato, incidentally.) Yes, life is truly weird (or wyrd, to us the Anglo-Saxon term, which means fate or destiny). Cosmic forces seem to invade our little lives. A Divine Intelligence — or God — seems to be behind or above — and, perhaps, inside — material existence.
But life is a great adventure, not a menu that we can select a few items from. Like the dragon-slayer Sigurd, we have to go out to meet the dragon, rescue the maiden from a ring of fire, and learn the Mysteries. The Divine Intelligence, or God, plays with us, plays dice with our life, but, through negative synchronicities and messing up our plan, He, or It, pushes us out of our comfort zone, out of the shire, out into the world of men, the world of tests, and the realm of destiny.
We could get what we want as soon as we want it. But we would become stunted if we did. As we all know deep down, the greatest things that we can be given are not material comforts but friendships with those who struggle with us for something better, respect from those we respect, the good fortune of a friend who is a good example, skills and intelligence for life, reflection and wisdom, and enough misfortune early on to test us and to reveal to us that we are much more than we thought.
If you’ve read the work of Mitch Horowitz, you’ll know that the positive thinking movement is a lot more interesting than its popular, cliched expressions. But, it has no role for negative synchronicities (as I am calling them). According to the positive thinking movement, if you get punched in the face it’s because you didn’t believe enough or because you didn’t visualize enough. That’s a shame. Because the heroes of legend, and the heroes of life, are those that were forced to face adversity.
The Buddha was born Prince Gautama. He was born with everything that most people would want. It was said that he was destined to become either a great king or an enlightened being. But because his father wanted him to become a king, he protected him from reality, surrounding the young prince with luxury and beauty, and banishing every sign of sickness and death. But, eventually, glimpsing these horrors by chance, Gautama left his kingdom, and his comfort and riches with it, and went in search of enlightenment, suffering even starvation for a time. It was the negative experience that pushed him to search for enlightenment. If he had experienced only luxury, he would not have become awakened, though his life would have been easier — until some point when he would have had to have faced his mortal condition.
For the hero of myth and the hero of life things don’t come easy. They go wrong. He or she experiences the unexpected. There may even be tragedy. But they discover — and are forced to discover — a power inside that is a thousand times what they once imagined. And, unsurprisingly, in recognizing it, they not only find themselves, they transcended themselves, finding the Mysteries, the Divine Mind, Fate, or enlightenment.
“Do not pray for an easy life,” said Bruce Lee, “pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”