Essays by Mary Carroll Nelson

Synchronicity and Holism

According to the famed round stone disks in Mexico, the Mayan Calendar will end at the winter solstice of 2012. Terence Mckenna’s "Time Wave Theory," which he derived from a study of the I Ching and history, also posits the end of our time at the solstice. The Hopi prophecy suggests a similar time frame and includes a warning that a trial for human beings is in the offing. Even St. Malachai, astronomer of the Middle Ages, projecting the future history of the papacy, ended his account in our time.

One day over lunch, my husband and I were talking about the various predictions related to 2012. That same evening I roamed the TV channels and landed "accidentally" on a program dealing precisely with the various predictions of end times at the Winter Solstice of 2012. Was this a simple coincidence, or something more?

Coincidences seem related to the Law of Attraction, which is basic to all forms of shamanism. What we think about attracts more of it into our orbit, hence it is to be expected that if we notice something once, it will reappear, perhaps several times. Shamans caution us to be mindful of our thoughts, since they hold both magnetic and creative power. In Huna, the Polynesian philosophy, this is expressed as "Energy flows where attention goes."

The double connection with "end times" in a few hours set me on a long reverie about Synchronicity, a word coined by Carl Jung in a 1951 lecture titled "On Synchronicity." which is included in The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1976). Jung later expanded his special meaning of the word in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle.

It is so long since I last read this material that I was surprised all over again at the sources Jung drew upon to defend his hypothesis. He tells anecdotes taken from his clinical psychology practice, but also relies on the findings of J. R. Rhine’s studies of ESP, and he makes use of astrology by comparing the horoscopes of married couples to determine if there is a conjunction of their moon positions. Of the latter, he firmly states, "Astrology is in the process of becoming a science."

Jung said meaningful coincidences are sometimes explained as precognition, clairvoyance, and telepathy which implies that whoever has the experience has some kind of foreknowledge although there is no explanation of how it is transmitted to the person. ESP studies have better results when the subject’s initial mood is one of faith and optimism and this mood is usually at its height early in the experiments such as Rhine carried out at Duke University. I seized upon the notion that the mind of the subject is intrinsic to the meaningful coincidence, and I made the connection to the Law of Attraction by supposing the subject may magnetize the coincidence through his or her own thoughts.

Both Rhine and Jung observed that psychic coincidences are acausal, without any cause or effect relationship. I paraphrase Jung’s summary of three types of acausal coincidences:
1. The psychic state corresponds with an external event.
2. The coincident of the psychic state has a relationship with an external event at a distance.
3. The coincident of the psychic state has a relationship in the future.
Therefore we can say that the psyche is not limited by space or time.

"The I Ching," Jung said, "presupposes that there is a synchronistic correspondence between the psychic state of the questioner and the answering hexagram." Here again, the mind of the subject is engaged in a meaningful coincident.

When discussing astrology, Jung said, "it presupposes a meaningful coincident of planetary aspects and positions with the character of the existing psychic state of the questioner." His comment applies also to using a pendulum, oracle cards, or a Ouija board. Something in the questioner affects these oracular tools.

As I finished reading and rereading Jung’s short lecture, an itch of recognition urged me to review Wholeness and the Implicate Order, by David Bohm (Ark Books, London, 1980). Jung’s words were akin to those of the physicist who defined wholeness. According to Bohm, our universe is indivisible. It can be likened to a vast sea of energy, not a void, but a plenum filled with potential. The plenum is the ground for the existence of everything, including ourselves, Bohm explains. A hologram can symbolize the seamless, totally connected universe in which we find ourselves.

Quantum theory relates not only to the 3–dimensional manifested reality but also to a multidimensional immaterial reality. Bohm’s words — explicate and implicate — mean unfolded and infolded. Everything that is manifested is unfolded from the plenum; everything that is possible is infolded in the plenum. Space and time have no effect on the connectedness of this multiple order. Bohm is presenting a holistic vision.

In the observable, explicate reality, cause and effect are trustworthy standards for understanding the material order. In quantum theory, everything is in relationship — a subtle entanglement beyond time and space allows for anomalies that, on the 3–D plane, are considered paranormal. Jung, by referring to the extension of consciousness, broadly called extra–sensory perception, linked the psyche to the quantum order of wholeness Bohm has described.

Jung defines a synchronistic experience as the "meaningful coincidence of two or more events other than the probability of chance." It is not the same as the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary: "The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear meaningfully related but have no discoverable causal connection."

Even though Jung had experienced a series of six references to the word fish in a single day, he maintained it was a "chance grouping," To emphasize his definition of synchronicity, he described an irrefutable example of it from his clinical practice: A young woman, whose psychological problems seemed inaccessible to treatment, had a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. As she told him about it, Jung heard a sound at his window, He turned to look and saw a flying insect that flew inside when he opened the window. It was a scarabaeid beetle, resembling a golden scarab. Jung refers to this story as a "paradigm…of meaningful coincidences."

My standard for using the word synchronicity is far less stringent. I think of synchronicity as applying to little events, such as the phone call from the person I had been thinking about, the word on a page that I had been trying to remember — or had just looked up in a dictionary; the title of a book forgotten until someone chances to mention it. Recently, I was unsure about how to spell eminence grise. A few pages ahead in a book I was reading there it was. The clue in a crossword was "express train." We live in the west, so the meaning sought was unknown to me until it came up in the same book the next day, the Alcea.

Since I focused on synchronicity, incidents in my life of double or multiple encounters with the same word have increased profoundly. Jung’s lecture gives significance to these occurrences. If our psyche has affected these little events, maybe they are important to us in some unknown way. But, I am aware that they are not of sufficient rarity to pass Jung’s limited use of his word.

So, I stopped actually working on this line of thought. It seemed as if something was missing in my understanding. Then I had a truly mind–boggling experience. Over the holiday, our granddaughter Clare was visiting us. Her grad school program in biology involves the study of birds’ hormonal response to stress. We began talking about the presence of birds in urban settings. I asked what birds she sees in Boston, and she asked us the same question. "In the 40 years of living in this house," I told her, "we’ve seen a roadrunner only twice." Almost immediately, she said, "There’s a roadrunner." Sure enough, a big specimen was exploring beyond our window, walking with the typical head snapping gait that accompanied the rise and fall of his long tail. He did not fly off; instead, he went in and out of the garage, poked at the ground, jumped for a split second onto the window sill, and ambled away insuring that we did not miss his visit. The roadrunner was my golden scarab.

My return visits with Jung and Bohm confirmed for me that synchronicity demonstrates the holistic nature of our universe. It is my belief that the benefit of even minor coincidences is they remind us we are part of the whole. Awareness is the key. Perhaps, when a thought energizes the plenum, an answer returns to the "sender." In that case, the little coincident is likely a response to the activity of our own psyche. Remaining alert to the synchronistic events we experience enhances our connection with the wondrous nature of the universe.

The impetus for this brief exploration into synchronicity was "end times." With thanks to the mysterious process of synchronicity that gave such emphasis to the subject, I am now involved more deeply than ever in the entire notion of one cycle ending in order to begin another.

January, 2012

Mary Carroll Nelson

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What Lies Beyond? The Art of Layering Art Today, Art History Tomorrow
Can We Believe In Holism and Be a Partisan Too? Words in Their Time Synchronicity and Holism
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