Read an Excerpt
Coincidence or Destiny?
Stories of Synchronicity that Illuminate our Lives
By Phil Cousineau
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1997 Phil Cousineau
All rights reserved.
The Waking Dream
There is a dream dreaming us.
—A Kalahari Bushman
The synchronicity stories in Part I seem to come to us from what the Australian aborigines, for forty thousand years, have called the Dreamtime. Some of them literally emerge from private dreams and move outward, in the way Jung described in his ambrosial book, Dreams,
"Anyone sufficiently interested in the dream problem cannot have failed to observe that dreams also have a continuity forwards—such an expression be permitted—since dreams occasionally exert a remarkable influence on the conscious mental life even of persons who cannot be considered superstitious or particularly abnormal."
Rather than put wires to the craniums of our contributors, like the lab technicians who hooked patients to an electroencephalograph they called "The Poetry Machine" in the belief it would render objective readouts of the brain waves of dream activity, we will trust that the stories can teach us something about the far reaches of human consciousness, the rewards of deep attention, and the marvelous ways people discover meaning for themselves. Strange to say, they may give us a glimpse beyond our conventional notions of time and causality, and the underlying dance of the life force, and to story, which is, in the chiming words of James Hillman, "something lived in and lived through, a way in which the soul finds itself in life."
Ironically, what matters here is no matter at all, as Flannery O'Connor suggests in the uncannily titled Mystery and Manners. For "[n]o matter what form the dragon may take, it is the mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will be concerned to tell."
Anyone who has sat up through a long winter night with an Irish seanachie, or sat in the circle of Bedouins in the Marrakesh market, or listened to an African griot in a mudhut village, or sipped lemonade on the porch of a grandparent during a long lazy summer night hearing tales of ancestors, knows the mood. It is where myth, dream, and fantasy converge.
Here too is where the border between paranormal experience and synchronicity begins to blur, as Jung admitted in his introduction to the I Ching, as translated by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, "Telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition are all synchronicities—meaningful coincidences between persons and events in which an emotional or symbolic connection cannot be explained by cause and effect."
In ancient Kashmir, India, there was a tradition of the shared dream that foresaw an incident about to happen in real life. From the magnificent round of eleventh-century stories called the Kakthasaritsagara, the Ocean of Story, comes this story of love:
"A painter copied an image of a girl from a travel book. King Vikramaditya saw the picture and fell in love with the girl. That night, he dreamed that he was making love to the girl, but suddenly the watchman woke him up. The king banished the watchman in a rage, and was convinced that the girl existed, though he despaired of finding her. He told his friend about the dream: "I crossed the sea and entered a beautiful city, where I met a princess named Malayavati, the girl I had seen in the picture. We fell in love at first sight, were married, and entered the bridal chamber; and as I made love to her, at the culminating moment that cursed watchman woke me up. Now that I have seen Malayavati in a picture and in a dream, I cannot live without her."
"The king's friend, realizing that this was a true dream, told the king to draw a map of the city on a piece of cloth. He showed it to everyone, until one day a poet came from afar and told this tale: "In the city of Malaya, the king's daughter, Malayavati, dreamed that she married a certain man and entered the bridal chamber with him. But just as she was making love with him in bed, she was awakened at dawn by her chambermaid. She banished the maid, in a fury, and vowed that she would die if she did not find that man in six months, of which five have now passed." When the poet had told this tale, with all of its striking similarity and agreement, the king rejoiced in his certainty, and set out for the city.
"He found it just as the princess was about to kill herself. When she saw him, she said, "This was my dream-bridegroom," and when Vikramaditya saw his beloved with his own eyes, just as she had been in the picture and in his dream, he regarded it as a marvelous favor from the gods, and he took her back with him to his city."
As if reflected in the Indra's Net of Gems itself, the theme returns again centuries later, in this brief retelling by Wendy Doniger of the Rudyard Kipling story, "The Brushwood Boy," from 1898, a story, as she writes, "that raises the most striking questions about the interaction of myth and reality in the twilight zone of dreams."
