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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)


The Mesa World Retreat: Synchronicities

Paul Kiritsis - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In rounding off the collection of posts about the Mesa World experience, it would be remiss of me not to include the chain of remarkable serendipities that presented themselves and then augmented in miraculous and meaningful ways. In many ways it seemed as though the act of rejecting our socio-political patinas, the personality masks developed to meet the stringent demands of Western society, is tantamount to submerging oneself back into the psychic ocean from whence all animal and human life sprung and subsequently becoming sensitive to its interpersonal nexus of cosmic ripples. To be blatantly honest with you there were many instances where I aborted all reason, slipping into momentary madness to entertain wild ideas about creative intelligences that enjoyed toying with their mortal inferiors for the cheap thrill of it. Just when the latter become disheartened by lamentable lapses in productivity as well as somatic and psychospiritual fulfilment, along comes Mother Nature with an earth-coloured magic pouch brimming with “meaningful coincidences”, or “psychic synchronicities” as Carl Jung put it, just to show that we are not even close to understanding the greatest mysteries of the cosmos. “Just when you think you’re on the right track, I’m going to obvert your empirical constructs, your overt obsession to know through the mathematical process of quantification, and set loose a venom to arrest faith in your model of knowledge and poison you with self-destructive doubts!” she exclaims.

The first of these “meaningful coincidences” occurred whilst driving to the Mesa World Retreat. Enthusiastic and euphoric at the idea of transition between a mundane and automatic Western lifestyle and the deeper, animistic, and uninhibited one decreed by Mother Nature to be our rightful inheritance, we started singing the famed overture to the Wizard of Oz. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz, we hear he is a Whiz of a Wiz if ever a Whiz there was…” The choice of song was self-explanatory, drawing a parallel between Dorothy Gale’s quest to return to her beloved home in Kansas and our spiritual quest to reconnect with the blessed gold-laden country deep within, our transcendental Selves. In this renowned musical fantasy adventure film Dorothy encounters a triumvirate of fantastical creatures, all of whom seem to be searching for items or qualities of self-valuated worth. Scarecrow wants a brain, Tin Man wishes to ascertain a heart, and Cowardly Lion longs for a healthy dose of bravery. How eerie that we should find all four of them peering out at us from a poster on the inside window of a Commonwealth Bank when we stopped for a restroom break in the picturesque country town of Ararat shortly afterwards. Strange, no?

From here onwards the whole exercise in dis-identifying from the realms of convention started to take on a preternatural character. One morning, I found myself brooding upon countless predators that run rife in the Australian bushland, especially our venomous snakes. I wasn’t really a fan of snakes and dreaded possible encounters with them. That same afternoon, what should I see on my way to the hammocks but a large black snake slithering across the dirt path ahead and disappearing into an army of knee-high perennials? The following day, during one of our nocturnal ‘pillow talks’, I started describing a series of blissful events that transpired whilst sojourning in Greece proper in 2003. Halfway through it I remember that my cousin’s grandmother had passed at about the same time. You might imagine the astonishment when my cousin, who until then had been lying silent in his bunk bed, suddenly blurts out, “I was just thinking that now.” There were countless such instances.

Another thought-provoking one occurred the night before we departed from the retreat; after dinner, I mentioned in passing that innumerable kangaroos hopped past our cottage each evening and we had yet to witness a mother with a joey in her pouch. Seconds after having made this observation a mother carrying her baby appeared a few metres from our front window. According to the park ranger there was another indigenous animal on the premises, the emu. On the day of our departure my cousin stipulated that we hadn’t sighted any. No sooner after the words left his mouth we see a horde of them inside a grassy enclosure. Events of this nature no doubt elicit a temptation to recourse to supranormal explanations, or at least to explanations conceding that something more than chance may be involved. Does the human mind have the power to skew outer contingencies so that they imitate the inner condition in a manner that may be perceived as meaningful? Perhaps so.

The same question seems to have plagued the great psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) who expounded the entire meaningful coincidences concept under the banner of “psychic synchronicity” with the obvious intention of imbuing it with scientific credibility. Despite the fact that he first utilized the term to refer to the underlying conjectural mechanism by which the divinatory I Ching operated, it was soon extended to encompass all supranormal incidents falling outsize that frontiers of material causation. Jung offers a striking example of the phenomenon in question in, “On Synchronicity.” a lecture given at the Eranos Conference in Ascona, Switzerland in 1951: after transcribing observations about an inscription accompanied by the image of a merman, he ate fish for lunch and overheard a verbalization of making an “April fish” out of somebody. Later an old patient who he hadn’t seen in a long time flashed fish pictures of some artistic merit before him; in the evening he was shown exquisite embroidery sporting fishes and sea monsters; the next morning another patient relayed a profound dream involving fish; and months afterwards, when he finally decided to document these series of incidents, he came across a large fish on the shore of a lake near his residence.

