A Synchronistic Encounter: Where Dreams and Waking Life Intersect

Stacy Fahey - Dandelion Dreams
Stacy Fahey – Dandelion Dreams

by Paul Levy

Life can be so dreamlike. In the late 1980s, I was working as the Book Service Manager for the C. G. Jung Foundation of New York. One day, one of my customers asked me how come I didn’t carry his books. Wondering who he was, I asked him and he replied, “I’m Dr. Montague Ullman.” Astonished, I realized I was talking to one of the world’s leading experts on dreams.

Being passionately interested in dreaming, this apparently chance meeting was deeply meaningful and synchronistic for me. As we got to know each other over time, Dr. Ullman and I realized that we actually lived quite close to each other in the suburbs. One time when I visited Dr. Ullman at his home, I shared with him the intense shamanic initiatory illness that I had been going through since the late 70s. I described to him the overwhelming experiences I had been having where the boundary between dreaming and waking was dissolving. As if I was living inside of a waking dream, my inner process was externalizing itself and synchronistically manifesting itself literally, as well as symbolically, through what was occurring in the outer world. It was as if some deeper part of myself was configuring events in the seemingly external world so as to express itself.

I knew from Dr. Ullman’s work that he was not only a psychiatrist but was very open and interested in the paranormal. So I told him about many of the out of the ordinary experiences that were happening to me. Events were happening in my life that were supposedly not possible in this universe of ours; stuff that could only happen in dreams. Just like a dream, it was as if a deeper, inner process was revealing itself to me through the medium of the outside world. The seemingly “outer” world was manifesting like a living oracle, an instantaneous feedback loop, a continually unfolding revelation that was speaking “symbolically,” which is the language of dreams. People’s fearful and judgmental reactions to what I was experiencing had caused me to become a bit gun-shy, making me hesitant to share with others what I was realizing for fear of being patholgized and told I was going crazy. I explained to Dr. Ullman how I was struggling with trying to integrate what I was realizing about the dreamlike nature of this universe with somehow being in the world and making a living in a way that supported my spiritual unfoldment.

I knew that being the Book Service Manager at the Jung Foundation wasn’t my true calling. Even though I enjoyed the job because it allowed me to study Jung, the job itself felt like a suit that fit too tight. If I amplified this experience like a dream, having a job in consensus reality felt like a part of my soul was being killed. I knew Jung had said that the cause of suffering and neurosis, both of which I had plenty of, was not finding our true vocation. He points out that, etymologically speaking, “vocation” comes from the word “calling,” which comes from the words “genie” (as in “I dream of…”) and “genius.” And the word “genius” comes from the word “daemon,” which means the inner voice and guiding spirit. Jung makes the point that if we don’t honor our daemon, however, it constellates destructively and becomes a “demon.” The point is that if we follow our inner voice we will find our true vocation, snap out of our neurosis and heal our suffering, or so says Jung.

Dr. Ullman was in strong agreement with Jung. I will never forget one thing he told me, something that no one else had ever said to me in response to my problems with integrating my mystical experiences into this seemingly mundane, physical world, which demanded that I “make a living.” As if giving me a prophecy, he said that my healing would undoubtedly have to do with if I could creatively find a way to build a bridge between the two worlds, to assimilate the deeper spiritual process I had fallen into in such a way that I would then be able to make a living out of this very process of integration. He told me a story of a student of his who had managed to do this, teaching workshops which were the vehicle not only of getting across whatever she was realizing, but the workshops themselves were the very container that deepened her own process of realization. She was living her dream and dreaming it in a creative way that came from deep inside of herself.

Over the course of years, Dr. Ullman’s prediction has become true. The unique work that I’ve developed in dreaming is the very thing that both supports me in the world while simultaneously deepening my healing. I have developed what I call “Awakening in the Dream Groups“, in which people who are awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality come together and creatively discover ways to help each other to deepen and stabilize our shared lucidity. As if in a dream, we view each other as “dream characters” – embodied reflections of different parts of ourselves – who are not separate from each other but rather are interconnected parts of one another. By what I call “following the dreaming,” which simply requires being in the present moment, recognizing the perfection of what is presenting itself, and seeing that whatever is happening we are all collaboratively “dreaming up,” conjures up a (dream)field which is lubricated for our shared healing. Just as in a night dream, if any of us in the group have an unhealed, incomplete, unconscious part of ourselves (and who doesn’t?), over and in time this unconscious content gets dreamed up in the alchemical container of the group and in a very natural (as compared to fabricated) way gets acted out as the group process. Instead of playing this out unconsciously in a way that would reinforce the wound, however, the group adds the light of consciousness to this unconscious energy that is playing out in the field and is then able to dream into and unfold this energy in a way which metabolizes and integrates the unconscious content. By fluidly following the dreaming with no agenda or technique, we find ourselves incarnating full-bodied dreamwork in real-time, the present moment, in a way which liberates the unconscious energy which was bound up in the compulsion to recreate the unhealed wound.

