Have you ever had an experience where you said, “Wow, what a coincidence.”  Maybe it was more.  Maybe it was actually a “synchronicity.” Let me explain through a Jungian perspective.

Carl Jung, the prominent Swiss psychiatrist, believed synchronicity meant “more than a coincidence.”  Jung, the thinker and founder of analytical psychology, connected synchronicities to the bigger world: the collective unconscious.  These were not just assumptions on his part, Jung believed the collective unconscious was universal (meaning common to all people) because he listened and researched for decades the overlapping stories and myths that people shared with him, people from various cultures and societies worldwide.  Jung also recorded people’s dreams from these many cultures and uncovered repetitive and often dominant themes and motifs.  He called these themes archetypes and reasoned that they resided in a collective unconscious.

Some examples of universal archetypes are life, death, love, mother, father, child and the hero’s battle between good and evil. (Think Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.)  The archetypes might have a different symbolism specific to that culture’s religion or cultural myth but the archetype remains the same.  Consider the Virgin Mary, known for her mercy as the all-loving mother for the Christian community, and Kwan Yin the Goddess of Compassion for Buddhism.

If we wish to evaluate an event’s synchronicity, Jung believed certain elements and conditions needed to be present: first , the episode transcends a concrete event in a spiritual way and outside events did not cause the synchronicity.  Second, the synchronistic occurrence must reflect back personal meaning to the individual experiencing it.  Third, the event is tied to deep emotion within that person.  Fourth, the synchronicity occurs at times of important transition in an individual’s life as after a death in the family or divorce or serious illness when how one proceeds afterward in his or her life seems unclear.

But how does this translate for you or me, and how would it appear?  Well, allow me to share two personal examples of what a synchronicity actually looks like and why a synchronistic experience feels extraordinarily meaningful to the person having it.

Last Thursday, I boarded The Amtrak Vermonter and headed to Burlington to visit a friend and colleague I met in 1993 at The C. G. Jung Institute in Kusnacht, Switzerland.  Eleven hours later, my friend Jackie met me at the station. That evening we dined in. Following dinner, Jackie abruptly leapt from her chair.

“Mare, I want you to ‘see’ this.”  She pulled out a little music box, wound it up and she handed it over.  Two lady bugs – lemon yellow and cherry red in color – spun and twirled about.  Beethoven’s beautiful “Fur Elise” tingled in the air.  And here is the first synchronicity, when time became suspended between two worlds.  You see, Fur Elise was the favorite classical composition my deceased daughter Katie played often for me, a fact that Jackie did not know.

This awesome synchronicity led to a few tears, a tender hug, and a glance heavenward on this, my first trip back to Vermont since dear Katie died.  Yes, this experience hit my heart hard; I felt it was a sign of Katie’s presence, a divine presence, or both.

The weekend ended – as all things do – and I headed back to Philadelphia.  This is where the second synchronicity occurred.  Shortly after leaving Vermont, the train stopped and a young family of three boarded. We exchanged smiles as they seated themselves across the aisle.  From the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but observe the little boy’s joyful spirit.  Naturally, I didn’t want to intrude (or did I?) but about an hour later, I saw he had nothing to play with so what’s a therapist, mother, and grandmother to do with all of her extra paper and pens?

I leaned toward the father and inquired if his child might like to have a pad and pen.  They asked him.  He nodded affirmatively.  I passed the pad and pen over to this little guy and returned to my reading.  Fifteen minutes later, he stood next to my seat.  “Hello!”  I looked up and smiled.  He handed me a picture.  It was a drawing of a woman and a little boy.  The woman had glasses on.  I had glasses on.  I looked at him smiling so luminously.

“This is you,” he said, “and this is me!”  He told me he was six years old.  I was so delighted by this sweet and generous gesture and his emerging ego strength.

“What a wonderful picture you have drawn!  Thank you!  Would I be able to keep it?” He tells me that yes, it is mine now, and I think this is the best train ride I have ever had.

“What is your name, dear boy, so I will always think of you and this special day together on the train?”

He looked directly into my eyes with the hold of a king and answered in the voice of an angel, “My name is Vishnu.”

I was spellbound. This was my second synchronicity.  Here is why. This little boy’s name was not Johnny or Tommy; his name was Vishnu, a major god in Hinduism who is normally depicted with four arms.  In each hand, he holds something symbolic.  In one hand, he holds a conch shell because its sound, ‘Om,’ represents the sound of creation.  In another hand, he holds a chakra (small weapon) ,which represents the purified mind.  In another hand, he holds a lotus flowe,r which represents spiritual liberation.  In another hand, he holds a mace ,which represents great spiritual, physical and mental strength.

I felt astounded and humbled that a little child with a prominent and religious Hindu name would so randomly cross my path.  This synchronistic experience felt not only meaningful to me but transcendent.  Why?  Because I am in a personal transition and I felt it was yet another sign of Katie’s presence, a divine presence, or both, supporting me.

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Mary Jane Hurley Brant

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S.,CGP, is a practicing psychotherapist for 37 years who specializes in grief. She is author of the book, When Every Day Matters: A Mother’s Memoir of Love, Loss and Life. In this first person narrative M.J. addresses the suicide of her father when she was 13 and the life and death of her daughter, Katie, of a brain tumor. She is the founder of Mothers Finding Meaning Again. MJ can be reached through her website www.MaryJaneHurleyBrant.com

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