by Tom Kenyon
You may have experienced them yourself-‑those odd “coincidences” that somehow seem to be more than just mere coincidence. They leave you with a strange feeling, as if, perhaps, you have suddenly stumbled into an episode of the Twilight Zone.
I have been observing and studying synchronicities for over three decades now. They have intrigued me and challenged me. Like many people, I have experienced a fair number myself. But as a psychotherapist, I have experienced far more, perhaps hundreds in my therapy office and in workshops.
Synchronicities are the result of a deep and profound connection between consciousness and our world of matter. But this connection defies our normal sense of logic.
In my twenties and thirties, I found the paradoxical nature of synchronicities to be disturbing. But 1 no longer think that logic is the end‑all‑be‑all god I thought it to be. Some things are neither black nor white. And our ideas of how the universe operates are just ideas.
I recently met a physicist in Switzerland who shared his views on science and human perception. I loved his analogy and I now pass it on to you. He said we are like children watching mom and dad playing a game of cards. At the moment they are playing canasta and through observation we have figured out some of the rules. Suddenly, however, they switch and start playing poker. The rules have changed, and we are in turmoil. Science is the act of observing the cosmic card game and trying to figure out the rules. There are, according to him, no cosmic laws. What looks like law can change in the twinkling of an eye whenever the one playing changes the game.
In some very real ways my encounters with synchronicities have changed “the game” for me. I had experienced them quite a bit in my twenties, but during my graduate training as a psychotherapist, they subsided. I was focused on being a professional person and I had no place for those strange coincidences. I did not, at this time, even know that there was a word for these odd occurrences. As I developed my private practice, I was very content, thank you, with my own little version of “the game.” I had my black and white niche down pretty well. I was a psychotherapist with a successful private practice. I had a waiting list of people to see me. I was secure, if not smug, in my position. Although I still occasionally experienced synchronistic events, they did not, in the least, threaten my logical view of the universe. And then she showed up. A referral from another therapist, Sue (not her real name) had been referred to me for long standing depression and paranoia.
In our first session, Sue told me that inexplicable fires often broke out in her vicinity. This un‑witting starting of fires was a great source of consternation for her, and she had the “up‑tight” presence of paranoid‑type personalities.
As a logically biased therapist I assumed she was simply deluded about the fire thing, but encouraged her to continue talking. It turned out that when she was about seven years old, she accidentally burned her family’s house down to the ground. From that point on she was afraid of fire, especially the ones that seemed to break out around her for no good reason.
Now I always had a candle burning in my therapy office, a symbol and a reminder for me of the “light of awareness,” a light that I was continually striving to attain on behalf of my clients as well as myself. This candle sat on the mantle of a fireplace. As we continued to talk, I heard an odd explosion from that vicinity of the office. I glanced over and saw to my horror that the candle had exploded and flaming hot wax was all over the mantle. In disbelief, I watched a river of burning wax streaming onto the wooden floor. I leapt to my feet and put out the fire.She said, “I told you so!”
I assured her that this was simply a freak coincidence, and that such things do not happen in reality (I have since come to believe that there is no single reality. I agree with Chomsky that there are only perceptual realities and that these are unique to each person. But back then, I was convinced that there was one consensual reality that one could use as a measure against all things). Armed with the smug righteousness of my perception, I assured her that I could, in fact, help her rid both the guilt around the childhood incident as well as her delusion that she was an unwitting fire‑starter.
We re‑scheduled for next week.
During our second session, as we discussed the details of her childhood fire, I heard the sound of sirens. Looking out my office window, 1 saw fire trucks pulling up to a house across the street. It had caught on fire!
I assured my distressed client that this was, admittedly, a really, really bizarre coincidence, but a coincidence nonetheless. It was not, and could not, logically be connected with her telling me the story of a childhood incident, even though the incident involved her burning down the family house. I showed her how to journal with the young guilt‑ridden child within and asked her to bring her journal entries when we met again. We rescheduled for the following week.
