For many, it is easy to believe that the Divine is somehow involved in life’s most significant events, from birth to death and the highs and lows in between.
As a Seeker of the Sacred on a quest toward deeper meaning, however, the pilgrim knows the Sacred Guide is not simply engaged in such notable moments but is also present and at work in the small, seemingly mundane moments as well. This is because the pilgrim trusts that the Divine can be encountered and meaning can be found with each step if they are present to the journey.
For the pilgrim, then—both on journeys abroad and in everyday life—even the most basic of encounters can elicit surprise with the unexpected shimmer of the Sacred. What might seem like a coincidence—a situation defined as ”a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection”—can often be interpreted as something more when viewed through the lens of the pilgrim.
This “something more” is called “synchronicity,” a term coined by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung defined synchronicity as a “meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” It is the uncanny occurrence of the meeting of needs, of the encountering of people, or of things coming together perfectly, making it seem that the stars have aligned to help the pilgrim on their journey. “Synchronicity is an ever-present reality for those who have eyes to see,” Jung said. This, too, can be said of the movement of the Sacred Guide on our journeys abroad and in everyday life.
What, then, is the difference between an ordinary coincidence and a meaningful one? The answer lies in the word “meaning.” Mythologist Joseph Campbell, who was greatly influenced by Jung, audaciously declared, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.” This can be true, too, of coincidences. Coincidences are, by definition, “without apparent causal connection.” However, the pilgrim, who “brings meaning to life,” as Campbell asserts, seeks meaning in coincidences as well. Because the pilgrim views the journey through the lens of meaning, the pilgrim naturally has “eyes to see.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that behind each coincidence there is something more. The pilgrim knows this and approaches each circumstance not with the rigidity of someone who demands answers but with the posture of a seeker inspired by wonder—both curiosity and awe.
Take, for example, an old friend you run into while traveling on the other side of the world. It is a coincidence, no doubt, and if there is no resonance of deeper meaning for you, then it is only that. If, however, that friend is someone you have been thinking (or dreaming!) about recently, or if seeing them sparks something within that moves you forward on your current journey or initiates a new one, then the coincidence holds deeper meaning for you and could be considered synchronicity.
One way to think of synchronicity is as a Venn diagram. Similar to the famous Frederich Beuchner quote, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need,” synchronicity is the place where our sense of meaning—our longings, our questions, our passions, our convictions—meets a seeming-coincidence. These two categories—meaning and coincidence—exist independently. However, as with a Venn diagram, synchronicity occurs when meaning and coincidence overlap, inviting us to consider whether something more might be at work.
What, then, do you do with synchronicities once you name them? Much like stars for the nighttime navigator, experiences of synchronicity can be used as tools to steer you on your journey—”shimmers” of the Sacred Guide leading you in the direction that you seek. Then, as you begin to notice more synchronicities shimmering on your journey, you might soon find that these “stars” begin to form a constellation, allowing you to identify significant connections and start to see a bigger picture as you seek to discern the way forward on the quest at hand.