An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 303
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed that the phenomenon of synchronicity,
also known as meaningful coincidence, provides insight into the nature of this connection
and is arguably his most radical and controversial theory. Although dismissed by some as
an example of magical thinking, it nevertheless continues to be embraced by an
increasing number of scientists for the insight and perspective it provides into the
connection between mind and matter, or more specifically between the outer world of
objectively observed reality and the inner world of subjective experience.
1.1 Definition and background
Synchronicity, for the purpose of this paper, is defined as occurring when an inner event
(such as a dream, premonition, or thought) is matched in outer reality but with no
possibility of a causal relationship between the two events (inner and outer). Although
this is a somewhat narrower definition than originally proposed by Jung, it served to
focus the research project on which this paper is based, and provides a starting point for
initial inquiry into the phenomenon.
In the early years of the last century, Jung had begun noticing that his patients often
dreamt of symbolic images which seemed strangely to coincide with events in outer
reality. Also around this time, Jung had several discussions with Albert Einstein who was
then a professor in Zurich (1909–1913). Einstein was developing his first theory of
relativity and through their conversation together Jung began thinking about a possible
“relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality”. These events led
over 30 years later to his collaboration with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and to
development of his thesis of ‘psychic synchronicity’ [Card, (1996), p.7].
This recognition, that inner and outer events are sometimes strangely connected
acausally led to perhaps the most radical aspect of his proposal concerning synchronicity,
which is that meaning exists as an objective principle in nature, and not solely as an
activity of human meaning-making. Because the term ‘meaning’ carries clear
anthropomorphic connotations, Jung suggested that the term ‘equivalence’ might be used
to convey this idea instead. However the term ‘meaning’ is used in this paper [Jung and
Pauli, (1955), p.118].
The purpose of this paper is to explore this aspect of objective meaning, and the role it
plays in shaping one’s life. This is accomplished by reviewing the results of a research
study conducted by the author to explore the experience of meaning as a complex
phenomenon in life changing instances of synchronicity. The findings further reveal
insight into the dynamics of change and transformation that offer benefit not just for
individuals, but can be adapted and applied to organisations as well; however the
discussion on organisational application is covered in a separate paper and referenced
here for the interested reader (Cavalli, 2013a).
304 C. Cavalli
3 Research method
The study used a method developed by Giorgi known as The Descriptive
Phenomenological Method in Psychology (2009) in conjunction with alchemical
hermeneutics (AH) as described by Romanyshyn (2007). The research method, as applied
to phenomenology, requires some adaptation for use in psychology; Giorgi’s method also
seeks meanings correlated with the facts of the experience.
The AH refers to an attitude Romanyshyn employs to illustrate the dynamics of
soul-oriented research, especially focusing on reflection. Although seeing the meaning of
a phenomenon may seem easy because it is something everyone does all the time every
day, the determination and explication of the meaning of a phenomenon is a more
difficult task (Van Manen, 1990). Thus, phenomenological reflection is especially well
suited for this study. AH further deepens this act of reflection into a purposeful reverie.
By approaching the work with emptiness and a lack of agenda, the text is invited to tell
its tale (Romanyshyn, 2007).
By applying this methodology the study sought to explore the deeper aspects of the
experience of meaning.
4 Data collection and results
The following sections describe the participant demographics, data collection, analysis,
4.1 Participant demographics
Nine individuals took part in this study, selecting names of their own choosing.
Participants were selected for experiences that involved life changing synchronicities.
Each participant was required to have had enough time to reflect on and develop some
understanding around their experience (Table 1).
Table 1 Participant demographics
Participant Gender Age
Ethnicity Education Profession
Jen F 21–40 Southeast
White PhD Professor
Shirley F 60–80 Northeast
White Masters Psychiatric nurse
Mary Alice F n/p Pacific
White PhD Jungian play therapist
Karin Ann F 21–40 Not provided White Masters Therapist/energy work
Beth Anne F 41–60 Western USA White/Native
Kira F 41–60 Northeast
White PhD IT/naturopath
Source: Cavalli (2013)
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 305
Table 1 Participant demographics (continued)
Participant Gender Age
Ethnicity Education Profession
Rani F 21–40 Northeast
Indian Masters Finance and mental health
Vivian F 21–40 Western USA White PhD Spiritual teacher
Rerno Roth M 60–80 Northern
White PhD Writer/healer/therapist
Source: Cavalli (2013)
4.2 Participant selection
Participants were solicited using social networking tools and other recruiting methods.
