The Hidden Meaning of Coincidences and How to Create More of Them in Your Life
BY DR. BERNARD BEITMAN
there is no such thing as chance. all coincidences have meaning… synchronicity is the language of the universe./em>
Meaningful Coincidences and How They Can Change Your Life
Two events in your life surprisingly intersect. One may be a thought or a feeling and the other happens in your environment. The two events have no apparent causal connection. The surprise captures your attention and your mind searches for meaning. You wonder: “What does this mean for me?” “How can I explain it?”
Coincidences appear in all parts of our daily lives—money, work, family life, romance, health, ideas, and spirituality as I show in my book Connecting with Coincidence. They also appear in movies, books, and the news. Like sex, they help make the world go round.
According to the Weird Coincidence Survey the most frequent coincidence is:
“I think of an idea and hear or see it on the radio, TV or internet.”
The next most frequent are:
“I think of calling someone, only to have that person unexpectedly call me.”
“I think of a question only to have it answered by external media (i.e. radio, TV, people) before I can ask it.”
“I advance in my work/career/education through being in the right place at the right time.”
Carl Jung introduced meaningful coincidences to the Western world with the term synchronicity. The purpose of synchronicity, according to many Jungians, is to help with psychological growth and change—to individuate, to become truly who you are. One of my research participants reported this example of counseling by coincidence.
“I was separated from my abusive husband. While he was gone on a business trip, I’d decided to reunite with him. He missed his return connecting flight. That night an unknown woman who was being abused by her boyfriend mistakenly dialed a number and got me. [The study participant didn’t report the reason for the woman’s call.] The fear in her voice made me realize that reuniting with my husband was a mistake. I met him at the airport the next morning to tell him that my plans had changed and he wouldn’t be returning to my house.”
Synchronicity and meaningful coincidence can come to your attention in many different ways. You may find yourself urged to self-reflect by a sign, a TV moment, or a song. You may stumble upon something online at exactly the right moment. A stranger may say a few words you needed to hear. Useful reminders to wonder may show up almost anywhere if you are willing to notice.Some meaningful coincidences show us how deeply we are connected to those we love. Many people report having felt the pain of a loved who was at a distance from them. Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson collected many such stories and our research participants confirmed this experience. I call it simulpathity and here is what happened to me:
“I had experienced meaningful coincidences many times before, but none was more startling than what happened at 11:00 PM on February 26, 1973, when I was thirty-one years old. Suddenly, I found myself bent over the kitchen sink in an old Victorian house on Hayes Street in the Fillmore District of San Francisco. I was choking on something caught in my throat. I couldn’t cough it up. I hadn’t eaten anything. I didn’t know what was in my throat. I’d never choked for this long before. Finally, after fifteen minutes or so, I could swallow and breathe normally.
The next day, my birthday, my brother called to tell me that our father had died in Wilmington, Delaware, at 2:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. He was three thousand miles and three time zones away; 2:00 AM in Wilmington was 11:00 PM in California. My father had bled into his throat and choked on his own blood at about the same time I was uncontrollably choking. He died on February 27, my birthday.”
Meaningful coincidences can also help get us to places we need to be without knowing how we got there.
Mothers just seem to know things about their children. Sometimes this knowledge is extraordinary. The mother of six-year-old Ruth went into town to shop, when she suddenly had the feeling that she must return home. “Where’s Ruth?” she demanded of the babysitter. “She’s at Ann’s.” Ann was her six-year-old playmate. The mother rushed over to Ann’s house, but Ann’s mother thought she was at Ruth’s! On autopilot, Ruth’s mother drove down the street, over the railroad track, parked, ran through a gate, up a little hill, and down to an old quarry now filled with water. There at the edge sat both children with their shoes off ready to go wading. Had they stepped into the water, they likely would’ve drowned because the sides of that old quarry were very deep. Ruth’s mother acted upon, and was guided by, some instinctual coincidence and synchronicity that she couldn’t explain (from, Rhine and Schmicker 131-2).
weird, amazing and meaningful coincidences happen all the time, especially when you become aware of them. photo: inkje photocase.com
I believe each of us possesses a human GPS which gives us the ability to get where we need to be without knowing how we did it. Meaningful coincidences can expand our understanding of how the world works and uncover some of our untapped abilities.
