Sometimes I am asked how a mainstream and research-oriented clinical psychologist like myself can believe in synchronicity. After all, isn’t synchronicity a somewhat mystical and unscientific notion? It implies that apparent coincidences may be non-random, somehow connecting our thinking and the external world. It cannot be readily explained using logic or reason.
I generally respond that consistent with what I tell my clients, if our view of the world is contradicted by evidence from repeated, direct personal experience, then we would best be prepared to change our view of the world rather than to simply dismiss the contradictory evidence.
As a young adult, I was well rewarded in a Western education system for my capacity for rational and logical thinking. I saw no evidence of a higher consciousness that couldn’t seemingly be accounted for by the mechanics of nature and evolution. So what led me to think that some higher consciousness, or organizing force, existed beyond what is manifest? Unsurprisingly, it was mainly the repeated experience of compelling synchronicity that I could no longer reasonably dismiss as random happenstance. I was introduced to the idea of synchronicity as a sceptic when I read a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy. It was recommended to me by Dr John Travis, a pioneer of the wellness model, who suggested it might help me appreciate why a number of leading scientists might have turned more to religion as a result of their findings. That intrigued me, as I expected that, generally, scientists worth their salt would be atheists.
Soon after reading about synchronicity I was stunned by a seeming explosion of it in my everyday life. For example, one day, all six of my therapy clients spontaneously reported striking coincidences. As one example, a week earlier I had asked a socially isolated young woman whether she had heard of the expression, ‘No man is an island’. She had not. However, soon afterward, her mother asked her to write an essay for her that was set as the first task in her creative writing course. The topic was ‘No man is an Island’. I felt that it was not just myself who was setting my client homework.
I soon experienced dozens of spooky coincidences of a similar order within a matter of weeks. I then learnt that the psychiatric nurse in the next-door office had actively explored synchronicity, the only person I knew for long afterwards to have done so. I learnt much from our subsequent discussions. This exemplified the synchronistic saying, ‘when the pupil is ready, the teacher will come’.
A few years later I met a very wise man, Ross, with whom I shared occasional long lunches over the 25 years since. Ross has since been a close family friend and my primary mentor. He commonly has a striking story of a recent synchronistic experience. He once met a woman at a dinner party whom he recognized from a cruise ship sailing from London forty years earlier, when he was aged eleven. He described the clothes she wore and man she accompanied in detail. She confirmed that he recalled all the details he described accurately, except for the season. It later emerged that she had been on the same ship and route six months earlier, in summer. Ross had sailed in winter. Such tales, along with findings from quantum physics, would seem to force an open-minded person to question our usual notions of space and time.
In those early days I was struck by the uncanny extent to which my girlfriend and I kept encountering the number six, often in its double form. For example, we were repeatedly offered room 66 in different hotels. The affirmation of strikingly repeated sixes, as much as anything else, convinced me that my girlfriend was the right life partner for me. That sentiment seemed further confirmed when, as a result of unexpectedly changed circumstances, I later realized that we had become engaged at 6 PM on 6 June. That seemed to fit.
Listening to the stories of thousands of clients over the years, I developed an increasing sense that there was a pattern or order to our lives beyond what was obviously manifest, consistent with the idea of destiny. I thought my grandmother summed this up best, suggesting that life is like a jigsaw puzzle – the longer you live, the more the jigsaw pieces seem to fall into place.
However, it didn’t seem that much was falling into place when at the age of 32 years I succumbed to a severe depression, partly in response to the toxic hospital culture in which I was working. I was hospitalized twice. Unsurprisingly, I experienced little synchronicity during that period. Synchronicity often seems to be a sign that you’re on the right track. I certainly wasn’t. I might have felt more of a glimmer of hope had I recognized the previously auspicious timing of my admission to hospital, 6 PM on 6 June, exactly six years after becoming engaged. I certainly didn’t suspect that such a period of severe and prolonged depression would transform into one of the most motivating and instructive experiences I could possibly have to develop ideas on how we might improve mental health services. I’ve had a passion to do so ever since, and refer to my proposed alternative as ‘positive psychiatry’.
I subsequently returned to further postgraduate study in clinical psychology. Fortunately, I have had no recurrence of depression in the 25 years since. However, ten years ago some close friends believed that I was again suffering from mental illness. By contrast, I believed that I was going through a period of uncommon creativity and effectiveness whilst dealing with some major life challenges around the time of my mother’s death. Some friends thought that I was manic. I thought that I was going through a legitimate and constructive mystical experience, guiding me as to how I might act in addressing challenges. I also considered that I was engaging in an experiment whereby I would allow my brain chemistry to shift in a way that superficially overlapped with hypomanic symptoms, to assist my level of creativity and energy. I was confident that I would be able to reverse that process when its purpose had been served, without knowing in advance how I would do so. I have since learnt that my example, however unconventional, was not an isolated one. It relates to the question of psychosis as opposed to satori, or enlightenment experience. This issue is grossly under-recognized in mainstream mental health systems.
Three years ago my interest in synchronicity became more a focus in my personal and professional life. Sandra Rigby, my commissioning editor at Watkins, phoned out of the blue to ask whether I had thought of writing a book. She had become aware of my interest in positive psychology and had checked out the extensive relevant material on our practice website. Within ten minutes or so, the topic of synchronicity came up. Sandra recognized my passion for the subject and suggested that I might write about that. It was a compelling prospect. I couldn’t say no.
Over the two years of writing and rewriting the book, I was repeatedly struck by unexpected learning. Initially I had no idea of the seeming level of scientific support for synchronistic phenomena, including the apparent overlap between such phenomena and findings from quantum physics. I had no idea that there was an emerging psychiatric issue related to differentiating psychosis from forms of legitimate enlightenment experience. I was unaware of existing models that helped make sense of this dilemma. I had no idea that some of the most prominent mainstream psychologists could be interested in shamanism or paranormal phenomena as I had become. I had no idea of the extent to which the power of placebo effects had been demonstrated showing remarkable interactions between mind and body. I had no idea that the disparate areas which I sought to relate in the book – of mainstream psychology, paranormal phenomena, quantum physics and shamanism – all were uncannily related to one and the same symbol.
Over and above this, I had no idea of the extent to which I could explore and write about such issues without seeming to jeopardize my mainstream professional credibility. Ironically, whilst writing about synchronicity, I was appointed as a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society and invited to serve on the local scientific committee of the world CBT Congress, arguably the most scientifically-based of all conferences related to psychological therapy. As another synchronistic twist, the convener of that committee is the psychologist who saw me when I was hospitalized for depression 25 years ago.
Throughout these experiences I have felt that there has been an underpinning theme of personal transformation and paradigm change. Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence focuses on all the issues described here. They relate to not only psychological, but also spiritual, growth. They relate to both mind and soul. The book incorporates theory, anecdotes and personal and client examples. Its purpose is to empower others to more fully explore their inner life, mindfully allowing their life path to unfold consistent with their personal goals, values and destiny. It is a process that Jung called ‘individuation’. He believed that the problems facing the world a century ago called for as many people as possible to individuate to truly address them. This book explicitly draws on Jung’s legacy and echoes his call, which seems ever more relevant in the 21st-century.