Category Archives: Monday

Synchronicity and Symbols: We live in a symbolic matrix

Norse Tree of Life

I am developing a taxonomy for coincidences. Early botanists noticed similarities and differences among plants and categorized them; I’ve noticed similarities and differences among and between the coincidental flora in the forest of daily life.

To develop a scale for coincidence sensitivity, I asked participants to rate the frequency of common coincidences. The list of common coincidences was gleaned from a much longer group of possibilities. The result was the Weird Coincidence Survey. The 12 items of the WCS can be found on this website under “your coincidences”. You can take the survey to see how sensitive to coincidences you are.

From 1551 respondents to the WCS, the most common coincidences were:

I think of a question only to have it answered by an external source (i.e. radio, TV, or other people) before I can ask it.
I think of an idea and hear or see it on the radio, TV, or Internet.
I think of calling someone, only to have that person unexpectedly call me.
I advance in my work/career/education by being in the right place at the right time.

Most intriguing to me are the connections to our media. Are we becoming nodes in the vast internet connectivity? I explore this idea in this PT post.

Ray Grasse has a grander view. He starts with synchronicity and then expands to the symbols all around us. He notices what happens at the beginning of a process. One of his examples involves two people meeting for the first time and a car exploding outside as they talk. Foreboding for the relationship! And it was. The relationship did not go well.

Grasse quotes Emerson: “The whole world is an omen and a sign. Why look so wistfully in a corner? The voice of divination resounds everywhere and runs to waste unheard, unregarded, as the mountains echo with the bleatings of cattle.” (The Waking Dream, p.251)

You see a car on fire, a knife injures your foot, you have an argument with your spouse and Mars is in transit. Each of these has in common a force of some kind. To hear Ray talk about the expansion of symbol awareness in daily life please click here


Grasse, Ray. The Waking Dream (1996): Unlocking the symbolic language of our lives. Quest Books. Wheaton, Ilinois, USA

I Ching and Intentional Meaningful Coincidences: Toss the coins and see the future?

I Ching, The Song Dynasty

The I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, is humanity’s oldest oracle. It is regularly consulted on matters relating to business, relationships, politics and other aspects of life. It is the pre-eminent book among the six Confucian Classics. The I Ching influenced the development of various Chinese philosophical systems, including Taoism, Confucianism, and the Yin-Yang School.

Throwing the coins of the I Ching intentionally creates coincidences between the mind of the asker and the pages in the book. Like all mantic methods, it is intended to clarify the present and predict the future. The I Ching originated within the worldview of ancient China in which the spiritual aspect of reality was accorded equal importance to the physical and psychic aspects. (Main, p. 142). It is based on the idea that events “fall together in time”. Its readings then reflect the current state of now. The readings symbolically mirror what is going on in the present.

Using the I Ching is a form of bibliomancy, the random selection of passages from a sacred book. The I Ching is a collection of sixty-four, six-line figures “hexagrams” with each figure having a name which is elaborated upon in its accompanying text.

The website, and its blogs show how the wisdom of the I Ching can be elicited to comment on political and cultural activities as well as personal decision making. To learn more about the I Ching please visit this website, and listen to its creator Mary Kay Landon discussing it with me here.

Landon recommends these 4 books:

The I Ching, or Book of Changes. (1950/1967). (R. Wilhelm & C.F. Baynes, trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Arguably the first authoritative translation of the I Ching into English, this version includes famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung’s Foreword in which he discusses—and demonstrates—how the I Ching provides an example of his theory of synchronicity. This translation is also notable in that it includes a complete translation of “The Ten Wings,” Confucius-era philosophical commentaries on the images and meanings associated with the much older basic text.

Wing, R. L. The Illustrated I Ching. (1982). Garden City, NY: Dolphin Books (Doubleday & Co., Inc.). The companion volume to the author’s The I Ching Workbook, it offers an accessible, plain-language description of the meaning of the hexagrams and provides a simplified coin method for consulting the oracle. As such, it serves as a suitable and faithful introduction to the I Ching. The explanation for each hexagram is also accompanied by a Chinese illustration that depicts its meaning. Line text descriptions do not include translations of the original text.