How to Use Coincidences
Because meaningful coincidences can influence all of life’s many challenges, we can draw general principles that will help us better use them.
Believe in Their Usefulness
Believing in the usefulness of coincidences and synchronicities means acting as if the section of reality you inhabit is a you—friendly place. Call it positive paranoia, or pronoia, which means that things have a tendency to work out in your favor.
Belief in the usefulness of coincidence develops with experience. A person might first noticed some ambiguous patterns that seem remarkable, but these are usually dismissed as chance events and easily forgotten. Later the person might be struck with a blast of convergence between mental and environmental events that become life-changing. After this threshold of awareness is crossed, a new attitude toward meaningful coincidences is achieved. They become an expected part of everyday life.Ideally a disciplined alertness to them then develops, characterized by acknowledgment of their existence and a careful interpretation of their meaning and potential usefulness.
Coinciders, those people who tend to see more synchronicities and coincidences of meaning, tend to be self defined as spiritual or religious, tend to be highly intuitive and also to be searching for meaning in life.
Activate Your Observing Self
Since many meaningful coincidences involve a thought in your mind and an event in your environment, activating your observing self will increase your ability to make those connections. You’re observing self is that part of your awareness that monitors the activity of your mind.
Like an incisive comment from a friend or therapist, the jolt of a coincidence opens up possibilities, makes you stop and think, and encourages you to observe your now energized mind. What does this coincidence mean? What are its implications? What if anything should I do with this? This activation of your observing self by coincidences is one of their primary benefits. You become more conscious of the potential for connections between your mind and your environment. The more coincidences you experience, the more fluidly your mind will move between you and your environment.
Benefits of Coincidence Use
The benefits of synchronicity and coincidence use include: helping with decision-making, providing just what you need, helping with psychological and interpersonal change, fun, and affirming loving connections. Many coincidences serve just to remind you to pay attention to coincidences. Coincidences alert us to the mysterious hiding in plain sight. Minor and funny coincidences act as reminders of their greater possibilities.
Insight into a Decision
In a quandary we look around for evidence to support a decision. When caught in tempests of uncertainty, coincidences can help generate confidence in specific decisions. Some seem to confirm the decision to marry or divorce, to take a job or to go this way or that. Sissy Spacek could not decide whether or not to take the role of Loretta Lynn in the movie A Coal Miner’s Daughter. After a brief prayer, she and her husband got into her mother-in-law’s car whose radio was supposedly tuned only to classical music. They turned on the radio and heard the song A Coal Miner’s Daughter. She took the part and received the 1980 Emmy for the best actress of the year.
Providing Just What You Need
People, ideas, and things can show up in our lines of vision with meaningful coincidence that fit important needs. Romantic needs, employment questions, health issues, creativity blocks, and many other challenges can be met, not only by careful planning but also by surprising serendipity and synchronicity. Needing a new research direction as I was leaving town, I went to say goodbye to a colleague and there, lying on his desk, was a journal that provided the foundation of my future academic success.
You may need to be ready to act quickly. A person passing you in an airport may hold the key to your future. You will need to move quickly or the opportunity may disappear into a crowd.
Meaningful coincidence can help us become more who we are. Carl Jung was dealing with a young woman who was stuck in a pattern of rational thought. Jung was frustrated and hoped for something that might break the rigidity of her absolute certainty. She told a recent dream involving a Golden scarab. As she was describing the scarab, Jung heard a tapping at his window, opened it and found a beetle very similar to the Golden scarab in the woman’s dream. “Here’s your scarab” he said, showing it to her. Startled and amazed the woman began loosened her tight rationality.
Events like this mirror our minds. Their surprise synchronicity can trigger shifts in the way we think about ourselves and the world.Expanding Awareness of Personal Powers
Recognition of simulpathity propels us to accept what seems to be unbelievable. We are connected to others across space in ways that need clear definition.
Other stories tell us about how people find their ways to places people and things without rationally knowing how they got there by following intuition and impulse. I call this the human GPS capacity. Examine your meaningful coincidences and see what latent abilities they suggest you have.
How to Increase the Number of Coincidences in Your Life
To increase the number of coincidences in your life, take a close look at your mind and the situations that are more likely to produce them. Many coincidences begin with the improbable intersection of a particular thought with a similar event. Thoughts include memories images and ideas. Events include people, situations and media activity.