Seen as a dreaming process, my encounter with Dr. Ullman was a reflection of a deeper, atemporal, inner process taking place deep within my psyche that was getting dreamed up and played out in linear time through the canvas of the apparently outside world. Synchronistic phenomenon like this seemingly co-incidental encounter with Dr. Ullman can oftentimes illumine the underlying dreamlike nature of things. We can view this chance meeting with Dr. Ullman as a dream in which “central casting” sent Dr. Ullman to pick up and enact a crucial role in my inner, dreaming process. In Dr. Ullman, it was as if I had “dreamed up,” in actual embodied, materialized form an inner wisdom figure and guide. Being unconscious of the inner wisdom that he re-presented at the time, I had to project it seemingly outside of myself, dreaming it up into actual form, to begin to develop a conscious relationship with this part of myself. Like Jung says, the unconscious always approaches us from seemingly outside of ourselves, which is to say that we dream up this world of ours to (potentially) wake us up. If you were to tell me that I am just imagining or dreaming that this is so, I would say, “Exactly!”

A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul atpaul@awakeninthedream.com; he looks forward to your reflections. Though he reads every email, he regrets that he is not able to personally respond to all of them. © Copyright 2014.

Synchronicity & Mainstream Psychology

by Erin Purcell
by Erin Purcell

by Chris Mackey

Mainstream psychology needs to do more to acknowledge a spiritual dimension in people’s lives. This includes a greater acknowledgement of mystical-sounding or paranormal experiences such as synchronicity, which involves strikingly uncanny and meaningful coincidences. Many people identify themselves as being spiritual, although not necessarily religious, as a result of having such experiences. Synchronicity, as with many other spiritual or transpersonal experiences, is appreciated more through intuition rather than rational thought processes. It seems that an overemphasis on rationality throughout Western culture, including throughout the field of psychology, has led to an underrecognition or underemphasis of the relevance and importance of synchronistic and other transpersonal phenomena in people’s lives.

The notion of synchronicity implies that some coincidences are not merely the result of chance or mere happenstance. They are so subjectively compelling and meaningful that the person experiencing them may view them as “meant to be”. They seem to point to a hidden pattern or order to the universe beyond what is readily manifest. Synchronistic experiences typically have a numinous or sacred quality, evoking a sense of fascination, wonder or awe. As a psychotherapist of 35 years’ experience, I have been struck by the increased extent to which my clients have divulged synchronistic experiences to me since they learned that I was writing a book on the subject. Not uncommonly, they have explained that they had not previously confided such experiences lest they appear psychotic. Here are two cases in point.

One client, a man in his early 30s, presented with depression in the context of severe alcohol dependence from his adolescent years combined with methamphetamine addiction. Soon after he learnt that I was writing about synchronicity, Eric explained that he had been feeling suicidal earlier in our contact. At one point he was kneeling before a window, crying, with the barrel of a 9mm pistol in his mouth. He slightly chipped a tooth on the barrel. He was about to pull the trigger. He suddenly noticed a black bird, like a raven, looking towards him from about 20 metres away. It suddenly took flight directly at him at full speed. It smashed into the window pane immediately in front of him and fell down dead, ‘like a kamikaze pilot’. Eric put down the pistol. He had a ‘brief moment of clarity’, believing that the black bird had sacrificed itself for him. The uncanny nature and timing of this event led him to feel he was meant to live. He soon booked himself into a rehabilitation program. He felt that the black bird incident had strengthened his motivation to the point where he was only one of two people he knew of from the rehabilitation facility who overcame his addictions.

Eric explained that he hadn’t mentioned the blackbird incident to me because it might have seemed like ‘borderline psychotic behaviour’. He continues to believe that this synchronistic experience saved his life and helped his excellent recovery. Directly acknowledging his transpersonal experience in the therapy setting has seemingly assisted his engagement with therapy goals, his life meaning and achievement in resisting any relapse. He has now successfully returned to full-time work, married, and fathered a child.

I increasingly hear of clients describing synchronistic experience in conjunction with other paranormal phenomena, such as having a dream or vision that anticipates an event that occurs soon afterward. The following synchronistic experience involved a ghostly encounter.