An initial conversation (via phone and/or e-mail) was used to confirm that each
participant had experienced the phenomenon of synchronicity, defined as experience of
an inner event that matches an outer event, that is connected by meaning but not by cause
and effect, and that sufficient time had passed for them to be able to articulate their
experience in depth.
4.3 Data collection
Interviews were conducted using an open ended interview format to gain as much detail
and information as possible about each participant’s experience. Each interview was
recorded digitally and transcribed using the tool ‘express scribe’ available online. The
recordings were listened to at least three or more times, and each transcribed interview
was read at least five or more times, to gain an overall feeling for the data as a whole.
With each reading, personal impressions and reactions were recorded separately for
4.4 Data analysis
Each research protocol, consisting of the transcribed interviews for each participant, was
carefully reviewed while employing a combined phenomenological and an AH attitude.
Significant statements were drawn from this review if they provided insight into the
meaning of the event, deep emotion associated with the event, transformative aspect of
the event, reaction to the event, or insight into the structure or explanation of the event.
Following Giorgi’s (2009) method, these significant statements were reworded into the
third person to avoid over-identification with the participant. These statements were next
transformed into psychologically relevant meaning units, frequently referring back to the
original protocol to ensure true meaning of the statement was retained with nothing added
306 C. Cavalli
Table 2 Thematic clusters, frequency of occurrence, essential structure
Thematic clusters – essential structure Frequency
Crisis (death, divorce, loss of job, etc.) 9
Disruption of emotional balance (depression, grief, loss of direction, etc.) 9
Uncertainty (navigating without knowing, waiting, moving one step at a time) 7
Synchronicity or non-rational juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events 9
Numinosity (awe, feeling of sacredness/holiness, etc.) 8
Also peak/flow experience (Samadhi, timeless, superhuman experience)
Recognition of bigger things at work – divine plan, life’s larger pattern 9
Meaning (gradual unfolding, sudden understanding/emergent meaning) 9
Life transformed (Crisis was pivotal for transformation - made me who I am) 9
Source: Cavalli (2013b)
A situated structure was constructed from these meaning units; themes were identified
from the situated structure, and then summarised as thematic clusters. These steps were
repeated for each participant, resulting in nine tables of thematic clusters. Common
thematic clusters were identified across the nine tables; imaginative variation was used to
determine essential constituents, discarding the rest. These final thematic clusters
constitute the essential structure of the phenomenon, resulting in eight elements, as
shown in Table 2. The clusters of themes were then condensed into a structural
description of the phenomenon, described in the diagnosis and analysis section below.
5 Diagnosis and analysis
The main finding of the study is the essential structure, which was comprised of the
following elements – crisis, disruption of emotional balance, uncertainty, synchronicity,
numinosity (Awe), recognition of life’s larger pattern, meaning and transformation.
These elements constitute the essential structure of the experience of meaning for
individuals experiencing a life-changing synchronicity. Three of the theme clusters,
‘synchronicity’, ‘meaning’ and ‘life’ transformed, were necessary elements required for
participation, and as such are by default part of the essential structure of the phenomenon
under study. Although the theme clusters as listed seem to comprise a flow, not all
participants experienced the elements in this specific order, or even the same order as
Analysis of the essential structure elements follows, including participant quotes to
illustrate the main points.