In all kinds of psychological change the primary factor is you, the person who is doing the changing. No one can do it for you. Increasing the frequency of meaningful coincidences starts with a yes answer to the question “do you want them to happen more often?”
To increase coincidence frequency means activating the capacity of your observing self to make connections between the ideas in your mind and the ideas floating in the virtual sea of ideas in which your mind is immersed.
Move around and Open Your Mind
Since meaningful coincidences are usually intersections of thoughts and situational events, increases in either or both will increase their frequency. Thought production can be increased by deep investigation of some engaging topic like a person or concept or need. Situational synchronistic events can be increased by moving around in complex places. The dog that trots about, finds a bone, especially if she trots where there are likely lots of bones.
Prayer can open your mind to new possibilities. Sometimes, under the guise of giving responsibility to a greater power we give power to ourselves. When people say, “let go and let God” they’re letting go of their conscious ability to solve the problem and inviting an outside force to take over. That outside force can be our own subconscious ability now released to perform. Sometimes mysterious energy from outside of us seems to aid us.
Meditation frees up conscious awareness, allowing attention to alight like a butterfly on newly flowering events. Liberated awareness can more easily find connections between mental and environmental events, leading to a greater sensitivity to synchronicities, coincidences and their meanings.
Balance Intuition and Rational Thought
Successful people in all kinds of endeavors from athletics to parenting require conscious intention aided by finely honed subconscious capacities. If conscious intention interferes, questions too much, doubts too much or advises too much, subconscious goal seeking abilities become thwarted. Rather than mentally holding tightly to a desired result, holding it loosely allows your intuition to inform the task.
Learn how to balance conscious intention with intuition. Many meaningful coincidences occur when someone does something “because I felt like it”. On the other hand undisciplined subconscious advice can lead to painful outcomes like the wrong job, bad medical treatment, a poor romantic partner or money loss. Optimally, integrate conscious and subconscious processes.
Honing intuition requires clarifying which of your inner voices and inner feelings are the ones that are most accurate and useful. They must be distinguished from impulses and negative self-talk that can lead to bad decision-making. Experiment to test the various information channels coming through your intuition. Try them out and monitor the results so you can learn which inner voices to rely on and which ones to ignore.
The stories reported in my book Connecting with Coincidence strongly suggest that each of us has an innate ability to get to people, things and ideas that we need in ways that we do not consciously know. I call this our human GPS capacity. Believe in it! Try it out.
Watch out for states of mind that interfere with being able to notice coincidences or synchronicity. High anxiety and depression can divert our thoughts to catastrophic futures, taking attention away from what is happening right now. My research suggests that moderate anxiety and depression help to increase meaningful coincidences.
Be prepared to act quickly. The opportunity to take advantage of a coincidence can often be within a narrow time window.
We Are Deeply Connected to Our Surroundings
Meaningful coincidences teach us that we are not alone, that we are very much a part of our environment and our environment is part of us. Recognize situations that are coincidence rich. These include major life transitions like birth, death, weddings, graduation, sickness, divorce, crisis and traveling. Each of these experiences tears the web of our ordinary reality and lets in new possibilities.
Find a coincidence culture. Your social group, religion and culture have a strong impact and how open you are to coincidences. If you are part of a group that welcomes the examination of hard to explain events like coincidences and synchronicities, you will gain support for these ideas. A coincidence-friendly group gives us social permission to see them.
Coincidences can help you in decision making, psychological and interpersonal growth, in education, artistic efforts and work. Let them into your life in a disciplined way!
This article on the meaning of coincidences is from Connecting with Coincidence: The New Science for Using Synchronicity and Serendipity in Your Life by Bernard Beitman.
About The Author
Dr. Beitman is the first psychiatrist since Carl Jung to attempt to systematize the study of coincidences. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia and former Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He attended Yale Medical School and completed a psychiatric residency at Stanford. Dr. Beitman has received two national awards for his psychotherapy training program and is internationally known for his research into the relationship between chest pain and panic disorder. In addition, he has edited two issues of Psychiatric Annals that focus on coincidences, and is the founder of Coincidence Studies. Visit his website: coincider.com