Diana, a woman in her early 40’s, was looking for direction in her life after leaving a marriage marked by emotional and physical abuse. She had a sense that she might somehow receive guidance for her future path from her ancestors. One day, she spent hours trying to research her family tree, but gave up in frustration as she found nothing useful. She nonetheless prayed that she would come across some useful information about her ancestors.

synchronicity, quote, time is art, documentary

As Diana was in her bathroom preparing for bed, she was startled by a vision of a stooped old man. He was quaintly dressed in clothes of a former era. He looked at her and said, “the information you require you will have in the morning”. He then vanished. When she awoke, despite wondering whether it was just a hallucination, the striking nature of this encounter led her to resume her research. Within half an hour she came across completely unexpected evidence of a particularly well-educated and accomplished branch of her family contrasting with her own very modest educational and socioeconomic background. This markedly boosted her belief that she might be capable of pursuing further study at a point when she was at a crossroads in life. Despite also raising two young children under adverse circumstances, she was able to not only successfully apply for tertiary study, but to get very good grades, all the while boosted by the numinous and synchronistic quality of this ghostly encounter.

Diana went on to describe many other examples of synchronistic premonitions, and described many confirmatory examples of her intuitive insights. She summed up synchronicity as “the universe telling you that you are getting warmer”. Such anecdotes are consistent with my own view that synchronistic experiences help guide us to our optimal life path, like a “tick from the universe” affirming that we are on the right track.

There should be scope to acknowledge such incidents in the therapy setting, given their impact on someone’s life. However, I suspect that they are rarely disclosed. I suspect that most psychologists would be little prepared to meaningfully deal with such revelations, as there would be minimal reference to such experiences in most mainstream psychology courses.

It is nonetheless understandable that spiritual and paranormal phenomena are largely neglected in mainstream psychology. The field is established on a scientific foundation: we are meant to objectively research hypotheses using replicable methods. However, this is not the full story, as we also wish to be able to acknowledge and explore the full range of human experience. Any psychological approach that leaves out some of the most subjectively relevant or important things in people’s life experience would be unduly limited. Strict behaviourism could only ever advance so far.

In my view, positive psychology is a field which is the most promising in exploring broader dimensions to people’s lives, including spirituality, whilst still adopting a considerable degree of scientific rigour. Positive psychology is a science of wellbeing in that it looks to objective empirical support for any interventions proposed to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing. Positive psychology research has recently highlighted the objectively demonstrated benefits of spiritual beliefs or practices for people’s wellbeing. These benefits include increased longevity, lesser alcohol and drug use, reduced health costs and greater resilience in adverse situations.

Synchronicity relates directly to the “PERMA” model of positive psychology, as outlined by its founder, Martin Seligman. He emphasized five domains as being integral to psychological wellbeing. These include positive emotions, engagement in activities and roles, positive relationships, personal meaning and accomplishment. Anything that is objectively demonstrated to enhance these aspects of our life experience is consistent with positive psychology. Eric and Diana’s stories illustrate the potential beneficial, even profound, impact of synchronistic experiences in each of these domains.

The positive psychology field is now more explicitly incorporating spiritual themes related to life purpose and meaning. The goal is to draw on the best in ourselves whilst contributing to something beyond ourselves. This has led to an increasing acceptance in the positive psychology literature for such terms as “the sacred” or pursuing one’s “calling”. This is not altogether surprising as early theoretical work in this field acknowledged the influence of such luminaries as William James, Abraham Maslow and Carl Jung (who coined the term synchronicity) who were all strongly interested in transpersonal phenomena.

It is only recently that I have felt emboldened to present on the phenomenon of synchronicity at scientifically based psychology conferences, including at the recent world congress on positive psychology in Orlando, Florida. In the 21st-century, we are becoming more open to consider more intuitive and creative ways of thinking and perceiving the world whilst nonetheless aiming to objectively explore what impact they might have on our wellbeing.

Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence I have set out to incorporate theory, anecdotes and personal and client examples to offer a 21st century take on the legacy of Carl Jung, who so intriguingly introduced us to the concept of synchronicity sixty years ago. He first wrote about synchronicity in a book co-written with Wolfgang Pauli, a father of quantum mechanics. As their collaboration showed, just because something sounds mystical does not mean it is inconsistent with a scientific mindset.

Chris Mackey is a clinical and counselling psychologist and Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society with 35 years’ psychotherapy experience in public and private mental health settings. He is the principal psychologist at Chris Mackey and Associates, his private psychology practice in Geelong.

Chris has presented at numerous national and international scientific conferences over the past 20 years on such topics as the assessment and treatment of psychological trauma and the evaluation of effectiveness of psychological therapy for anxiety and depression. Chris has a particular interest in promoting more optimistic approaches to mental health, including positive psychology, about which he has presented regular free public talks in Geelong over the past ten years. He has been fascinated in synchronicity throughout his career as well as in his everyday life, leading him to choose this topic for his first book, Synchronicity: Empower Your Life with the Gift of Coincidence. His practice’s website provides extensive information about a wide range of mental health issues (see www.chrismackey.com.au).