In essence, what exactly is a coincidence?
At its most basic, a coincidence simply means that two events occur together in a way that draws our attention.
Why do coincidences happen?
This is where it gets more interesting! Some people would say that any coincidence is simply the result of random chance, regardless of how improbable, or striking, or meaningful it might seem. Others, including myself, would say that some coincidences are simply too improbable and strikingly meaningful to dismiss as mere happenstance. Synchronicity is the term for referring to such meaningful coincidence. It implies that there is a hidden order or organizing force in the universe that influences our lives, nudging us toward our destiny.
Are coincidences the handy work of our subconscious or the Universe?
I think synchronistic coincidences involve a bit of both. We co-create our reality. In some situations, the coincidences can seem so strong and meaningful that there seems to be an involvement of something beyond our own individual will and random chance, such as numerous reported examples of clocks stopping at the exact moment their owner died. There seems to be some kind of higher consciousness or order that is influencing the unfolding of events.
What’s the difference between a coincidence and a happy accident?
A mere coincidence might be noticeable, in terms of being amusing, or surprising, or unexpected, but it may seem to be just that, a mere coincidence. If a coincidence seems especially fortunate, such as running into someone who can help solve a problem for us, we could call that serendipity, a term for a happy accident. Many scientific discoveries are made as a result of serendipity. However, if a fortunate coincidence appears to be especially meaningful in the context of our lives, such as mulling over a serious dilemma and then improbably running into someone who had a unique capacity to solve it for us, I would call that synchronicity. It might feel as though something that happened was “meant to be”.
What determines your awareness of coincidences? Are some people more ‘prone’ than others?
Synchronicity seems to point to a connection between our inner and outer worlds beyond what is immediately obvious. Our awareness of such meaningful coincidences therefore seems greater when we are in a state of flow, simultaneously open and responsive to both our environment and our intuition. It also helps to be open to experiencing a numinous, or sacred, dimension in life, appreciating circumstances that lead us to feel a sense of mystery, or wonder or awe.
It seems to me that we are much more likely to experience synchronicity when we are actively pursuing a path that otherwise seems consistent with our destiny. That seems more likely to occur when we follow Joseph Campbell’s advice to “Follow your bliss”.
Should we become more aware of coincidences occurring around us?
I think the Dalai Lama put it well when he said, “I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path”. Such awareness can help us understand ourselves, and our life paths, at a deeper, intuitive level. I think the main thing is to be open to whatever coincidences particularly stand out to us, and allow ourselves to wonder what meaning they might have for us. Could it be a kind of intuitive message, similar to symbolic messages we might discern from a dream?
When you notice a coincidence, what should you do?
It helps to appreciate any numinous, or strongly mysterious feeling associated with an uncanny coincidence as a cue to “notice what you notice”, including any symbolism or meaning you attach to the situation. You can journal any strong synchronistic experiences and your associations to them. Sometimes the relevance or meaning emerges more clearly over time. You can just let it sit in the back of your mind, and a meaning might become clearer later on.
What do coincidences say about you?
I think in some ways it is our reaction or interpretation of the coincidences that might say more than the coincidences themselves. I would suggest that if someone is completely dismissive of any possible relevance or meaning from coincidences, then they might be unduly rationalistic, or rigid in thinking. By the same token, if someone were to be so focused on any coincidence and its possible meaning that they ignored other rational means of guiding their actions, they might not be very grounded. I think, however, that when someone experiences frequent synchronicity that seems energizing and contributes to a sense of purpose and meaning, whilst remaining grounded in outlook, then they are likely acting in an integrated way consistent with their life purpose or calling.
How can acknowledging coincidences enhance your life?
I see synchronistic experiences as a “tick from the universe” that we are on a worthwhile path, even whilst facing challenges or hardship. Perceiving meaningful coincidences this way is energizing and reinforces a person’s sense of meaning and purpose in life. If we feel fascination, or wonder, or awe, in relation to such experiences, it can help us to be open and flexible in our thinking, and can promote neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, or the development of new brain cells and the connections between them.
How can you embrace the power of coincidence?
As a therapist, I think it is worthwhile for people to go by their own personal experience over and above advice from others. I encourage people to be open to noticing uncanny coincidences in their everyday lives and to explore whether there might be personal meaning in any such experience for them. If in time they feel that a valuable meaning has been confirmed to them in some way, then be prepared to notice further synchronistic experiences and what awareness that may bring. I refer to this intuitive process as drawing on “the power of supra-rational thinking”.
My book, Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence, expands on these themes with the aim of offering further practical guidance, including many examples of people’s experience of synchronicity, their awareness gained from it, and how they benefited from applying that awareness.
About the author
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, Australia.
Chris has presented at numerous national and international scientific conferences over the past 20 years. He is the author of Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence.