Synchronicity & Opening to Coincidence

By: Sandra Ladley

I’m writing this on Leap Day and reflecting on the often unexpected ways that changes happen in our lives. At this moment, I’m longing for the support we all need to leap forward in alignment with truth and care for ourselves, each other, and our planet. You can’t help but notice that things are heating up in 2024 on several levels. I feel personally constrained by anxiety and avoidance, and overwhelmed by the news cycles of so much hatred, polarization, war, harm, and suffering. How can we step out of this? Where can we find support?   

A few times in my life, I felt trapped by a bad situation. I was up at night with dread and continually pondered how things would play out in my mind. More than once, something surprising happened that completely changed the course of events, and in the end, positively. Another example is how my closest friendships of over 40 years came about. I met one dear friend on the first day of college and another on the first day of work at my long-term employer. Who knew these first-day meetings would lead to sharing hundreds of experiences of life’s unfolding?

We name occurrences like these when things come together unexpectedly as happenstance, serendipity, kismet, signs, and fortune, and we also recognize them as phenomena like ‘first sight,’ deja-vu, premonitions, and gut feelings. Sometimes revelatory turning points come in the form of hitting bottom, near catastrophe, or death. People in recovery from addiction or illness will cite that unplanned horrible moment as the thing that saved their lives or opened them up in profound new ways,

Carl Jung used the word synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences in his life's work. Recognition of these synchronous moments is not just for those who tend toward woo-woo or wishful thinking – researchers in fields including math, economics, physics, psychology, spirituality, and creativity study patterns of events, meaning, and interconnectedness beyond linear thinking or cause, beyond space and time. Some may call this god’s plan a higher power, fate, or destiny. Atheists, skeptics, and those not spiritually inclined can’t help but recognize that moves on the big game board of life extend beyond our control, beyond the individual ways we act or think.   

When we feel stuck, lost, or hopeless, how might we attune to the unseen and unexpected, the meaningful coincidences of our lives for help? How might we cultivate increased recognition and appreciation of synchronicity and use it to nourish our well-being?  We are moving toward an increasingly artificial reality, further separating us from our human capacities of openness and interconnectedness. How might we reclaim and cultivate our deep and refined skills and, as some say, rewild our human psyche? How might we listen and live as part of our larger ecosystems where we do not ignore or dominate the natural world?

Literature on the topic of strengthening our capacity for synchronicity cites common methods, which I discuss below. These align well with the Karuna Training program.

Develop a Mindfulness Practice

Research consistently cites mindfulness meditation as the baseline for developing attunement and synchronization and opening our minds and hearts. This is where the Karuna Training program in contemplative psychology begins. In meditation, we sit down, bring attention to our breathing, note the habitual patterns of our minds, and discover cracks of openness. Sometimes, our hearts melt as we open to and befriend our emotions.

Call Your Ancestors, Allies, and Descendants

From the vantage point of karma, it’s said that we bear the fruit of seeds our ancestors planted seven generations ago, roughly 150 years ago. I recently watched the film Lincoln again, which caused me to contemplate what seeds my American ancestors planted after the Civil War. We rightly reflect on and feel the harm caused by our forebears, including our painful childhoods, and often miss the epigenetic strands of courage, wisdom, and strength passed on to us. In Karuna Training, students focus on their personal history of wisdom and sanity, the qualities that brought them to the present. In indigenous cultures and embodied disciplines like Social Presencing Theater and Family Constellation work, we call on the human field past, present, and future for guidance: our ancestors in the past, allies in the present, and descendants nudging us forward. 

Set an Intention

When I’m preparing to teach or write on a particular topic, I ask the phenomenal world to show me the way, so to speak. I count on the messages that come in conversations, on walks, in study, in the news, and through events. It happens in surprising ways.

Do Nothing - Open Your Senses, Listen, and Wait

Are you trapped in a Moebius strip of rushing?  Do you find yourself continually heads down, speedily scrolling on your phone? We’re so anxiously focused on productivity. What happens when you do nothing?  Try slowing down and stopping. Relax and open your senses. Be present and wait. See what happens.     

Attune to the Natural World

It helps to become a natural world student and learn from the elements, the sky, the sun and moon, and the seasons. Karuna Training is rooted in the experiential study of elemental wisdom. Wandering in nature is an integral part of our retreats. Being in the natural world and cultivating a garden can both ground us and broaden our perspective. Learning from environmental weather patterns can help us understand our psychological weather.

Welcome Dreaminess and Dreams

There are many stories of people being awakened by that Aha! moment, the solution to the problem out of nowhere, that great next phrase of music. Our dreams and our hypnagogic states, when our judgmental mind can be less strong, can open our receptivity to nonconceptual synchronicity.

Learn More about Historical Patterns

Like with nature, we have patterns in human civilization, and, as it said, history repeats itself. Reading historian Heather Cox Richardson’s daily newsletter Letters from an American helps me understand today’s political events in light of the patterns of history. I recently learned that it is thought that Americans first became broadly culturally attuned to synchronicity when former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which they both signed. 

Go on Retreats or Quests

For millennia, people have gone into retreat and done vision quests to open their minds and hearts beyond the limits of self-concept, and to receive guidance. Today we do things like spiritual retreats, sweat lodges, and psychedelic-assisted journeys for this purpose. In Karuna Training, we do week-long retreats in a natural setting and have immersive experiences of the five elements through Maitri Space Awareness practice,   a centerpiece of the training program.        

Be a Tracker and Journal

I admire the work of Tom Brown and others who train in wilderness tracking and survival. We can also learn to notice and follow tracks in life generally, the repeated signs and lessons when something is trying to get through to us. Keeping a journal, noticing, and reflecting on themes can be transformative. 

In Closing: Consider Auspicious Coincidence  

Karuna Training has its roots in Vajrayana Buddhism which is oriented around the notion of auspicious coincidence (tashi tendrel), which assumes that time and linear reality are not the ultimate way things are organized. Everything that happens, whether we see it as good or bad fortune – nothing is a mistake. All coincidences are meaningful; all are messages that can wake us up and help us. Chogyam Trungpa described this as “when you begin to trust in those messages, the reflections of the phenomenal world, the world begins to seem like a bank, or reservoir, of richness. You feel like you are living in a rich world, one that never runs out of messages.”

Later this month, a two-part podcast on synchronicity and meaningful coincidences will be available on all streaming platforms. Terry Jaworski, another Karuna faculty member, will join me. The first part will include our conversation; the second will include a guided practice session. I hope you’ll take a listen!

Click here to listen to the Karuna Training Podcast

Article written by Sandra Ladley

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