5.1 Crisis, disruption of emotional balance
Generally speaking, a crisis occurred that seemed precipitated by loss of some kind. This
loss could be concrete or externally realised, like the loss of a loved one, or relationship;
or it could be something less tangible, like hope, or life direction. Five of the participants
experienced the loss of a loved one. For two participants the loss entailed loss of direction
or life goals (‘feeling disconnected’, ‘seeking something more in life’). Following the
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 307
crisis experience, many participants reported a period of deep depression. For example,
“…It was just really horrific for me and broke me. I feel like I shattered into a
thousand pieces. … for a long, long time I just really wasn’t functioning, I
wasn’t happy, wasn’t even close to happy, just a broken, broken person.”
But not everyone reported depression, as in Vivian’s statement:
“I started to crave for community and other people to connect with and talk
with … I really feel pretty alone and isolated here and like there’s no one that I
can connect with that can understand where I’m coming from and I really want
to find my spiritual family.”
Thus the category refers to a disruption of emotional balance.
The findings indicate that in fact the theme ‘crisis’ may not be specifically essential to
the structure as long as the theme of ‘disruption of emotional balance’ is present. In life,
the two usually go together, as they did for every participant in this study. But it seems
the ‘disruption of emotional balance’ was the critical aspect. Most critically, this
departure from one’s normal attitude appeared to facilitate the ability to discern the
unusual juxtaposition of events constituting the synchronicity.
5.2 Uncertainty, synchronicity
The theme of ‘uncertainty’ often occurred concurrently with ‘disruption of emotional
balance’. During uncertain periods, previous or normal rules of conduct seemed
suspended, and participants found themselves unable to do anything but wait for further
information or insight to emerge.
Beth Anne’s experience involved a major change in life direction and the pursuit of a
doctorate. She described the uncertainty of her experience saying:
“I’m in this place of unknowing again, but it’s ok … I just know that more will
be revealed if I just pay attention.…All the other world needs is your awareness
… That’s sometimes all it needs to communicate, and your willingness to be
In analysing the elements of her experience, it appeared that once Beth Anne pursued the
path that had been revealed to her, her dissertation material seemed to choose her as
much as she chose it. And in choosing her, it seemed to also open the way for whatever
she needed to pursue its study. It was the waiting without knowing that seemed key to
facilitating what could come next.
Several participants described their experience of the element ‘synchronicity’ by
suggesting how to navigate ‘uncertainty’.
Rani’s entire experience was populated by numerous synchronicities surrounding the
pregnancy and birth of her second son, through which she gained insight into navigating
this kind of uncertainty. She says:
“Those synchronicities were like doors opening, you know? ... It was literally
like God speaking…and I think we got really good in those struggling, hard
weeks, to listen for those things, where maybe on a day to day basis you kind of
miss it or you might not see it or you’re not looking? … [it was] probably
exactly what we needed … [It told us] we’re on the right track, kept us
308 C. Cavalli
Vivian finds that:
“… It’s often like the synchronicities are like little signs, little clues, little
pieces of the puzzle that point you in the next direction. And then it’s as you
follow each new clue, each new synchronicity, it leads you to the path that you
know it’s trying to put you on. And when you finally get there, you’re like oh!
And you can look back and you can see how this little synchronicity led to that
one, and not only was it the synchronicity in the moment, it was the willingness
to pay attention and follow it to the next step without necessarily knowing
where it was going until you got there. And then when you got there you can
look back and you can see how all those pieces of the puzzle fit together. … so
I have got to, at some level trust … even though it doesn’t make sense to my
rational mind. … I finally decided ok I’m going to take the next step and
Remo Roth goes even further. He sees synchronicity as possessing a guiding aspect, and
likens this process flow to the Chinese concept of the Tao, saying that:
“Synchronicities would like to push you onto your individuation path. Life is
… teleological. Something in you knows, knows the future, knows your way of
life, knows where the Tao would like to lead you to. And … synchronicity is
based on this principle. … A synchronicity perhaps can only sometimes …
show you … a little part of your future way, future destiny ... when you follow
this underground river. … and when you go left? The Tao wants you to go to
the right? Then synchronicities come. They like to tell you where the flow goes
to. And only when you are able to interpret the synchronicity, one knows to
where the way leads.”
Thus the process of navigating uncertainty seems to involve moving one step at a time
and waiting for further information.