For Jung it is clear that synchronicities are not casual phenomena nonetheless they cannot be attributed to the agency of pure chance either. In his extended monograph on the subject he extrapolates that: “Meaningful coincidences are thinkable as pure chance. But the more they multiply and the greater and more exact the correspondence is, the more their probability sinks and their unthinkability increases, until they can no longer be regarded as pure chance, but for lack of a causal explanation, have to be thought of as meaningful arrangements.”[1] Elsewhere he describes synchronicity as a “highly abstract” and “irrepresentable” idea, an “acasual connecting principle” that should enter contemporary empirical discourse as a fourth psychoid force alongside space, time, and causality.[2] Jung cleverly sought scientific justification for his newfound principle by collaborating and publishing with Nobel prize-winning physicist Wolfgang Paoli (1900-1958) who argued in typical anachronistic fashion that Kepler arrived at his scientific model through the idea of ‘archetypes’. Later he attempted to reinforce these scientific premises by attributing the development of the concept to the great Einstein. So essentially what we have here is a proto-scientific attempt at framing empirically unquantifiable phenomena in psychological jargon. Jung implicates that a hitherto unknown principle is at work in the universe but reaches a clear intellectual impasse in elaborating further on its harmonic and unifying nature and the fundamental apparatus through which the psychic and physical ontologies are interlaced.

Moreover he exploits psychic synchronicity as an overarching hermeneutic for all parapsychological phenomena. In his lecture, for example, he describes the preternatural clarity of a student’s dream involving interconnected scenes with a square, a Gothic cathedral, and an elegant carriage drawn by pale horses. When the student ended up travelling to a Spanish city for a holiday the dream came to pass. A far more accurate label for this meaningful coincidence is precognition. Further along the discussion he mentions the famed Swedenborg vision of the Stockholm fire: on the evening of 19th July 1759, Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1771) related lamentable news to fellow guests at a party in Gothenburg that a conflagration had just ignited in Stockholm, and only a few hours later, that it had been snuffed out three doors from his own residence. Three days afterward an envoy arriving from Stockholm confirmed these prognostications. This, too, is precognition. Jung also alludes to the card guessing experiments of Duke University psychologist J.B. Rhine which scrutinized the empirical validity of extrasensory perception (ESP) by determining whether statistically significant correlations existed between random guesses of numbers on cards and the actual numbers printed on them. Rhine’s experiments have nothing to do with the synchronicity principle as a “meaningful coincidence.” The conclusion to his extended monograph includes an expose on a woman who spiraled into a coma following an uncharacteristic birth with severe blood loss. Whereas one would think that an overarching condition of all comas is the complete cessation of higher consciousness, the woman in question remained conscious and observed all subsequent events from a place in the ceiling above. She later authenticated her continue presence in the room by providing explicit descriptions of the pandemonium that unfolded bit by bit around her. This is obviously an out-of-body experience (OBE) associated with a near-death experience (NDE).

The parameters of what he himself describes as a meaningful coincidence of two or more events are satisfied with a young female patient whose Cartesian rationalism seemed fixed and unassailable. During a psychoanalytic session she relayed a striking dream in which a stranger offered her a supernal piece of jewelry in the form of a golden scarab. As she relayed the sequence, Jung became sentient of a subtle drumming on the windowpane that ended up being the real-life equivalent to her ethereal centerpiece–a scarabaeid beetle, a gold green rose-chafer. After snatching it form the air he hands it to his patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” Jung accords that this event perforated the thick skin of her rationalism and allowed her right-brain qualities to inundate consciousness. It was, to all intents and purposes, a synchronistic event.

On the whole, Jung believed that the principle was somehow bound up with archetypal content in the collective unconscious. To be more precise he says that, “the archetype has the tendency to gather suitable forms of expression round itself” followed by, “The factor which favors the occurrence of parapsychological events is the presence of an active archetype, i.e. a situation in which the deeper instinctual layers of the psyche are called into action.”[3] Put differently Jung is saying that archetypes underlie “psi” phenomena; because they are the latent property of a shared mind rendered active and operant by the cognition of each individual but not originating from any specific one, then there very well must be a superior creative intelligence or intelligences at work in the cosmos. From this perspective it would appear that Jung sanctioned the opinion that mind has a tangible and quantifiable level of influence and control over the phenomenal world without explicitly stating it. In this way he could acknowledge and pay homage to the Hermetic correspondences of, “As above, so below” and “As inner, so outer”  without forfeiting ground as a respected scientist, or more significantly perhaps having to submit to depreciation and cerebral accusations at the hand of the occult-bashing Freud and his band of loyal psychoanalysts.

So in hindsight it appears that “psychic synchronicity” is a passive admission of mind over matter or rather that mind creates matter, the axiom that our thoughts are action potentials that materialize on the physical plane soon after leaving the subconscious that created them. Pulling strings in the psychic world will be felt as powerful sound effects in the material world; the stronger the pull, the louder the note. It’s as simple as that!              

[1] Carl Gustav Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 102-103.

[2] Ibid, pp. 89.

[3] Carl Gustav Jung, The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings, Collected Works, vol 18 (New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 509-11.

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