During the ensuing days, I tried to convince myself that my therapeutic plan with this client was the right course of action. I certainly had the bulk of psychotherapeutic theory on my side. The therapeutic task was clear‑have her re‑live the suppressed childhood event and talk about it, unwind it’s trapped energy in the psyche, try to bring to the conscious mind the turmoil that was being held in the subconscious. By doing so, the guilt would be purged. I would also continue to de‑sensitize her to fire by lighting another candle, demonstrating to her that I was confident in my assessment that such things as fire‑starters were mere delusions.
When our third appointment arrived, I was a little nervous. I lit the candle and sat in my chair. We started to talk about her feelings in regards to both her childhood and the recent two encounters. The discussion was very emotional on her part, and together, we were able to touch very deep feelings. I felt that we had reached a therapeutic moment, and I guided her into a light hypnotic state in order to re‑live the childhood incident.
The session was near its close. There had been no fires in my office or across the street. Victorious, I was about to announce this to her when, and I swear this is the god’s truth, a brand new van caught on fire right in front of my office. It had come to a stop near the intersection where my office sat and just burst into flames!
Stumbling for words of comfort for her, I mentioned the rather lame observation that the fire had moved a little further away from us, perhaps indicating that we were making progress.
We re‑scheduled. The following week a very nervous client arrived at the office of a very nervous therapist. But nothing happened. And nothing ever happened like this again. Her work in those four weeks transformed a childhood stigma, and the strange poltergeist‑type phenomena around her had come to an end.
Our work together had been successful, but I was uneasy. My logical brain ached from trying to stretch around the encounter. Was it possible for a human consciousness to actually create such a thing as spontaneous fires? I assured myself that such things were not real, just bizarre coincidences.
Despite my attempts at self‑comfort, the uneasy feeling did not go away. My professional training had never even hinted that such things could happen in the therapeutic process. I simply had no conceptual framework for such odd events.
Over the next year or so, I continued to get referrals of clients with strange psychological dilemmas. The therapeutic work often required that we enter transpersonal territory. For instance, sometimes the resolution to a current psychological problem was traced back to a “seeming” past‑life. I say seeming because there is no way to scientifically verify if an experience is from an authentic past life or a metaphor created by the subconscious mind. I have found, by the way, that determining the authenticity of a past life memory isn’t that important if it changes a psychological behavior in the present. As my grandmother used to say, the proof is in the pudding, but back to my therapy office. Odd coincidences were popping up all over the place like mushrooms in springtime.
Then I experienced a coincidence that truly blew my mind.
The Lizard Within
For some time I had been having a series of dreams in which I was being ambushed. A giant lizard with an Uzi automatic was waiting in the bushes to assassinate me as I left the house. This dream repeated itself almost every night for weeks. The dream was so disturbing and vivid, I had started to keep a dream journal and began dialoging with the reptilian assassin. I won’t go into the details here since it doesn’t relate directly to this article, but there was a lot of energy involved, as you can well imagine.
One night I was dialoging with the dream figure in my journal. It went on for quite a while, and I recall it being quite emotional for me at the time. I had named my would‑be assassin Liz, since it was, well, a lizard.
The phone rang. I remember looking up at the clock. It was nearly 3 AM in the morning. I walked into the kitchen and picked up the handset. The voice on the other end was clear though there was a lot of static on the line.
“Is Liz there?” it asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “and I wish he’d leave!”
I hung up the phone and my mind freaked. I mean what were the possibilities that some stranger would miss‑dial a phone number looking for someone named Liz, while I was dialoging with a dream figure named Liz?
One day I came upon the writings of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Suddenly I had a framework for these strange, bizarre, encounters. In his books, Jung painstakingly described what I had been experiencing. He even had a word for it ‑ Synchronicities were signs of something powerful moving deeply in the unconscious mind. When this movement was strong enough, it affected the external environment.
Dr. Jung traced his theory of synchronicity back to a very strange experience he had while with a patient. At the time, the patient was describing a profound and vivid dream about a scarab.
Dr. Jung and his patient heard a thumping at the window. Upon inspecting the source of the sound, it turned out to be a scarab!*
The possibility of such an event boggles the mind. The odds against such an occurrence are staggering. How could a bumblebee flying around in the dead of winter, continually bump up against the window of a room in which a patient was describing a dream that involved a bumblebee?
