transpersonal living thinking and living beyond the self

Synchronicity as Psychospiritual Practice

By Amber R. Balk, Ph.D.

This is my first piece for Transpersonal Living. Having spent the past 15 years writing within academic contexts, this opportunity brings a profound sense of freedom. I have long been fighting for the right to express my voice in my own original way. Here is another moment to seize it! Surprisingly, I find myself pausing to call upon courage. It’s like stepping out naked onto a stage. The best I can do is set the intention that whatever written contributions I share may serve the reader. I hope my work reaches you as a thought-provoking stimulant for future dialogue and creative projects. I welcome contact and feedback. Thank you, in advance, for receiving what I have to offer.

So, I’ve been sitting with the concept of transpersonal living. What does this mean to me? I’ve lived my life always trying to find my place in the mix of things. I was once a young, self-proclaimed atheist embedded in the conservative Deep South. My family imparted a version of fundamentalist Christianity, which needless to say, did not feel an innate fit for me. I developed into a curious skeptic drawn to study all the things which lack definitive answers. This shifted into seeking mode in graduate school. Now I live as an agnostic who embraces a wide range of spiritual practices and holds the very real possibility that the full nature of reality is mysterious and vastly beyond human comprehension. All of these passages have been what I would call transpersonal living.

And while I find it important to be transparent about where I am coming from, what I really want to write about for this first piece is a component of transpersonal living as I experience it; I’d rather not remain in a solely heady space here. When I dig into the heart of transpersonal living in a more soulful way, what emerges as an imperative urge is a desire to address the most significant aspect of my psychospiritual practice—the phenomenon of synchronicity.

Most people are aware of synchronicity. These are meaningful coincidences, to define it most succinctly (but, I must add, it is so much more deliciously complex than this brief definition). It happens when you are thinking of a friend and the phone rings—it’s the friend who was on your mind! Or you dream of something bizarre—let’s say of riding a red horse which you then merge with and experience empowering strength and freedom as you/red horse gallop up a mountain and into a large castle in the sky. Then while traveling in the following weeks you are given a red Mustang rental car (keys handed over by a grinning sales representative) which you drive through the desert to attend an event centered on synchronicity, meeting with like-minded individuals who know and understand the importance of synchronicity. This is one of my real life synchronicities.

The experience imparted a feeling of deep belonging, of knowing place and purpose. Dream world and waking world united in a literal and unexpected way. I did, indeed, merge with a red horse for an amazing journey. The synchronicity reflected a multilayered deep relationship between my intrapsychic world and the so-called real world. This is the deeper role of synchronicity. In my opinion, it is best not to dismiss these occurrences; they serve our souls’ creative becoming, sort of like a feedback loop from the Universe (or God/Goddess/Godde/whatever you want to call it).

Amber photo2

Amber photo1

Carl G. Jung coined the term synchronicity, which was a psychospiritual concept that he labored for many years to study, clarify, theorize, and live into. In 1930, Jung first used the term publicly in a memorial address for Richard Wilhelm, his friend and a translator of the I Ching, or Book of Changes (Jung, 1960, p. vii). The I Ching is an ancient Chinese philosophical system that very much employs synchronicity, or acausal parallelism as Jung originally referred to it (Jung, 1961, p. 374). Jung’s understanding of synchronicity was greatly enhanced by Wilhelm’s work and their friendship, so it was apropos that during Wilhelm’s memorial Jung would first publically utter the word synchronicity.

Jung went on to develop his theory of synchronicity, which formally emerged as a monograph entitled Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, published in 1960. Here he provided ample examples and exemplified synchronicity as a function of the psyche; it is the interplay between the individual aspect of psyche with the larger collective aspect of psyche. “Synchronicity therefore consists of two factors: a) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition. b) An objective situation coincides with this content” (Jung, 1960, p. 31).

