“Synchronicity” is a term used by C.G. Jung to refer to what you and I might call “coincidence” but he preferred to think of as “an acausal connecting principle.” Jung, as you may know, is the former Freud disciple who developed the theory of the collective unconscious. I’m not sure that’s going to be relevant here, but I’m throwing it in anyway, just in case it is.
Jung wrote quite a bit about synchronicity in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, which I have not read, nor ever will. I did, however, once struggle through a slim volume published in paperback in 1973 that was extracted from the longer work, and was called — not surprisingly — Synchronicity.
Almost the only thing that remained in my head when I had reached the last page (p. 115) was that two or more seemingly similar events that appear to be entirely unconnected by causality (one causing the other or others), may indeed be connected, and are therefore not simply startling or impressive coincidence. Synchronicity doesn’t happen regularly or predictably. [Here he inserts some probability studies I cannot comprehend, math never having been my strong suit.] But it does happen. He posited the connection as being in the psyche of the person who perceives the connection. [If you want to go further with this idea — into the collective unconscious — be my guest. I wouldn’t dare.]
Given the fact that the 115 pages were so difficult to read, they did not invite re-reading. In fact, I can’t think why I bought the book in the first place. [You will learn more of my impulses when book buying if you stick around this blog.] I therefore nearly gave away Synchronicity at least a dozen times when weeding out my library to make room for new titles. But hey, Jung, an important name, not exactly a romance writer, looks good on the shelf. [Tsk, tsk.]
So the book was there this afternoon when I went searching it out — squeezed between Eating Animals (by Jonathan Safran Foer, who’ll turn you into a vegetarian if you don’t watch out) and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (by Daniel Pool, who knows a great deal about life in my favorite go-to century.)
What put me in mind of Synchronicity after all these years? An enclosure in a belated New Year’s card that just came in the mail from a lady with a Japanese first name and a Hungarian last name. I have absolutely no idea who this lady is or why she has sent me her belated best wishes for “a joyous, healthy and prosperous New Year.” As if she realized I might be puzzled, she has also included a personal note on the inside of the card: “It was very nice to meet you over the summer. Thank you very much for your help. Warmest regards.” She signed it with her first name.
What did I do that was so helpful? Why did I give her my address? I no longer have a clue. She did provide her business card, which strongly suggests why she is keeping up what she appears to think is our acquaintance: She’s a broker associate at the Princeton branch of Sotheby’s International Realty.
But her business card was not the enclosure which triggered thoughts of synchronicity. Also tucked into the New Year’s card was a folded half sheet of paper with a photocopied quotation from one Neil Gaiman on it. [If you know who Neil Gaiman is, good for you. I had to look him up in Wikipedia. 31 year old English fiction writer. He’s written and published many books for such a relatively young man.]
Remember my yesterday’s post? About doing one thing every day that scares you? Look at what Neil Gaiman had to say the very next day. Except it wasn’t even the very next day. That’s when I received it. It was sent on January 6. Could the Sotheby’s broker associate foresee what I was going to post on January 10? No, of course she couldn’t. So what’s the connection — if Jung is right and there is one — between my post and the broker associate sending me the Gaiman quotation?
Here — somewhat edited — is what we’re talking about:
I hope that in this year to come you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself…. You’re doing things you’ve never done before….
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make new mistakes…. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work, or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever. [Italics added.]
— Neil Gaiman
I’m sure the Sotheby’s broker associate sent out her New Year wishes with the two enclosures to everyone in her address book. I’m also sure all those other people will not see any possible connection between the Gaiman quotation and me because they don’t know me and didn’t read my blog post yesterday. To them, it’s not even a coincidence that his thinking about pushing through fear comes together with mine, although from a different angle — because there’s nothing else and no one else in their conscious minds to connect with the quotation.
But I wrote yesterday’s post. So for me, is it just coincidence? Or is there an “acausal connecting principle” that links my receipt of Gaiman’s message to my post, even though he’s never heard of either me or my post and I never heard of him before today?
And you? You read yesterday’s post (if you did). So when you also read the Gaiman quote in today’s post, what did you think about it reaching me the very day after I had posted about pushing through scared, and about my decision to include it here today so it could reach you too?
Accidental coincidence? Or synchronicity? Or should we just forget the whole thing, and go find something else new to do that scares us?