5.3 Synchronicity as non-rational juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events
For all the participants the recognition that a synchronicity occurred, or more specifically
that something from inner life had been matched in outer reality, had a distinctly
shocking effect. In fact, the element of ‘synchronicity’ was given the alternate name
‘non-rational juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events’ precisely because it was this
aspect of unconventional pairing of inner and outer experiences that seems critical.
The experience of ‘awe’, often accompanying the realisation that a synchronicity has
occurred, even seems to partner with the ‘non-rational juxtaposition of seemingly
unrelated events’ (or synchronicity) effectively drawing attention outside of ordinary
Remo Roth describes it as follows:
“We were there, like in the church, very silent… And in some way …[there
was a feeling like] some sort of religious devotion … And we were so much
moved by this? And went home after this in the car, and didn’t speak one word
because we both wanted to remain in this experience, in these emotions …it
was one and a half hours by car? and we didn’t say one word.”
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 309
Beth Anne describes her experience saying:
“It was almost like a chill. … I remember to this day feeling like I’d been
touched by the other world … and it was shocking, in a good way … I felt …
the air... was pregnant with meaning … there was something going on, I sensed
things moving that weren’t in my control and weren’t in my knowledge.”
Kira described her experience as:
“…a peak experience … you’re so alive, energetic, vibrant, time almost has no
meaning you are totally immersed in the whatever this is, the activity, and it
just lifts you to a higher level. … I was in a different place… intellectually it
was like I was more brilliant than I ever knew I could be!”
Experiences that were accompanied by awe and numinosity were considered more
memorable and appeared to have greater impact on overall experience. For those who had
it, the numinous aspect of experience was unforgettable, and remained unclouded with
the passing of time.
5.5 Recognition of larger life pattern
This next essential element refers to the insight all participants described, that there is a
larger pattern in life far bigger than one’s own personal plan. This realisation may be
responsible for the meaning experienced by the participants, and seems to coincide with a
shift in attitude towards acceptance and healing. This realisation may even ‘effect’ the
shift in attitude and acceptance, resulting in both healing and meaning. While none of the
participants actually attributed relationship between the elements in this way, it remains a
possibility. Furthermore, it appears that this recognition of a larger pattern in life is
facilitated directly by the synchronicity.
Shirley describes her experience saying:
“…[what] I really had to learn was that there are elements that were outside of
the physical and the intellect they are vitally important and every bit valid …
and so I had to I literally believe, forced to accept that. No way that I could
discount it. I couldn’t you know. It was too real.”
“There are bigger things at play here, you know? There’s ... bigger divine plans
unfolding and unraveling. It made us feel in some ways really humbled and
really small …”
To be more specific, it appears that it is the recognition that an inner event is inexplicably
connected with an outer event that stuns the individual out of a normal world view,
giving them a glimpse of the larger pattern at work in life, and in turn radically altering
their attitude, which in turn allows acceptance and healing. For some, these all occurred
Perhaps Jen’s statements make this point most clearly:
“This was a major, major turning point in my life on so many different levels.
Not only did it ease the grief, I feel like it catapulted me out of a lower level of
functioning into just a very strong awareness that … ah I don’t have the words .
. . That it’s not about me? You know? That anything that’s happened in life is
not about me, I’m a participant observer in these things and – just an
acceptance of ‘things are the way they are and that is how they should be.’ …
310 C. Cavalli
And all of the pain and anguish that I had been feeling for seven years straight
just disappeared! It melted it … it went away. … And I just cried, for joy!”
Meaning as experienced by the participants can be seen generally occurring in two ways:
suddenly, all at once, instantly, immediately, etc.; and unfolding over time, gradually
dawning, or occurring as other life events provided context, shedding meaning on earlier
5.6.1 Unfolding meaning
At least three respondents described an experience of meaning that came from following
the thread of synchronicity as it wove through their crisis and was credited as being what
ultimately saved them and brought them through. Karin Ann says, about meaning:
“The interesting thing of life that I’ve just learned is that it continues to unfold
and things happen and you don’t even realize that they’re happening, that …
can lead to life changing results. Someone sends you an email and you go to a
conference and you meet someone who introduces you to someone and you
don’t necessarily go back and look at all those things and how they created
meaning in your life, how that one email turn started a chain reaction which led
you to a profound place where you’re at now!”
