Jung, well known in some quarters for his theories of the ‘Collective Unconscious’ and Archetypes, is perhaps less well known for his thoughts on something he termed Synchronicity. For those unfamiliar with this concept, Jung posited that no event happens in isolation. There is a connection between all events, if only we could see it. Obviously, this is a gross over-simplification and if you’ve ever read, or attempted to read, any of Jung’s work you’ll realise that nothing he wrote could possibly be described as simple.
Synchronicity features in many ‘self-help’ books, normally unacknowledged and in a slightly modified guise. The line these books take is usually something like ‘the Universe is connected and all you have to do to succeed beyond your wildest dreams is to tap into this connection’. Various ways of doing this are proposed; only associating with successful people, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals or searching for, and persuading, a successful person to mentor you. So far so reasonable, I’m sure we’re all aware of the power, potential or realised, of positive thought. Things happen when we try to make them happen by positive action. Positive thought leads to positive action, but positive thought alone though, well that’s a slightly greyer area. We certainly feel better when we think positively but there is the danger, if one can call it that, of crossing that nebulous line between positive thinking and wishful thinking.
When I was in hypnotherapy practice, I was trained to treat certain presenting symptoms using a form of ‘positive action’. To give a necessarily incomplete example, if treating a patient for depression, one might suggest making a single positive change in their lives, one that they felt they might be able to achieve on a regular basis. My personal favourite was to have people consciously look up whilst they were walking. I suppose you may now have a picture of people staring up at the sky, bumping into things and getting depressed, but that’s not exactly what I meant. When people are depressed, they almost invariably look down when they walk. The simple physical act of looking up, or level perhaps I should say, seems somehow to ‘raise their spirits’. And yes, looking up at the sky can accentuate positive thoughts, if done at a suitable time/location. By looking up you physically hold yourself more erect, which sends a message to the Unconscious Mind that you are in or wish to be in a more positive frame of mind and changes take place. If the patient were male, I might suggest that the positive act of shaving every day, even if they were not leaving the house, might help start a shift in their mental outlook, to facilitate a shift from the negative to the positive. Note that these, and others not mentioned, were all positive actions, not thoughts. Positive thoughts resulted from positive actions, but is there any evidence to suggest that the reverse is true? Certainly, one of the precepts of hypnotherapy is that if you can visualise and feel yourself making positive changes then those positive changes can/will occur. The unconscious mind needs to be convinced that the conscious mind wishes to make changes. The way to do this is by positive suggestions, the unconscious does not handle negatives. The bald suggestion that in times of stress you won’t think of having a cigarette triggers the mental image of having a cigarette before you think of not having one. The unconscious can’t handle the concept of ‘not’, so the image of stress and smoking are intertwined. Only positive suggestions will have the desired effect. So the unconscious mind is capable of making physical changes in the individual, but what of Synchronicity and the Collective Unconscious, does it in fact exist as anything more than a ‘herd instinct’?
Books have been written about how Synchronicity helped individuals achieve great things of which they never thought themselves capable. Seemingly through no real efforts of their own, apparently the ‘necessary people’ suddenly appeared in their lives at the most opportune moment. Most of these books have been written about ‘noble endeavours’, starting a successful charity say or some educational project, even creating a series of ‘self-help seminars’ for the unsuccessful. Rarely is filthy lucre mentioned, except brief references as to how it suddenly appeared when most needed. For the noble endeavour. I suppose operators of Ponzi-schemes might write similar books, although if they were being honest they would speak more of the gullability of the greedy man or woman. The latest guise of Synchronicity is termed ‘Cosmic Ordering’. You think positive thoughts about what you want to achieve and ‘bingo’, you achieve your dreams through the power of positive thinking. You communicate your desires to ‘The Universe’, perhaps the collective unconscious by another name, in simple, positive terms and ‘The Universe’ will provide, as there is enough, whatever form the enough of your desires is, to go round. All well and good.
Back to the more Jungian concept of Collective Unconscious and synchronicity and less of the ‘pop psychology’. I suppose I have some personal experience of Synchronicity. At a time when I had absolutely no idea how I was going to move forward in my life, namely how the hell I was going to rebuild my boat, people appeared. Old friends and new friends, some offering financial help and others equally needed moral support. All I brought to the party was a determination that somehow, and I really had no idea how, I was going to rebuild the boat. So the case for synchronicity and the collective unconscious is made then? Perhaps, but I have one niggling doubt.
You see I have noticed something very strange and alarming, a sort of ‘reverse-power’ of positive thinking. During my ‘walk to work’ every morning (the walk back is uphill and any positive thoughts centre around ‘I will positively keep walking/I’m positively going to indulge myself and have just one cold beer/I’m positive I’ll have a heart attack if I don’t slow down), I don’t just think about what it would actually be like to have a book published, I feel as though I HAVE had a book published. I experience the feelings of satisfaction, of having a realistic, modest, increase of material wealth. To be sure, I am aware of a lot of wishful thinking along the lines of ‘if JK Rowling can do it’ etc etc, but in the main I focus on positive feelings of achievement. I also, on occasions, visualise earning ‘sensible’ amounts of money by coming up with positive shemes for supplimenting my pension, say by producing an online guide to anchorages/countries. I experience putting these plans into action and ‘experience’ the results. Invariably, within a day or two of ‘seeing/feeling’ this, I get presented with a bill. Is my Unconscious Mind actually synchronised with those of the guys working on the boat? Am I actually somehow ‘connected to the flow of the Universe’ and in an effort to keep me positive, as opposed to ‘seeing’ money flowing out (the reality), my unconscious paints a rosier picture of money trickling if not exactly flowing, in?
I have not had the nerve to try to reverse the process and imagine paying out repeated sums, but let us say the jury remains ‘out’ on Cosmic Ordering.