"A young boy dreamed again and again of a girl with whom he rode on horseback along a beach until a policeman called Day awakened him. He grew up and joined the cavalry in India, where he drew a map of the place in his dream. When he returned to his parents? home in England, he heard a girl singing a song about the sea of dreams, the city of sleep, and the policeman Day; he recognized her as the girl in his dreams. When he told her of his dream, she told him of the boy she had always dreamed of, in the same dream."
Terrified, the girl asks the young officer, "What does it mean?" to which he simply kisses her, then replies, "Perhaps when we die we may find out more, but it means this now."
Another variation on the theme comes from G.H. Lewis, the companion of the novelist George Eliot, who told the following story about Charles Dickens, quoted in The Canadian Illustrated News, 1870–1880: "Dickens dreamt that he was in a room where everyone was dressed in scarlet. He stumbled against a lady standing with her back towards him. As he apologized she turned her head and said quite unprovoked "My name is Napier."
"He knew no one of the name Napier and the face was unknown. Two days later before a reading a lady friend came into the waiting-room accompanied by an unknown lady in a scarlet opera-cloak, "who" said his friend "is very determined of being introduced." "Not Miss Napier?" he jokingly inquired. "Yes Miss Napier." Although the face of his dream-body was not the face of Miss Napier, the coincidence of the scarlet cloak and the name was striking."
A contemporary parallel to the dream-come-true genre is the baseball cult film, Field of Dreams. Our hero, Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, is "stuck" as the story opens as all heroes are when we meet them. Soon we realize he is estranged from himself, his wife, his daughter, his work, and the memory of his dead father. Suddenly, one day, out in his corn field, he hears a mysterious voice whispering, "If you build it he will come...." Shocked and disturbed, but also challenged, Kinsella does indeed build it, and "he" ["disgraced" baseball star, Shoeless Joe Jackson] miraculously appears to play ball on Ray's beautiful baseball field. Ray's dream comes true, although not the one he or the audience expects.
That the story will take place in the dreamtime of synchronicity is signaled early in the book while Ray is researching Shoeless Joe, "As I read, I discovered some uncanny coincidences. Or are there ever coincidences?"
In light of this timeless question, the stories in this section are offered with brief comments on the common themes that emerge as the book, like synchronicity itself, unfolds. By flagging a few key words and themes the thread of meaning that ties these stories together, while evoking Marie-Louise von Franz's reflection on the goal of life, "The realization of 'meaning' is therefore not a simple acquisition of information or knowledge, but rather a living experience that touches the heart just as much as the mind."
In "The Marvelous Moment," by cultural historian Keith Thompson, the author, like the hero in many an epic journey, is stuck as the story begins. He is in crisis about the dreaded transition between his twenties and thirties. Then in the telltale coincidence, a set of curiously significant numbers on his alarm clock startles him so much that time seems to stop, and he begins paying attention, finally admitting that, "I could only marvel at the moment." Elsewhere Thompson has written about "the astonishment of being," and commented on the curious "repression of the sublime" that modern culture has perpetrated. For him, the significance of a synchronicity is not why it happens, but that it happens. The phenomenology of such a moment asks only to be told, not proved.
In his whimsical tale, musicologist Atesh Sonnenborn hears a voice in a moment of career crisis, which, to his everlasting relief he listens to. What struck him was the "sheer discontinuity of the heavenly voice," signaling a break with ordinary time. Then, lo and behold, "doors open where there were no doors before," as Joseph Campbell once described this idea of following your call in life.
In "Dreamtime," Australian filmmaker Sophia Kobacker begins her vivid story with the revealing phrase, "missing link," which evokes the classic opening of an adventure journey that leads her toward her meeting with aborigine artists. Her juxtaposition of their "dreamtime" with the museum's "closing time" is a poetic touch. The story is a beautiful example of Jung's distinction of teleology in incidents of true synchronicity: the way an individual is drawn toward her goal or destiny, and being merely pushed along by fate. As someone involved with many indigenous cultures, Kobacker adds elsewhere that incidents of synchronicity are common when working with native people.
