The S word

“There exists a type of phenomenon, even more mysterious than telepathy or precognition, which has puzzled man since the dawn of mythology: the seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant.” —Arthur Koestler

Last weekend, a short, funny girl in a penguin costume and holding a Snow White doll dealt me a heroic dose of synchronicity.

For a few minutes she was The Trickster come to remind me to pay attention to my surroundings without being too serious, and it worked.

The particulars of the Penguin Incident are, for our purposes, unimportant and even counterproductive. That’s how it is with synchronicity. It’s usually impossible to translate the gravity of an episode by merely recounting it to others as an anecdote. But the urge to do so, the need to describe it to others, is crucial.

You could call it coincidence and you’d be right. Coincidences are events in which different elements coincide. It’s a great word that usually fails to describe anything that is worth describing. Coincidence, in my mind, carries too much baggage. Its connotation, in general usage, is one of triviality.

If I’m flipping through the sports section reading about the most recent shameful defeat of the Cardinal football team and a dude in a jersey walks by, talking about the same game on his cell phone, I’m happy to chalk it up as basically insignificant. We both live in Louisville, the Cards lost a game and everybody knows it, and we are both predisposed to wonder about said game. Bam, you’re done. If I described this episode at all, I would call it a meaningless coincidence.

But consider a different incident. I rode my bike down the street recently and pulled up to a stoplight. As I did so I saw the profile of a girl who I was sure was a high school friend whom I’d not seen or spoken to in 6 years or more. It wasn’t her. No big whoop — similar facial structure and nothing more. I turned at the light, rode up a hill and my high school friend was walking up to the crosswalk just as I approached. Coincidence? Definitely. Several elements coincided. But the word just doesn’t do the work I need it to. The coincidence seemed meaningful and synchronized, and so the S word, synchronicity.

Carl Jung, who coined the term, would discount this event as something other than actual synchronicity, at which point I’d suplex his old ass with the Penguin Incident, and tell him to pipe down.

Between Kammerer, Koestler, Campbell, Jung and others, there is ample material to sift through, and I encourage it. The great part is that their work only buttresses what has been experienced by all, and which has been discussed by every culture I can think of throughout the ages. Namely, that weird things happen to people, and these things, though try as we may, cannot be explained unless we concede that our lives and our subconscious minds are bound to one another in ways that are not random. Jung described synchronicity as an “acausal connective phenomenon” that unifies us and our concepts of reality. Synchronistic events are the manifestation of Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious.

To inevitable detractors (specifically my friend E.C.), a simple and common occurrence should be considered. Have you ever thought of a person only to have them call you moments later? Does this happen often? Does it make you feel weird?

Eat it.

The inevitable question is, “What’s synchronicity good for?” Well, for guys like Jung (and shamans the world over) it’s good for all kinds of stuff, like forecasting death, impressing friends and colleagues, freaking out family members, etc. For working-class stiffs like us, though, it seems to be of little practical use, and rarely leads to a damn winning lotto number.

However, synchronistic episodes provide us with something that, while intangible, is still immensely valuable. They place us within reach of one another in ways that polite cocktail party conversations are incapable of achieving. One explosive episode of meaningful coincidence can be the shot in the arm needed to reassure you of your connectedness to the world around you. It’s a giant-ass blinking road sign that only you can see, and it reads: “You are a part of something. You are alive. Pay attention.”

It doesn’t have to make sense. You just need to read it and cultivate more.