Synchronicity – what is it and is it real?
Synchronicity (syn = with, Chronos = time) is often defined as the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. It was coined by psychologist Carl Jung to describe what he saw as a perceived meaningful coincidence – an “acausal connecting principle” whereby events in the external world might align to the experience of the individual. Whew, that’s a lot to digest. Let me give you an example of what Jung meant in the story below (perhaps Jung’s most famous example).
A man named Mr. de Fontgibu gave a man called Mr. Deschamps plum pudding. Nearly a decade later, Mr. Deschamps orders plum pudding in a restaurant in Paris, but is told by the waiter that the last serving was sold to Mr. de Fontgibu, who just happened to be in town and eating at that same restaurant. Many years later, Mr. Deschamps is once again offered plum pudding at a social gathering. This prompts Mr. Deschamps to begin telling the people at the party about the earlier coincidences, and as he is doing so, he is shocked to see Mr. de Fontgibu enter the room. That’s synchronicity! Here are some more examples.
• The same numbers keep appearing in your life, so you begin to think of them as lucky or perhaps unlucky numbers.
• You meet a stranger who when talking with you mentions some things that seem like answers to questions you’ve been thinking about.
• The case of perfect timing! Just when you need something most, it happens.
According to Jung, synchronicities are deep psychological processes that carry messages similar to the way dreams do. He also believed that synchronicities can provide guidance. Of course, many people say that coincidences are random, and they do seem so. But are they? As the Chinese say: “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” People often seem to pop up when we need them most either to teach us a lesson or to provide answers to our questions. And equally often, they move out of our lives just as suddenly.
The “mysterious” letter
Many years ago, I was going through a “difficult period” in a new relationship. I was perplexed and unsure of the future. I was eating dinner on a Sunday evening with my ex-wife and son when she gave me an envelope that she said had arrived earlier that morning. It had my name on it, but no addresses at all. I asked if someone had delivered it and she said she heard someone put it through the mail slot on the front door. Keep in mind, this was on a Sunday (no mail service), and you needed a code to get into the apartment building. I opened it when I returned home and read a fantastic story about how to heal hearts, eliminate anger and forgive. It was as if someone had written that just for me! I still have the letter, and I still don’t know how it got there or who sent it.
Why did I do that?
Another example from my personal life involved the TV reality show Robinson (a.k.a. Survivor in the English-speaking world). I was completing an assignment with the Multinational Force & Observers as a treaty-compliance officer in the restive Sinai Peninsula in 2017. I didn’t often read Swedish newspapers online, but for some reason decided that I would that day. That’s when I spotted an ad asking people to apply to be in the program. I thought what the heck, my contract is coming to an end and Fiji sounds pretty attractive. After evaluating the microscopic chance of being selected, I decided to apply anyway. I did and promptly forgot about it. That’s synchronicity number one.
“I’m calling from…”
Synchronicity number two involved my Swedish cell phone about three months later. I always Skyped with my family and rarely answered my Swedish cell because of the cost involved and the fact that 98% of the calls were from Swedish telemarketers! And yet on one day right in the middle of a radio transmission with a team in the field, my cell rang – and I answered it. I still don’t know why. By then, I had completely forgotten about my application to the show. The female’s voice on the other end began with “Hi, my name is… and I’m calling from… At that point, my brain had already completed the sentence by adding the typical spiel telemarketers use, blah, blah! But before I could hang up, I heard the rest of the sentence…from the TV program Robinson. I went for interviews and was selected, and the rest is history (see an earlier blog post about my time on Robinson). Why did I decide to answer the phone on that day? I have no idea.
Is synchronicity real?
Is there such a thing as meaningful coincidences? Coincidences happen frequently. Are they the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? Or are they the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses). It’s much easier for us to notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. For example, we seem to hear nothing but love songs when we’ve just fallen in love. Conversely, we seem to hear nothing but songs about heartbreak when we’ve just ended a relationship. Our brains are very good at making connections and seeing designs in and random patterns. So, is synchronicity real? I’ll leave that for you to decide.