So the meaning of an event isn’t necessarily obvious till at some point a sequence of
events unfolds to where it is possible to recognise how they shaped you and your life
Mary Alice reports:
“My meaning is through my dreams … I’m drawing them, [journaling], I’m
[dancing] them, I’m honoring them in different ways … researching [them] …
and then … I have synchronicities all through my journal …comes in the
dreams, so I look for those too [which basically serve as a guiding map to live
She says she uses synchronicities, mostly appearing through dreams, as a guide to how
she lives, similar to how Remo described the Tao as an underground river, showing us
where our life should flow next. Vivian also spoke of using synchronicities in this same
way, as a guide, moving her step by step. And the meaning that becomes apparent over
the course of time, where seemingly unrelated events reveal a deeper relationship that
requires time to unfold is very powerful.
It should be pointed out that this is still distinct from ‘meaning-making’. While the
participants may have at times consciously or deliberately ‘made’ meaning, the sense of
these descriptions is different, indicating that it was not about cognition or ego driven
attempts at meaning, but a receptive attitude that recognises connections between
previously unrelated events. Sometimes the synchronistic event remains like a question in
the background until other life events unfold, revealing the relationship each event had to
each other, against the context of the overall individual life story.
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 311
5.6.2 Sudden meaning
All but one participant described meaning as occurring suddenly, in addition to being
revealed over time. Remo was perhaps the most explicit in his description of this
“…The interpretation is spontaneous. Some people begin to think about
synchronicity, ‘what could they mean’ ... ‘what should I do?’ But mostly my
experience is that also spontaneous experience, when suddenly the meaning
comes into your brain ...into your mind. ... what does meaning mean? … The
meaning of synchronicity is always that you have the feeling this is something
very important … you feel it.”
For Jen, it was also immediate. She says:
“It was like my incoming through the top of my head, I had this strong
knowledge [laughing] all at once it just bam hit me, I knew! …It was that
lightning through the top of my head it was very, very quickly I felt this strong
oh my God! This is just what I have to do! … And soon as I realized that that’s
what I had to do? I realized the name of the room that I was in. The name of the
room was the Madison Creek Room? And my daughter that died her name was
Madison and my last name was Creek! And I was just, again, I sat back
stunned! It was so hard to contain the energy of it! I wanted to burst out into the
class and be like oh my god do you know where I am?! But I was sitting there
just bursting at the seams, totally and utterly in awe of the fact that I had this
epiphany in this room at this time.”
In comparing these different ways that meaning occurs, it appears that while meaning can
occur as one large sudden download of knowing, it can also take place in multiple
downloads, occurring over time. In both cases of meaning that occurred suddenly and
meaning that occurred over time, the key seems to be context. Connections for context
are sometimes understood suddenly, while at other times they are understood only
gradually, as new events occur. While meaning that unfolds gradually is always
welcome, it is the sudden flash of meaning and understanding that takes one’s breath
away, leaving in its wake a sense of amazement and wonder about the world. It is this
sudden insight hitting like lightning that feels as though the hand of God has reached
down and touched you. In comparing the experiences of participants who suffered deeply
in contrast with those whose suffering seemed less devastating, it is possible to make the
following statement: Even when context is incomplete, the lightning strike of insight into
the situation, which feels as though there is some higher reason or hand at work serves to
make the ‘not knowing’ or the pain of the event much more bearable.
Whether meaning struck suddenly or occurred gradually, the experience of meaning
seemed to open up a new way of being in the world for the participants (also known as
‘transformation’), making it difficult to fall back into old patterns of thought and action.
This was a required element (as was ‘meaning’). The sentiment ‘crisis was pivotal for
transformation’ or ‘the crisis made me who I am’ was expressed by all participants.
These realisations appear to manifest once the experience of meaning had been integrated
312 C. Cavalli
across the course of many more life events. They also relate to the experience of healing.