I was enthralled. Carl Jung became my constant companion. I read everything I could get my hands on. And a very strange thing happened. The more attention I paid to synchronicities, the more often they seemed to occur.
Synchronicities always have an odd feeling about them. I suspect this is due to a sudden alignment between our internal experience and the external world. For a moment our two worlds, inner and outer, seem exquisitely connected.
Sometimes synchronicities can be funny. In a workshop on the Big Island of Hawaii, a young man (let’s call him Joe) came face to face with the power of synchronistic events in a very amusing way.
This was his first trip to Hawaii, and Joe had fallen in love with snorkeling. He would don his snorkeling gear, and slip into the water near the hotel every chance he got. Now it just so happened that the waters were full of sea turtles throughout the entire workshop. I know this for a fact since I also love snorkeling, and would visit them as much as I could. Some people like swimming with dolphins, but I prefer turtles. For one, I can keep up with them. Swimming next to a hundred year old sea turtle is an amazing experience. I remember swimming with one of these guys for about an hour. His face looked like Yoda out of Star Wars, and whenever he looked at me I felt like I was four years old, the world having been transformed, once again, into a wondrous magical place.
On the last day of the workshop, Joe went out for his last snorkeling experience of the trip. To his dismay, the turtles were all gone, not a trace of them. He remembered, however, our work on manifestation and began to practice it.
The Secret of Manifestation
In the workshop, we had been exploring the effects of emotion, especially as it related to manifestation. As part of this exploration, we had done an exercise in which we imagined feeling what we wished to bring into expression within our lives. The key was to be as specific as possible and to feel the emotions of having our desired outcome as strongly as possible.
The two together (specificity and emotion) are powerful allies in the manifestation process. M = S + E.
The key is to be as specific as possible, imagining the details within one’s mind as clearly as possible. Then … generate positive emotions in regard to the specific vision. Feel yourself having what you desire and very importantly, feel appreciation for already having it! The next step involves letting go of the vision and feelings. You have set up an electromagnet. It will begin to draw the situation(s) to you that will assist in the creation of the vision. But you have to let the mental magnet go, so to speak. Release the desire, and be willing to be surprised. Then go about actually doing what you feel is required to bring this desire into manifestation. It doesn’t usually work to just imagine it. You have to actually do something. But you will generally find that the “mental magnet” you have created will make the manifestation occur faster and with less effort.
There is a caution here, however. Be careful what you choose to create, and be sure it harms no one, including yourself.
But let’s return to Joe and the missing turtles.
Floating in the water, he closed his eyes and remembered what it felt like to be swimming with his old amigos. He told me that he felt this so strongly, he couldn’t tell if it was real or imagined at one point. He remembered calling the turtles from his heart and then continued just floating for a while. Then he opened his eyes so he could swim back to the hotel beach. To his shock and delight, the turtles had returned! They were swimming all around him. In bliss, Joe swam with his new friends as long as time allowed.
This synchronistic event was truly extraordinary for Joe, but there was a fascinating twist yet to come.
Returning to his room, Joe packed his bags to leave the hotel for his return journey to the mainland. As he was checking out, he turned to see a childhood friend who he had lost touch with. They had been the best of buds, and it was a great moment of reunion.
Interestingly enough, his friend’s nickname was‑turtle!
Synchronicities and Death
I have noticed, over the years, that synchronicities often occur around death or psychological passages that are death‑like to the persona.
I experienced a very strange synchronicity in this regard around my mother’s death. I had received a late night phone call from the hospice nurse saying that my mother was entering the dying process. I drove five hours and arrived at my parents’ house in the late afternoon.
When I got to the house, my father and brother were watching TV I went into the extra room where my mom was.
The attending nurse nodded and left the room for a moment.
My mom was barely conscious but recognized me. She asked me to get her something from the store, which I thought odd, but I went to get what she wanted.
Upon returning, my father and brother were still watching the TV Both of them were frightened by death and their denial had driven them into the living room to watch the tube rather than be with my mother in her last moments. I paused to see what they were watching. The television show had changed to a soap opera. In the usual cheesy daytime TV way, the main characters were in a hospital room with a relative who was, guess what, dying!
