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If we pay attention, we see that meaningful coincidences occur all the time. We might notice that a book is recommended three times within a short period. Perhaps as we ponder a question, we see a certain animal within a week– maybe eagles flying above or seals swimming by the shore. We keep thinking about someone and they call us. Or maybe several different people invite us to the same group or class. Carl Jung first coined the term synchronicity as a way of describing events in life that are not so much connected by causality, but meaning. We see it when two seemingly unrelated events occur simultaneously or in sequence that provide signs leading to deeper meaning and understanding of an event or life situation. Noting synchronicities is an act of sacred listening and following. In the book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, author Gregg Levoy says it is like “putting on a lens through which we can see our lives as a process of calls and responses… we have to stay in dialogue, stay vigilant, and be willing to be seized by our encounters by what comes our way.” He asks, “What is the feedback your life gives you?”
Long before Jung brought the concept of synchronicity to western psychology, indigenous peoples around the world were noting divine coincidences. For indigenous groups, synchronicities are considered auspicious events. Wind, rainbows, thunder, and animal appearances are noticed by indigenous healers. Shaman gather information from what transpires during a ceremony. As an example, the Qero people of the Andes in Peru watch how the fire responds when a despacho (a carefully created sacred bundle meant as an offering for specific purposes) is burned as a gift to the spirits. On one of my trips to Peru, I traveled with my husband and two other couples throughout the lower Andes and the Sacred Valley receiving teachings and initiations from a Qero shaman (Paqo). The Qero were delighted to see that the group was comprised of three couples. Threes and twos are important numbers in the Andes. A pair, referred to by the Qero as yanantin, refers to a sacred pair, while the number three is seen as representing the lower, middle and upper worlds in their cosmology. So having three sets of twos was considered a good sign! Shaman pay attention to who shows up, the energy that people hold, and the dreams they share.
Messages from the Dreamtime
The content of dreams is often synchronistic in nature. Recurring images of animals, people, places or situations give us an opportunity to explore deeper meaning and messages from the unconscious and the spirit realm. When dream images recur they seem to call out to us to pay attention. In 1997 I began having dreams about bears. Stalked, I would fearfully run away from these powerful animals. In one of my dreams a bear cornered me in a room until all I could do was curl into a fetal position and hope for the best. The bear proceeded to gently claw the top of my head (my crown chakra). I do not believe it was an accident that bears were appearing in all kinds of ways at that time in my life. This dream and others led me to explore shamanic practice and initiated me onto my spiritual path. As you consider the synchronicities occurring in your life at this time and the visions that come from the dreamtime, I ask you - what is it that is stalking you now?
I have a client in my psychotherapy practice (I’ll call her Frieda) who dreamed about a labyrinth. The labyrinth is an ancient structure used in walking meditation and prayer. It has a circle/spiral format and seems to meander but it is actually a purposeful path associated with wholeness. When one walks a labyrinth they are often taking a journey to their own center, and then back out again into the world with a broader understanding of themselves. For example, they might receive the answer to a question they posed before walking. Frieda had never been to a labyrinth and coincidence would have it that I had just read an article about a one located on the grounds of a local church in Seattle. I gave her the article since I felt that her dream was important and thought perhaps she might want to visit this special place. She decided to go on one sunny afternoon. She was surprised to learn after arriving that it was the day of the summer solstice.
Frieda later she recounted her story to me. She approached the labyrinth reverently, blessing herself with the water from a nearby fountain. When she reached the center of the labyrinth she became aware that she was trying to make something happen. She was trying to “do it right” rather than just letting things unfold. When she decided to surrender to the process she had a profound transpersonal experience where the labyrinth became very large. Time and space seemed to expand and she had the sense of being a part of a larger awareness.
It has been said that the external world is a reflection of the internal world. What I loved about Frieda’s story was that she had the wisdom to carry this awareness outside of the structure itself. She sat outside the labyrinth and mindfully watched as people came and went. She became acutely aware that she was looking at aspects of herself in the people who visited the labyrinth. Frieda watched some people walk over it while talking on cell phones apparently oblivious to the sacred structure beneath them and became aware of her own tendency to go on auto pilot. She watched as someone hurriedly walked the labyrinth as if it were a duty more than a prayer. She wondered about all the ways in which she moved through life in the same way. A couple carefully walked the periphery of the labyrinth, arm in arm, speaking and laughing softly. She then realized a longing she had been ignoring. Finally, Frieda observed a young mother delight in the swirling dance of her four-year-old daughter. The mother watched without interruption, and when the girl had finished, the mother gently stroked her daughter’s hair in appreciation. My client realized she was witnessing unconditional love, a quality missing in her own childhood. We talked about the need for her to be in touch with the big mother/cosmic mother as well as the healthy, nurturing inner mother and the playful, uninhibited inner child. Synchronicity became a catalyst for healing for Frieda. I share this story because I think it illustrates how synchronicity can work in our lives if we listen, pay attention and act on the messages given through divine coincidence.
I had the opportunity to study with the late Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, author, and teacher of cross-cultural indigenous practices. She says when we are involved in exploring the sacred mysteries and the world of spirit we need to be good trackers. In other words, we note or track meaningful events and important experiences so that we can continue communication with the unseen world and with our own soul’s process. When we get into alignment with what is soulful in our lives and begin to pay attention, synchronicities become apparent. In Crossing to Avalon, Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda-Bolen states, “Synchronicities are soulful. It is the soul that knows something is meaningful, that is moved by poetry and music, that recognizes what it loves and that it is loved, that is nourished by what we do when what we do comes from our own depths.” Ask for a sign and then open your eyes and ears. You may notice important people are introduced into your life or old acquaintances resurface. A song with a very specific phrase may come on the radio. Someone may send you an email with a link that pertains to your inquiry. One way to work with synchronicities is to note them in your journal as they occur. In that way you keep the lines of communication open with your own soul. Life becomes more magical and meaningful when we open to the messages that are all around us if we just take the time to notice.
Levoy, Gregg. Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, 1997. Harmony Books, New York.
Shinolda-Bolen, Jean. Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage, 1994. Harper Collins Publishers, New York.