In fact, the sub-theme ‘the experience made me what I am today’, seems to manifest,
once the experience of meaning has been integrated across the course of life, and the
unfolding of life has turned uncertainties into understanding. It then becomes possible to
see how tragedy or malaise, the very thing that we deem should never have been, turns
out to be essential, a pivotal event we would never choose, but is nevertheless
fundamental to our being, what makes us who we are, the so-called ‘blessings in
disguise’. This realisation may not be necessary to transformation but seems often to be
incidental to it.
Kira describes her overall experience of synchronicity as:
“…a transformative experience... it totally shifts your world view. You don’t
see things the same anymore it and therefore it affects everything and it opened
up a whole new way of seeing.”
“My grief at this point I can’t even say it’s grief anymore, I’m almost glad that
I went through that. I would never change it, I would never go back and stop it
from happening! It was something that needed to happen in order to make me
the person that I am, and allow me to help other people.”
Mary Alice says:
“This was … the only way I could learn what I needed to learn to move
forward … And then by doing that, I was able to reclaim play in my life. …
Now that IS my life work! And so it helped me to see that! And so … the
experience … was crucial, it was the core event that led me to embrace my
life’s work …”
Karin Ann says:
“So in some ways that [critical event]… saved me. … looking back it was – I
don’t want to say a blessing – but it was, because [laughing] I enjoyed
miserable teenage years because of it but … it got me to a point where [I’m]
very happy in life and I feel like I wouldn’t be able to be who I am, to express
who I am, to radiate what I am, and what I have within me, if I hadn’t seen
those dark days! if I hadn’t gone through the pain, if I hadn’t had the guilt, if I
hadn’t had the self-blame, if I hadn’t learned that we can’t control everything.
As I started finding what I felt comfortable with in life, it reframed the whole
incident with how certain events are meant to happen because you’re meant to
go through that experience to grow, to learn, and to be able to give back to
The essential structure elements may thus be depicted in somewhat different fashion in
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 313
Figure 1 The essential structure of the experience of meaning from life-changing synchronicity
(see online version for colours)
Source: Cavalli (2013b)
5.8 Summary of results
As has already been mentioned, the essential structure elements may appear sequential
but often were not experienced as such. Sometimes elements were repeated, at other
times several elements manifested simultaneously.
Nevertheless, it does appear that the crisis often served to disrupt emotional balance,
which in turn facilitated a state of mind whereby the unusual juxtaposition of inner and
outer events could be recognised. Recognition of this juxtaposition was often shocking
and resulted in a deep experience of awe, a realisation of a sense of sacred purpose that
coincided with the glimpse of life’s larger pattern. Often the elements of ‘synchronicity’,
‘numinosity’, and ‘recognition of life’s larger pattern’ occurred together.
Note that the experience of meaning which is the focal point of the study and this
paper is shown as manifesting both gradually and suddenly. Meaning appears to occur
when the individual is able to make sense of the elements of the big experience that
happened, to put them in a larger context, find some purpose in them, or understand how
‘what happened’ relates to the individual’s personal life. This may occur in multiple
layers, sometimes happening over time as future events unfold, thereby providing greater
context; and also swiftly, with sudden, startling insight. Several respondents described
their experience of meaning as resulting from following the thread of synchronicity as it
wove through their crisis.
Once the meaning around the otherwise confounding experience was obtained,
healing was spontaneous and suffering ended. The achievement of meaning or
understanding corresponded directly to a diminishing of uncertainty. The recognition of
314 C. Cavalli
life’s larger pattern seemed facilitated by the synchronicity which allowed a deeper
experience and understanding of how inner and outer realities are connected.
All of these elements together contributed to the transformation.
The research question used in the study was, “What is the experience of meaning from a
life-changing synchronicity?” As previously stated, the unexpected and acausal
correlation between inner and outer events not only reveals a higher-level structure to
reality but locates the individual as part of the very fabric of how nature itself is
organised. Once one’s place in the context of life was recognised, the elements of the
experience were observed as directly relevant to individual fate or destiny. The
experience of insight into nature’s organisation, and the recognition that I myself play an
undeniable and essential part in that natural organisation, seemed to bring healing and
acceptance because what happened to me is not random; my experience is not an
accident, but a pivotal event that serves my future development.
