I was driving to Chicago for my friend Eileen’s wedding, feeling quite enthused, in a very good mood – I had had a good day. I was also quite overtired. It had been a challenging week, with a lot of burning the midnight oil. As I was driving along, I was playing the same wonderful Eugene Friesen “Remembering You” song that has done good things for me on other occasions. I’m driving along, feeling good: feeling loved, loving myself, loving my life.
A car goes by and I notice that this young woman has a clothing bag hanging on the hook in her back seat, and I think, “Oh, that’s just like the one that I’ve got – oh, no, it’s like the one that I’ve got my clothes hanging in, still in my bedroom, to bring to Chicago.” And I have not brought them in the car. And what follows for me is a kind of an agonizing couple of minutes of worry, first – “what am I going to wear to the damn wedding?” Then shame and embarrassment at having been so untogether. And then, after I’ve gone through that, I start to do some problem solving. Actually I could go out that evening and get a shirt and tie, and my stepbrother in Chicago probably has a suit I could borrow.
And then I say, “Hey, why is it, Madden, that you have to respond with anxiety and self-criticism to this situation? Maybe there’s no need for that at all. Maybe that’s just a conditioned response. And especially given how challenging your week has been and how strung-out you were today, maybe you could just forgive yourself for this, and not get quite so uptight.”
Then truly, just as I have succeeded at unknotting this knot of anxiety and self-criticism, I see ahead of me, about two hundred yards down the highway, one of my absolute favorite sights – which I have seen really only once before in my life. I am fixated on flying, have big-time unfinished business around learning to fly. I find planes, especially small planes, such a wonderful image of freedom. And so, just as I have released some distress inside myself, I see a crop-duster spring up from the field to the right, just in time to climb above the tree line, do a little dance in mid-air, turn around, now just about a hundred yards ahead of me, and dive back down towards that same field.
This aerial ballet for me so perfectly expresses the way my spirit is feeling at that moment. My spirit, whi.ch had felt so sunk just a few minutes before, and now has the opportunity to fly free again. To me at that moment, there was no question of coincidence. That plane doing it’s dance in mid-air, and my spirit doing its dance of liberation from neurosis were interlocked. They were timed together perfectly, and not accidentally. In fact, I no longer have a concept of coincidence. I do not believe in them. I do not perceive the world through those filters. I don’t always observe the connections in the world, but I have no question about the fact that everything in the world is connected.
So, I don’t know how it happened that that plane leapt up in the air there, just as my spirit was leaping up. Did a benevolent personal God send it to me? I don’t know. Did I hallucinate it? I don’t think so.
C.G. Jung talked about synchronicity and I don’t think he ever explained it particularly well – I don’t think our human mind has the power to explain it. But he did talk about how things in this world seem to go together. Events in our inner world weave together with events in the outer world in ways that defy explanation, but that fit pretty good, in really quite uncanny ways at times.
This is really, to me, about as good a definition as I can up with for spirit. And it gets real close to what a lot of the physicists are saying: “Things are connected.” This world is interconnected in ways that have intelligence, that have heart. that have the possibility for a lot of encouragement for us about life and what it’s all about and who we are and where we fit in it. We are inextricably woven into the fabric of life. We belong here, totally.
Once, many years ago, I was at a co-counseling workshop out in the country. On a lovely fall afternoon I had a co-counseling session out in the woods I had a huge personal breakthrough, sorted out a lot of things, and felt extraordinarily liberated. And, in that moment, it felt to me that the birds in the woods were singing to me, that they were welcoming me out from the paralyzing self-criticism I had been feeling before that session. Was this an exaggeration? I don’t know. Would a tape-recording have shown any difference in the way the birds were singing before my session and after my session? Was this simply a matter of my attention getting free? Very likely, in that situation.
However, I think that to try to research and nail down all these situations really would only reflect the analytic, breaking-apart way of thinking that our linear brains imprison us in. On one level, it doesn’t make a difference. Many would say that there is no reality but psychological reality. We are creating how we perceive the world around us. And more and more, over the years, I am creating the world around me as connected.
Now, if I were perceiving it as all responding to me, if it really seemed to me that all the intelligence out there was for my benefit, personally – John, the big-shot, then we might well be talking about paranoid schizophrenia. And, in fact, I do believe that the difference between the religious mystic and the paranoid schizophrenic is not in what they perceive – because to a great extent, I think they perceive the same things – but, to what they attribute it. Whereas the mystic says, “Thanks, God, for creating a world in which we are all so interwoven, where I fit perfectly, because we all do”, the paranoid says, “This entire world circles around me. I must be God Himself.” Not “we are all divine, we are all a part of God”, but “I, personally, this ego, am God.”
I believe that the analytic way of looking at things is a particular set of filters. Mostly, we don’t have the capacity to perceive everything equally, all at once, so we are always using filters of one kind or another as we approach the world. The analytic mode of thinking is based on how our brains are set up and how our senses work – it says that we process individual separate bits of data – separate atoms bouncing around in that universe out there. And we think of ourselves that way. It is a filter, and it actively filters out other kinds of data. It actively filters out evidence of synchronicity, of connectedness.
So if, when I describe things like my plane jumping up in the field as my spirit is jumping up, if that sounds unusual or strange or like just a wild coincidence to you, it probably is because you have been using your logical analytic filter, to the exclusion of other ways of processing reality. I’m sure that each reader of that passage will have somewhat different response, and that those responses will fall, in terms of the credibility of the story, from one end that says “This guy is really cracked” to another end that says “Absolutely – that’s the way it works, that’s the way I experience the world, also – that my outer reality absolutely interlocks with and reflects my inner reality.”
It would not be helpful for anyone, regardless of where they fit on that continuum, to consciously try to force their perceptions to be different. What can be very helpful is to install some softness in our certainty that our perception is correct. Our perceptions are mostly conditioned. The willingness to consider that there might be something else going on out there than what we have been perceiving is often disturbing at first. It was for me. But it can be enormously liberating. It was for me. Otherwise for me that plane would have been just a plane.