I went into the bedroom to find that my mom had just died. For a time I felt bad that I was out of the room when she passed on, but then I found out that such events were typical. A dying person often chooses to die when those significant to them are out of the room.
Schrodinger’s Cat and Quantum Uncertainty
When I was about four years old, my parents gave me a “Jack‑in‑the Box” for Christmas. And I loved it. I would sit for hours cranking the side while the hidden music box played Pop Goes the Weasel. On the final note, the lid would pop open and out would come Jack with his little clown hat on.
I titled this article in honor of that little box. I think synchronicities are a lot like that. Well, maybe more of a cross between Jack‑in‑the‑Box and Schrodinger’s cat.
Non‑aficionados of quantum physics might not recognize Schrodinger’s feline friend. The cat was never real, just a figment in the imagination of Schrodinger’s mind. At the time, he was struggling with one of the many oddities within quantum theory‑uncertainty. The problem with quantum mechanic is that you can never predict anything with certainty. There are only probabilities that something might happen or not happen. In fact, this so troubled Einstein that he quipped‑”God does not play with dice!”
In an attempt to explain the unexplainable, Schrodinger came up with an imaginary box. A lot of things in quantum physics are imagined since there is no way to look at anything that small.
Anyway, imagine that there is a cat in a sealed box. A poisonous pellet is released. Using the quantum model, you cannot predict whether the cat is dead or alive. Only when you open the box and look inside do all the probabilities collapse into one reality‑an alive or a dead cat.
Now I don’t know why Schrodinger chose a life and death example. Why not put in a piece of catnip and see if the cat was playing with it or not? No one I know of ever asked him this question, so I guess we will never know.
But now that I am on the topic, you can see that Schrodinger’s mind, like yours and mine, is a kind of Schrodinger’s box itself. I mean there were probably a hundred or so possibilities swirling around in his subconscious mind. A cat in a box; a dog in a box, or maybe a turtle in a box! Maybe the experiment could be whether the little tyke was sleeping or awake. So much nicer, I think, than seeing if it is dead or alive.
Anyway, thought is very much like this. You can’t predict what will come out of your mind until it pops out! Have you noticed that with your own mind? Thoughts can be very surprising, and part of this is due, no doubt, to the fact that thought itself is a quantum event.
Now quantum events are very small things, indeed. In fact something has to be smaller than a thousandth of an inch to fall under the laws of quantum mechanics.
Objects that small, such as atomic particles and so on, have such little mass (weight) they are not affected by the force of gravity like objects larger than a thousandth of an inch.
Now a cursory glance at neurophysiology shows that our neurotransmitters as well as neuropeptides are well within the quantum range. These molecular critters are responsible for thought and feeling as well as a host of other biological functions. And guess what-you can’t predict what they will do. You can only hazard a guess.
There are infinite possibilities for where a thought can go. But it is only when it pops into our conscious awareness that we can say with certainty what direction it is going in. Until then everything is up for grabs. No certainty.
Now let’s go back to the Jack‑in‑the‑Box theory of synchronicities. You crank and crank, and then suddenly Jack pops out of the box.
It is a very odd metaphor, I admit, to say that our psyche is like a music box, but there are some parallels. When something starts turning in our psyche, something that has a lot of emotional energy, interesting things can happen. I think this is like turning the handle on the box. And if we crank (build up energy) long enough, something pops out. Now this “something” can take many forms. Sometimes it is familiar, and sometimes it surprises us.
If we are angry, for instance, we might yell, or hit something, or we might just keep it inside. But this energy has to go somewhere. Energy cannot be destroyed. It simply changes form.
If our mental/emotional energy is strong enough, it can affect the external environment. This is what happens with synchronicities, I believe.
When I was in my twenties I was well set on the spiritual path, and I had become the politically correct vegetarian. I had gone to a restaurant with some friends, and I ordered the “spiritually enlightened” vegan salad and water with lemon.
But the problem was that I was protein starved. I remember changing the order in my mind as the waitress left for the kitchen. In fact, I heard a voice screaming in my head‑”Don’t listen to that vegetarian fool! I want a cheeseburger with fries.” But I said nothing out loud.
When the waitress returned with our orders she placed a burger and fries in front of me. My friends were aghast. They distinctly remembered me ordering the vegan salad.