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Karcher, Stephen. The I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change. The First Complete Translation with Concordance. (2002). London: Vega. This translation offers multiple direct translations for each character appearing in the ancient Chinese text (i.e., “concordance”) along with author commentaries on the hexagrams and most of the line texts. As such, it offers the experienced practitioner a choice of interpretations on both the hexagrams and line texts, which can provide additional insights into unclear readings. Not recommended for beginners.

Huang, Alfred. The Complete I Ching. (1998). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. This is Mary Kay’s favorite translation at this point because it offers a Chinese perspective on the judgments of the hexagrams and line texts, as well as in its descriptions of the meanings of the Chinese ideograph for each hexagram. These ideographs offer another layer of meaning and insight into this ancient oracle. The author’s clear language and presentation of the material makes this also an appropriate translation for thoughtful beginners.

Serendipity: A Store, a Movie and a Coincidence: A cool word takes on new meanings

Portsmouth, New Hampshire clothing store
Portsmouth, New Hampshire clothing store

The word “serendipity” has many pop-culture references, but many people don’t know its original meaning or realize its usefulness.

When customers walk into Serendipity, a women’s clothing store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they usually think of the movie Serendipity (2001) starring John Cusak (Jonathan) and Kate Beckinsale (Sara).

The movie is serendipity rich. The two main characters meet at the Manhattan ice cream place called Serendipity 3. Sara writes her phone number on a piece of paper, but a gust of wind from a passing truck pulls it out of her hand.

She refuses to write it down again and instead asks John to write his name and phone number on a $5 bill, which she spends. She then writes her name and address on the inside cover of a book and sells it to a used book store.

If they are meant to be together, she says, each will find the items and contact the others.

The Origins of the Word

Walpole circa 1741.
Walpole circa 1741.

Horace Walpole, a member of the British House of Commons in the 18th century, recognized in himself a talent for finding what he needed just when he needed it.

For example, a gift in the form of a portrait of a Grand Duchess whom Walpole had long admired arrived from his distant cousin in Florence, Italy. Walpole needed a coat of arms with specific elements in it to decorate the new picture frame and accidentally found what he was looking for in an old book.

On January 28, 1754, Walpole, thrilled with this coincidence, wrote to his cousin, Horace Mann, giving a name to his ability to find things unexpectedly—serendipity.

He got the name from a fairy tale called “The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Sarendip.” Sarendip (or Serendib) is an ancient name for the island nation Sri Lanka off India’s southern coast. The king of the fable recognizes that education requires more than learning from books, so he sends his sons out of the country to broaden their experience of the world.

Throughout the story, the clever princes carefully observe their surroundings, and then use their observations in ways that save them from danger and death.

For Walpole, serendipity meant finding something by informed observation (sagacity, as he called it) and by accident.

Current Usage

Serendipity currently has two related meanings: 1) Looking for something and finding something even better. 2) Looking for something and finding just what you needed.

The history of the search for new drugs provides many examples.

Viagra was accidentally found while researchers in England in the 1990s were testing a new anti-hypertensive and anti-angina drug. Their male subjects reported increased and prolonged erections. It became one of the best selling drugs of all time.

Scotsman Alexander Fleming was actively searching for a new antibiotic in 1928. He returned from vacation and found penicillin juice killing bacteria in petri-dishes that should have been washed while he was gone.

In each of these cases, researchers had to be open to new possibilities coming at them in unexpected ways. Serendipity, like luck, requires perseverance, preparation, and opportunity.

The “Law of Attraction” may also apply. This is the belief that “like attracts like,” that positive or negative thoughts may bring positive or negative experiences to one’s life. In the case of serendipity, the thought of a needed something somehow helps to bring that something to a person’s life.

But it is not enough to imagine what you want or need. You have to move. A Spanish Gypsy proverb says it well, “The dog that trots about finds the bone.”

This capacity seems to sometimes rely on the human capacity to find our way to places where there are people, ideas, or things that provide us with what we have been seeking. I call this human our Geospatial Positioning System (GPS).

When I asked a customer in Serendipity what she thought the word meant, she said, “Bliss.” Perhaps she most strongly associated the word with the joy that accompanies unexpected discoveries made through serendipity.

The people who walk into the store Serendipity may have a specific item in mind and find it, or they may have a general need and find it clearly expressed in something they just happen to discover there.

Either way, serendipity can be beneficial and fun, and it invites us to wonder how it happens.