Research on seeking and finding meaning following personal trauma (such as incest
and other sexual abuse) indicate that extended searches for meaning actually prolong the
suffering of the experiencers (Silver and Updegraff, 2008). This suggests that the
glimpses of a larger life pattern that helped the participants of this study realise meaning
and healing transformed not only their trauma, but their whole life and outlook as well.
Thus the healing of past traumas also occurs when such meaning appears.
Aziz (1990, p.176) emphasises that for Jung, the meaning that is encountered which is
often overwhelming, is an objective, transcendental meaning occurring in nature itself.
Von Franz (1992, p.272) describes that “Synchronistic events constitute moments in
which a ‘cosmic’ or ‘greater’ meaning becomes gradually conscious in an individual,
generally this is a shaking experience”. For each participant of this study, the
synchronicity could be described as a ‘shaking experience’.
The data suggests that meaning acts as an ordering principle in a person’s life.
Although Jung’s interest was in objective meaning, rather than ‘meaning-making’,
perhaps the human ability for pattern recognition is not wholly subjective, but directly
related to pattern formation found in nature. Perhaps synchronicities where the world
seems to know something about you that even you didn’t know correspond with nature’s
ability to produce patterns and the human tendency for pattern recognition.
In reviewing the manifestation and effect of meaning on the participants, a pattern
seemed to be created out of what otherwise were experienced as random or at least
inexplicable traumas. This interpretation aligns with research that shows how our brains
seek patterns and become stressed when such pattern-making is not possible (Beitman,
2009). Meaning accomplishes this by connecting what had previously seemed like
random (and therefore all the more painful) events in a way that facilitates a relationship
between the experiencer and the events that happened to her or him. And this results in or
coincides with an unexpected and startling insight into the individual’s higher level of
existence, i.e., “I am deeply connected with nature; I am part of nature and nature is part
of me”. It is the glimpse of the larger pattern of life beyond what was previously
understood, that facilitates a spontaneous reorganisation of the individual’s understanding
of the deeper structures and interconnections of reality. The sudden expansion in
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 315
consciousness allows the individual to see beyond her limits, catapulting her to another
level of being in the world, a basic description of transformation.
Thus meaning can be said (from the data in this study) to be related at least in part, to
the innate tendency to organise the elements of a person’s life into a coherent story, and
including such elements as fate, and destiny, or teleology.
In fact, in looking at the essential structure, and recalling the participants’ subsequent
acceptance of teleological influence in life, it even becomes possible to see ‘meaning’ as
an independent force or entity operating in tandem with fate to draw together the
elements required for an individual’s development. While this is stated in a somewhat
causal manner, it remains impossible to point to which occurs first, the fate of an
individual, or the events that transpire around an individual’s development.
While the activity of ‘sense-making’ may also involve the organisation of life events
into a coherent narrative, the key difference in the study cases, and what sets them apart
from what is more commonly thought of as ‘sense-making’ is that in this case the ego is
not driving events, nor is cognition, or any rational, considered process involved. It is
rather something that happens, and is witnessed by the ego, rather than a cognitive or
human intervention, and the meaning is accomplished through relationship, through the
human tendency to connect with the elements in one’s world by developing relationship
Although each of the participants must have engaged in some aspect of ‘meaning-
making’ or construction, such experiences were not shared in connection with the
research study. Rather it was the peculiar experience of meaning as it emerged out of the
context of the events that unfolded that was striking and carried great impact that were
the focus of the interviews. It left each participant with an indelible sense of belonging in
the world, of having a place in the scheme of life, and in nature.
Thus these examples offer insight into the phenomenon of meaning separate from the
activity of meaning making. While Jung’s original conception of equivalence, or
objective meaning may have been intended to spark exploration into the phenomenon
outside of human experience, this study nevertheless illustrates what it looks like when
intersecting a human life.
