One of this year's best selling books is called SMALL MIRACLES: EXTRAORDINARY COINCIDENCES FROM EVERYDAY LIFE by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal. The book is a collection of stories of extraordinary coincidences in the lives of ordinary people. "Coincidences," say the authors, quoting the writer Doris Lessing, "are God's way of remaining anonymous", or the universe's way of telling us that there is more to reality than meets the eye. Coincidences are small miracles that can awaken us "to the rich promise of a bounteous universe and the splendor lying dormant within your soul. Coincidences are everywhere and can happen any time. When your soul is ready, they will come. All that is required is that you open your heart." (p.xiii)
The Father of Meaningful Coincidences, which he called Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, was the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung. Jung articulated his concept of synchronicity after many years of study and reflection based on experiences with patients in psychotherapy and conversations with astrophysicists Albert Einstein and Professor Wolfgang Pauli. By saying that coincidences were "acausal" Jung meant that they could not be accounted for or explained in purely physical or material cause and effect terms, but that nonetheless they had a meaningful connection or link to reality itself. In other words they are not just mere coincidence or happenstance. The universe participates in the human quest for meaning. Jung said that synchronicity indicates that coincidences are "more than chance, less than causality", a "confluence of events in a numinous or awesome atmosphere." Moreover, he became convinced that these synchronicities arose during points of crisis in people's lives and contained insights for future growth and development.
Jung's most famous case of synchronicity in psychotherapy was with the woman patient who recited a dream she had had in which she was given a costly piece of jewelry, a golden scarab (beetle). While she was relating the dream Jung heard something tapping at the window from outside. Jung opened the window and in flew a scarbaeid beetle which he caught in his hand, its gold-green color resembling that of the golden scarab in the woman's dream. He handed the beetle to his patient and said, "Here is your scarab."
The woman, who was highly educated and intelligent, had been resisting dealing with her feelings and emotions. She was very adept at rationalization and intellectualizing. After the scary scarab experience she was able to get to the root of her emotional problems and to make real progress in her growth toward wholeness.
The universe had somehow cooperated in her therapy by giving her a meaningful coincidence. The scarab that tapped on Jung's window was no ordinary bug. It was somewhat rare in those parts. It has, as one writer notes, "perennially symbolized transformation and metamorphosis, the very things that this woman's unconscious was calling out for. It was as if the struggle in her soul had been projected like a powerful movie image into the outer world" (SMALL MIRACLES, p. 20) and the universe responded accordingly.
The scarab synchronicity experience repeated itself in manifold fashion with a friend of the writer Philip Cousineau whom he had sent some stories about meaningful coincidences including the scarab beetle story by Jung. His friend, a female yoga instructor, mused all morning about the connections of seemingly disparate events in her own life. Later, as she went out to check the mail, she walked through her front yard, and behold, "the plants and the air swarmed with the presence of hundreds of blue-green scarabs, their iridescence brightly reflected in the sun of midday." She thought to herself, "Am I dreaming?" The beetles stayed for some 36 hours and then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Her experience prompted her to write, "Perhaps the flow of synchronicity is continuous and uninterrupted rather than special or epiphanous." From one scarab to hundreds. There are meaningful coincidences happening everyday. Perhaps we only have to open our minds and hearts to become aware of them, or to evoke them in our own life experience.
Halberstam and Leventhal in their neat little book, SMALL MIRACLES, cite a hundred or so stories of meaningful coincidences in people's everyday lives. One of the most extraordinary stories is about a young Jewish man, Joey Riklis, from Cleveland, Ohio, who goes to visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem after his father had died. His father had been a survivor of the holocaust and was an ardent practitioner of his Jewish faith. Joey had rebelled against his father's faith and the two of them had been alienated for some time. He was feeling guilt and remorse over his father's death and blamed himself for it. Joey had traveled to India and done his share of guru hoping in hopes of finding an alternative to his Hebrew religious heritage. But nothing truly satisfied or filled his spiritual longing. So he went to Israel to explore the heritage that he had formerly spurned. While there he noticed people scribbling notes on small pieces of paper and inserting them into the crevices of the Wailing Wall. He asked a young man there what this was about and was told that they were petitionary prayers. People believed the stones were so holy that any requests placed inside of them would be especially blessed. So Joey decided to write his own petition, addressed to his father. He wrote, "Dear Father, I beg you to forgive me for the pain I caused you. I loved you very much and I will never forget you. And please know that nothing that you taught me was in vain. I will not betray your family's deaths. I promise."