In other words, synchronicity could be thought of as a connecting principle between the individual self and the larger world; a link between the macrocosm and the microcosm (Jung, 1960, pp. 74-86). Quoting Agrippa von Nettesheim, Jung provided the following explanation:

Agrippa probably means what we would call the unconscious. The spirit that “penetrates all things,” or shapes all things is the World Soul: “The soul of the world therefore is a certain only thing, filling all things, bestowing all things, binding and knitting together all things, that it might make one frame of the world . . . .” Those things in which this spirit is particularly powerful therefore have a tendency to “beget their like,” in other words, to produce correspondences or meaningful coincidences. (p78)

Jung’s ideas on synchronicity were sparked by conversations he had with Albert Einstein between the years of 1910 and 1913 (Jung, 1960), and he later collaborated with theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli (who helped establish the field of quantum physics). Jung and Pauli attempted to bridge concepts from the seemingly disparate fields of psychology and physics. All of these interactions helped Jung to more readily express his thoughts on synchronicity and the role it plays in psychic development.

Others have continued to develop Jung’s thoughts on synchronicity (Aziz, 1990; Tarnas, 2006, 2014; Grof, 2006). Robert Aziz’s C.G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity (1990) greatly expands and further grounds the concept of synchronicity within the context of Jungian psychology. Importantly, he clarifies and exemplifies how the inner and outer events do not have to sync up in linear time and may occur months or years apart while maintaining a significant impact on an individual’s psyche. Jung seemed at times attached to the idea of “clock-time simultaneity” (Aziz, 1990, p. 71). Furthermore, Aziz emphasizes the compensatory function of synchronicity:

In analytical psychology, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious spheres of the psyche are described as compensatory. In this model, the regulating element is understood to be situated in the unconscious itself. “The unconscious processes that compensate the conscious ego,” Jung writes, “contain all those elements that are necessary for the self-regulation of the psyche as a whole.” (Aziz, 1990, pp. 16-17)

Thus, the groundwork is laid for synchronicity as psychospiritual practice. Additionally, as a transpersonal researcher, I have developed a research methodology (in its fledgling stages) which explicitly employs synchronicity within the research protocol. The researcher’s role is to continually attune to the interface between consciousness and the unconscious, with the intention of enhancing and informing the research project. This is done by meticulously noting and studying synchronicities and dreams, both of which help the researcher access emergent information in service of the research project. This type of research is best done in conjunction with a group who endeavor to create positive social change in local communities (Balk, 2015).

While the idea of engaging synchronicity is exciting, it is not to be undertaken without caution and a fair warning of the level of personal effort necessary to adequately process these experiences. It takes massive amounts of energy to bring the unconscious forth into consciousness. And synchronicities may occur that require a deep understanding of one’s personal process in order to appropriately utilize the experience. In fact, I don’t recommend interpreting synchronicity but rather using them as signposts. They are reflections that something is happening. Deciding whether or not the something is the most beneficial for one’s health and wholeness requires psychological strength, endurance, flexibility, and discernment. It also requires assistance from others who can think synchronistically (Aziz, 1990) and who are not immersed in the unfolding process.

In closing, I’ll say that synchronicity is a direct reflection of the Great Mysterious to me; it is where I bump up against something much larger than this little ego, and it helps me to expand and grow. It is my spiritual path. It is the closest I’ve been able to come to feeling like I’ve touched on an understanding of the concept of god. I cannot fully express my gratitude for synchronicity and for those who have given contemporary language to this profound phenomenon. I have much more to say on this topic, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. I invite you to join me in continuing the conversation. Perhaps synchronicity will bring us together. Actually, I know it will.

Blessings~ Amber Balk, Ph.D.

 

References

Aziz, Robert. (1990). C. G. Jung’s psychology of religion and synchronicity. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Balk, Amber. (2015). Doing death differently: An integrative-holotropic community action research project (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (UMI No. 3709202)

Grof, Stanislav. (2006). When the impossible happens: Adventures in non-ordinary realities.Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1960). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle (R. F. C. Hull,Trans.). New York, NY: Bollingen Foundation.

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1961). Memories, dreams, reflections (A. Jaffe, Ed.; R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York, NY: Random House.

Tarnas, Richard. (2006). Cosmos and psyche: Intimations of a new world view. New York, NY:Penguin Group.

Tarnas, Richard. (2014, September). Varieties of synchronistic experience. In Synchronicity:Matter and psyche. Symposium conducted at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, JoshuaTree, CA.

Comments are closed.