And even if the presence of objective meaning in this study is in doubt, it appears that
the experience of profound connection facilitated by the glimpse of the larger life pattern
is still transformative.
Regardless of the implications of meaning and the connection between relationship
and pattern making, it is nevertheless through a human experiencer (or observer) that
synchronistic patterns are noticed in the first place, and thus exploring synchronicity
through the perspective of human experience – even if it is not how Jung conceived the
subject originally – is one way of extending his original study to include exploration of
synchronicity through lived human experience. Phenomenology in this case offers a
useful approach to apprehending phenomena that can be difficult to investigate using
other research methodologies.
Of course more study along these lines would be helpful in confirming or
disconfirming these suggestions. But further discussion entails elements far beyond what
is possible to determine from the data.
Another point worth noting is that despite the lack of religious affiliation for all but
one individual, the participants came to believe in a teleological aspect of life, that their
development was taking place towards a goal of some kind, even if they had no idea what
316 C. Cavalli
Although the essential structure reveals eight elements, it appears from reading the
descriptive statements for each that they are in fact highly interconnected with each other.
As other studies reveal, many of these elements are in fact the main elements that
constitute the process of transformation. Thus it might appear that this current research
study actually characterises the process of transformation. While this is partly true,
because the focus of all interviews, questions, discussions, and analysis was solely on the
experience of meaning, it is still true that these results describe the essential structure of
meaning in life-changing synchronistic experiences. These results indicate that meaning
in and of itself is transformative. In any case, these essential elements, and the way they
are described, provide insight into the experience of meaning itself, how it might
manifest over the course of major life events, and how it contributes to the development
of the individual’s identity and self.
This process furthermore exhibits complex properties, integrated as it is through the
cycle of transformation. This aspect is discussed in greater detail in the original paper of
which this paper is an extension (Cavalli, 2013a).
It is also likely that this process is repeated throughout the course of a person’s life,
constituting a series of developmental steps reaching to the elder years, which is what
Jung termed ‘the process of individuation’. The individuation process itself exhibits
complex properties, including compensatory feedback loops through dreams, and even
synchronicities (Aziz, 1990).
These results can also be easily extrapolated for organisational application. In
particular the finding of a teleological aspect to transformative synchronicities is relevant
in an organisational context where the goals of the corporation often overwhelm
individual goals and participation with frequently negative effects.
Although these results do not directly or completely resolve the challenge of how
mind and matter are connected, or how observable physical phenomena interact with the
psychic world of inner (individual/collective) experience, this exploration of objective
meaning provides an initial inquiry that can be built upon, and offers a starting point for a
phenomenological approach to addressing this question.
A final, extended quote by the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise Von Franz is offered, to
share the essence it captures of the study findings regarding meaning:
“The realization of “meaning” is … not a simple acquisition of information or
of knowledge, but rather a living experience that touches the heart just as much
as the mind. It seems to us to be an illumination characterized by great clarity
as well as something ineffable – a lightning flash, to use Leibniz’s expression
… …”meaning,” in the context in which Jung uses it, is not at all the same
thing as the order of discursive thought that is based on a mathematico-logical
order. Realization of meaning is a “quantum leap” in the psyche.”
“The “meaning” of a synchronistic event, however, is not identical with
“absolute knowledge,” because it has added to it the realization of temporal
localization arising from a conscious individual at a certain moment in his life.
Such a realization … is a psychic event, an experience whose essence has a
healing effect or, on the other hand, a destructive one. If it brings healing, it is
because even the greatest pain becomes bearable when we glimpse its meaning.
The meaning links us with the numinous – the meaning of the Whole, the
Tao – and, so to speak, puts us once again in our proper place in the Whole. It
gives us a feeling of “that which is just as it is”; it brings a reconciliation with
An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 317
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“beyond,” but rather a complete acceptance of “what is.” For Jung,
individuation and realization of the meaning of life are identical – since
individuation means to find one’s own meaning, which is nothing other than
one’s own connection with the universal Meaning. …” [Von Franz, (1992),
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