Joey searched for an empty crevice in the Wall to place his petition. There were notes crammed and overflowing all over the place. After an hour of trying to find an empty space he finally found a spot and inserted his small note into the crack. As he did so he "accidentally dislodged another that had been resting there, and it fell to the ground." He bent down and picked it up and was going to put it back when he was overcome by a powerful impulse to open the note and read it, which he did. Here is what he read: My Dear Son Joey, If you should ever happen to come to Israel and somehow miraculously find this note, this is what I want you to know: I always loved you even when you hurt me, and I will never stop loving you. You are, and always will be, my beloved son. And Joey, please know that I forgive you for everything, and only hope that you in turn will forgive a foolish old man." Signed, Adam Riklis, Cleveland, Ohio.
I have had my share of meaningful coincidences in my life as I am sure many of you have. The most meaningful coincidence in my life involves an early encounter between my wife and myself. We got to talking about astrological signs and birthdays and she asked me when I was born. I told her I was a Sagittarius and that my birthday was on December 11, 1936. She told me that her first husband's birthday was also on the 11th of December, though a different year. My God, I thought, what a strange coincidence. What does this mean? Well, my wife thought to herself (and later told me), "I married the wrong December 11 man the first time. I was supposed to marry this man." And, of course, she did. And we are still married some 30 years later. I think it worked this time. Of course, it was only a coincidence.
Some synchronicities are matters of small import and sometimes amusing. More than 20 years ago I was visiting with a friend, a former priest, at his home in Hingham. He has since moved. We were part of a spiritual awareness group. After the meeting he took me into his little greenhouse where he had a variety of plants growing. He offered me one of them, a sample of Swedish ivy, and I said to him, "Great, I'm part Swedish, you know." So he offered me another plant, "How'd you like a Wandering Jew?" "You're kidding," I replied. "I'm half Jewish also on my father's side." Then he offered me a third plant and said, "Have a Fucia, Fewkes!" I call that synchronicity in triplicate.
Let me share with you another meaningful coincidence in my life based on a dream I had in August of 1976. I dreamed I was a participant in an interfaith dance celebration. A large group of us were locked arm and arm in a semi-circle, swaying and chanting prayers of peace, each of us in our own language and idiom. At the center of this celebration, standing on a raised platform, directing the pageant, was an Indian Angelic Masculine-Feminine figure dressed in robes and wearing a kind of pointed hat. We seem to be in some kind of outdoor amphitheater. The crowd or audience is deeply moved by this spectacle and the fact that each could pray for peace in their own religious language and still be part of a unified spiritual whole. Some eight to nine months later in the spring of 1977 I invited John Marsh, John and Carol's son, who was intent on preparing for the UU ministry, to attend an unusual ceremony with me at the Boston Armory building on Arlington Street. It was called "The Cosmic Celebration" and was to be led and directed by Pir Vilyant Kahn, the head of the Sufi Order of the West. What it turned out to be was a dramatic portrayal in word and song and colorful costumes of the major founders and teachers of the world's great religions. It was very well done.
The Boston Armory is a large gymnasium with the bleachers going up the sides and the main floor down below in the center, not unlike the amphitheater in my dream. Near the end of the ceremony I remembered my dream and I said to John, wouldn't it be interesting if the performers came up into the audience and invited us to join them on the floor below. Well, that is exactly what happened. So, there we were, audience and performers, linked arm and arm--all of us from varying religious and faith backgrounds--swaying, singing and chanting together in unison, all part of a larger spiritual whole. And standing in the center on a raised parapet, directing the colorful pageantry, was Pir Vilyat Kahn dressed in religious garments and robes, and wearing a hat not unlike the one in my dream.