The waitress shook her head in disbelief. “I could have sworn you asked for a cheeseburger,” she said.
“It’s okay,” I said. I ate the burger, and it was the best damn thing I had eaten in months.
This is an odd example of synchronicity, but it has all the elements required. There was a lot of mental/emotional energy being “cranked up” in my psyche. Somehow, the waitress had “tuned into” my real desire, which I had been hiding both from my friends and myself. When she returned with our orders, Jack popped out of the box, and she placed the object of my desire in front of me. Now this is quantum mechanics in action!
And I suspect that we are all creating synchronicities around us whether we are aware of them or not.
My reason for writing this article is because I believe that we will all be experiencing even more synchronicity in the future, both individually and collectively. And I think it might help us to recognize that synchronicities are a function of consciousness itself. They live in the nether world where mind meets matter, and they are an indicator of the powers we carry within us.
The challenge, I think, is how to interpret synchronicities properly.
Meaning and Delusion
All of this brings me to another observation about synchronicities. They don’t necessarily mean what we think they do. They are simply parallel events. Something has happened in the outer world that parallels something in our inner world. They are a signature, a sign that something deep has moved within the psyche.
I knew someone who miss‑read a synchronicity and wound up stranded in the middle of a desert. She was deeply into UFOs at the time and yearned to be picked up by the “mother ship.” For weeks, she had been having fantasies about going out to the desert where she would be picked up. I think that Close Encounters had just come out, and perhaps this fueled her fantasy. Anyway, one night while sending her fervent prayers “home to the Pleiades,” a falling star streaked across the sky. She “knew” that this was a communication from her galactic brothers and sisters. They were coming to pick her up.
Some might also call her experience a sign, but in my mind, signs appear on their own without any mental correspondence. In other words, she was fervently sending a prayer out to the universe when the meteor streaked across the sky. The meteor appeared simultaneously with her mental activity. This made it a synchronicity.
She quit her job and sold her stuff. She only kept some clothes and her Ford Pinto. She drove out from North Carolina to the desert of New Mexico and waited for the rendezvous.
But the mother ship never showed up. I think she waited for a few weeks, until she ran out of food, water and money. She returned home broke, with no job, and with friends who thought she had gone over the edge.
She had misinterpreted the synchronicity. It had not meant what she thought it did. And I think that is the danger with these strange creatures of our mind. Just because they have an “other worldly quality” and feel so strong, we best not jump to conclusions in regards to what they mean.
The whole thing is made even more complex, however, by the fact that sometimes synchronicities truly are a message from our deeper selves. In such moments they are like the finger of destiny, and a lot hangs on whether we listen or not‑just not always.
Several years ago, I had been hired as a co‑trainer by a well known personal growth facilitator. He was a gifted individual who transformed a lot of lives, but he was also a con artist. The closer I got to his operation, the clearer this became.
During one of the trainings, about ninety people had come from all over the world to study with him. He had sold this training on the basis that he would discuss sound patterning for the brain. He claimed to have discovered precise tones that stimulated specific areas of the brain. The audience was about half laypersons, while the other part was made up of professional therapists. It was a blast for me to teach such a motivated group of people, and I was enjoying myself immensely.
Then some strange things started happening, as they always did around this teacher. I had experienced this “lack of integrity” around both him and his staff before, but I had always been able to put these incidents out of my mind.
This time, however, they were blatant. One evening a guest neurophysiologist lectured to our group. She was an extraordinary woman with a depth of knowledge and wisdom that was inspiring. I happened to be in the audio‑visual room when she arrived and handed one of the tech persons a video. She was very clear that this video was not to be copied. It was a record of her latest work in subtle energy, and she was very protective of it.
As soon as she left the room, the tech guy threw a blank video into the recorder and started to make a high‑speed copy of the video he had just been handed. “JD (initials of facilitator) will love to get his hands on this!”
I reached over and stopped the recorder. “No,” I said. The action actually surprised me since normally I would not interfere in a situation like this.
After the lecture, I was preparing to go back to my room for the evening. JD stopped me and asked me if I would come by his house that night. “What for?” I asked innocently.
“I’d like you to help me figure out what parts of the brain these sounds go to!”