"For no apparent reason ..." writes Katherine Van Horne of the key moment in her peculiar road movie of a story, "Square Wheels." In so doing, she spontaneously echoes the most common way that synchronicity is distinguished from commonplace or meaningless coincidences. "There was," she writes, "a definite connection to our timing and the dream...."
In "Fire and Water," Lesha Finiw describes her ominous dream like a German expressionistic scriptwriter, with phrases such as "a house at crazed angles" and "too terrified to dream," or an alchemist as she describes the power of her transmuting dreams. Her story unfolds with choppy transitions, exactly like a leaping dream, and seems to be ruled by what psychologist Robert Aziz calls "images not one's own." Yet, she finds them to be "a wakeup call" while reflecting with a heart-felt expression about "the marvel of web connecting me to others." This almost exactly evokes Von Franz's definition, "For Jung, individuation and realization of the meaning of life are identical—since individuation means to find one's meaning, which is nothing other than one's connection with the universal Meaning."
For Trish Saunders, her experience was a "turning point," after which she began to listen more to her active dream life, whereas for author and teacher Valerie Andrews, the dilemma is how to interpret her prolific dream life and incorporate it into waking life. "Keep listening," she finally admonishes herself and her students. To Denise Burke, powerful dreams are "a deep saving connection," a poignant phrase to describe the power of all these stories. To Lisa Rafel, writer and actress, a mysterious voice presages a long, strange journey to the site of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, which results in an unexpected epiphany.
Finally, in his introductory letter to me regarding his touching reminiscence of his bodhissatva philosopher father, Alan Watts, Mark Watts writes, "For some time I have felt that when we are on track synchronicity is the confirmation of our connection." His story makes a case for mere coincidence being an unreflected-upon synchronicity, while conversely, synchronicity may be a deeply reflected-upon coincidence.
In each of these finely wrought stories an inner crisis parallels an outer event in a way that is inexplicable, uncanny, significant, and memorable to the writer. What's been called the "fine hand of synchronicity," appears to be at work here.
As Jung, von Franz, Bolen, and others have defined the phenomenon as acausal, the contributors in this book remark again and again how explanation is far less important to them than the experience itself. Or as the Hindu lover said to his beloved at the beginning of this roundelay, "It means this now."
In the preface to his book, Caravan of Dreams, Islamic scholar Idries Shah retells one of his favorite stories from A Thousand and One Nights, a remarkable example of how synchronicity is woven into the very fabric of many of our ambrosial myths, legends, and fables. Not coincidentally, this comes from a book I fondly remember my father reading out loud to my mother, sister, younger brother, and me, half a world and seven centuries away from the caravansaries of the ancient deserts that inspired these immortal teaching tales.
"In one of the best tales of the Arabian Nights, Maruf the Cobbler found himself daydreaming his own fabulous caravan of riches. Destitute and almost friendless in an alien land, Maruf at first mentally conceived—and then described—an unbelievably valuable cargo on its way to him.
"Instead of leading to exposure and disgrace, this idea was the foundation of his eventual success. The imagined caravan took shape, became real for a time—and arrived.
"May your caravan of dreams, too, find its way to you."
The Marvelous Moment
I was about to turn thirty—just another birthday, or so I imagined. But as the biographical milepost drew nearer, I found myself surprisingly uneasy. It wasn't the predictable American concern about aging too fast; to the contrary. My best friends and closest colleagues have generally been my senior, thus it has been easy to equate the gaining of years with the development of insight, wisdom, character, and substance. I even celebrated my first gray hair as precursor to some John Forsythe-like gravitas that would, I supposed, come to me simply by enduring. Still, if the impending end of my second decade was really a welcome rite of passage, why then were my palms in such a ferocious sweat?
Excerpted from Coincidence or Destiny? by Phil Cousineau. Copyright © 1997 Phil Cousineau. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.