My precognitive dream, followed by this meaningful coincidence, confirmed for me once again why I became a Unitarian Universalist minister. I needed a religion that welcomed and celebrated the spiritual ideals of many faith traditions and could do so with honesty, respect and integrity for all concerned, a religion of reason, freedom, love and tolerance. I think of every Sunday in a Unitarian Universalist church as a kind of cosmic celebration of humanity's oneness in the midst of the rich diversity of many traditions and viewpoints and values that comprise our congregations, all of which are prized and held in sacred respect and regard.
Allow me to share with you one final synchronistic dream experience from this past summer at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, during Psi Symposium week. A couple of days before the end of the conference I dreamed that I was standing on a high ledge by a fence railing overlooking the cliffs and water below, much like the one at the Grand Canyon where we were last June. I notice a female seagull perched on the limb of an evergreen tree. It is my wife. Don't ask me how she became a bird or how I knew it was her. I am concerned that she might not be able to come back to this side, meaning the human side. I feel I must go out to her and that means I must fly like a seagull. Since this is a dream I know I can fly. So I start to float out to her in my human form. As I do so I am transformed into a male seagull, all white. I perch myself on a branch near by. At this height, thousands of feet above, I can look down and see the water below, and a small boat near a dock in the bay. I feel a great sense of freedom.
Later I shared the dream with my Psi Symposium conferees on the closing day of the conference. I told them that each of us has a white soul bird deep within us and that we all have the potential to soar to higher levels of consciousness and creativity. As I related my dream to the group a seagull flew by the window of the Loft where we were meeting. "Look, there's your seagull!" someone exclaimed. My dream, of course, was a blend of my being at Ferry Beach by the ocean and of my concern and anticipation of returning home to my wife in Norwell who at the time was suffering with a cellulitis infection in her leg. When I told her about my dream she reminded me that in the only successful past life group regression that she did with me a number of years ago she saw herself, not as a human being, but as a seagull. A double synchronicity! The ancient Egyptians once conceived of the soul as a bird, the ka, that took leave of the body in dreams and at death. The ancient Phoenix dove into the fire and rose up out of the ashes as a soaring white bird. Christians symbolized the Holy Spirit which descended upon Jesus at his baptism as a white dove. The unconscious mind, even of a rational Unitarian Universalist, still carries this symbolism within its depths.
Strange coincidence that my dream corresponded with a favorite song at Ferry Beach, called "Flying Free" by Don Besig, which we sing from time to time here at First Parish Norwell. Listen to the words from the opening and closing verses:
There is a place I call my own, where I can stand by the sea. And look beyond the things I've known, and dream that I might be free. Like the bird above the trees, gliding gently on the breeze, I wish that all my life I'd be, without a care and flying free. So life's a song that I must sing, a gift of love I must share. And when I see the joy it brings, my spirit soars through the air. Like the bird up in the sky, life has taught me how to fly. For now I know what I can be, and now my heart is flying free. My unconscious soul took that song and turned it into a dream. Then the universe chimed in by choreographing a flying seagull outside the window of the loft just as I was sharing my dream with others.
One of the purposes of sharing stories of meaningful coincidence is to help us to reintegrate wonder back into our lives. Joseph Campbell once wrote, "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced." I like what the medieval Sufi mystic, Rumi, said: "Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth." In other words, find your own meaning. The universe will assist you if your quest includes the heart as well as the head. Examine the course of your own life and see where seemingly meaningless chance turned into meaningful coincidence right before your eyes. Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. Integrate wonder back into your life.
Mysterious Source of Life and Being, we do not know whether we read meaning into the stars and other happenings that are not really there, or whether we seek meaning for our lives because the ultimate meaning of existence draws us to itself. Help us to fill the hunger in our souls by discovering the mystery and meaning of life in our own experience. Then may we know the wonder and gratitude of being alive. Amen.