I declined. The whole night was spent in a kind of intellectual turmoil. I felt responsible for the ninety or so people who had come to study with us. No, I reminded myself. I was just a staff person. The responsibility was on JD’s shoulders, not mine. Besides I was being paid really well. Best keep my mouth shut and get through the training as best I could.
Looking back, my difficulties with JD had been building for several months. Every training I participated in revealed ever new areas of dishonesty, and I was nearing a crisis‑one of those choice points that determine the next course of one’s life.
The synchronicity occurred the next day. JD decided to do a group cold water Rebirthing, which in my humble opinion, was insane. But JD believed in taking people to the edge.
Rebirthing is a circular breathing process that can be quite transformative and illuminating if done properly. If done improperly, it can be damaging. Now, typically Rebirthing is done on land first. After one gets used to the breathing process and the intense phenomena that go with it, one goes on to warm water. In some instances, a person might even be taken into warm water first. But cold water Rebirthing is a very intense experience. I think there was only one person in the entire group of ninety who had ever rebirthed before. And on staff, I was the only certified Rebirther. Not even JD had had that much experience with it. And among staff, only two people had ever been rebirthed, and these only once or twice.
The hotel pool was filled to the brim with ninety or so people in bathing suits. One person would hold the head of the rebirthee, and he or she would then float like a buoy. It was an overcast day with cool temperatures that made the water even colder. I was concerned, but I told myself that JD was in charge. I went on with the program.
As I looked at the sea of bodies trying to deal with an improperly planned experience, I thought to myself that this was sheer lunacy.
My discomfort with the lack of safety floated to the surface again. But I reminded myself that t was just on staff, and not responsible. JD was.
I felt the presence of someone beside me. She was a woman in her late fifties with a very concerned look on her face. She told me that she was frightened by what was happening, but “if Tom Kenyon is involved, I know it will be okay.”
I was stunned at the timing. And I knew that I would have to part ways with my mentor. That was the last training I participated in.
I will never forget the synchronicity of that moment. In one lightening bolt it had stripped away my ambivalence and eventually led me into my own work rather than co‑facilitating another’s.
So what do we make of all this?
How should we deal with synchronicities when they arise, and how on earth can we figure out what they mean?
Well for starters, meaning is relative to the perceiver. Our brains are continually interpreting events and creating meaning even when there is none. It’s what brains do, at least the thinking part.
Having dealt with synchronicities for many years now, I believe that they don’t necessarily possess meaning. The meaning, if any, comes out of how we interpret them.
I have come to treat them more like exclamation marks. They are a sign that something big is happening in the unconscious. Thus, I have come to turn my attention inward when I encounter a synchronicity. I search for what’s “moving” in my own psyche. And I personally find this line of questioning far more resourceful than trying to figure out what the synchronicity itself means.
Synchronicities are a bit like platypuses that play in the waters down in Australia. These cute little marsupials span two distinct species. They have flat tails like beavers and they have fur. They are warm-blooded like mammals, but they lay eggs like reptiles. Strangely odd, they are the result of joining two diverse biological worlds‑reptilian and mammalian.
Synchronicities are also the result of joining two worlds –our world of thought and feeling merged with the world of external events.
As we enter the 21st century, the fields of quantum physics, biology and psychology are revealing a remarkable inner terrain. It is being discovered that our psychology reflects our biology and the quantum uncertainty of our sub‑atomic roots.
Our minds, our thoughts and feelings are all crafted from stardust. And I am not just being poetic here. The myriad subatomic particles that swirl with great uncertainty in the quantum soup of the universe were birthed from a fiery beginning that we can only imagine.
Mind and matter were forged together in the foundry of the cosmos in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. For those who wish to attain insight into the mysteries of mind and matter, synchronicities are like gold. What you make out of it, is what you make out of it. But it is gold nonetheless.
*Erratum: In the original version of this article, I inadvertently made an error in my description of Carl Jung’s synchronicity description. I had written that it was a bumblebee that his patient was describing, but in fact it was a scarab. I chalk this blunder up to a distortion in my memory regarding the incident and a failure on my part to check the facts against my memory of them. I would also like to thank the reader who brought this to my attention.