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Cynthia CAVALLI An exploration of objective meaning in synchronicity


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Cynthia CAVALLI An exploration of objective meaning in synchronicity

  1. 1. 302 Int. J. Human Resources Development and Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2013 Copyright © 2013 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd. An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities Cynthia Cavalli 2030 E. Fourth St., Suite 134, Santa Ana, CA 92705, USA E-mail: Abstract: The concept of synchronicity, Carl Jung’s theory of meaningful coincidence, proposes that meaning exists as an objective phenomenon, in addition to the human activity of making or deriving meaning from life experiences. This idea is gaining support from a growing number of scientists who believe it may reveal the bridge between matter and mind, or how the inner world of subjective experience connects with the outer world of objective observation. Building on research conducted using phenomenological methods to explore meaning as an emergent and complex phenomenon, the current study examines the personal stories of synchronicity for nine participants to characterise their experiences in terms of meaning as an objective phenomenon. A framework developed out of the research results facilitates understanding of the role that objective meaning can play in transformational experiences. Keywords: synchronicity; meaningful coincidence; acausal; objective meaning; transformation process; essential structure of meaning; experience of meaning in transformation. Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Cavalli, C. (2013) ‘An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities’, Int. J. Human Resources Development and Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.302–317. Biographical notes: Cynthia Cavalli is a Systems and Organisational Consultant specialising in the Dynamics of Change and Transformation. She has 30 years of experience in Aerospace Engineering, a PhD in Human and Organisational Systems, an MBA, and BS in Physics. She utilises a unique approach to organisational transformation integrating complexity science and Jungian psychology. She specialises in assisting large and small organisations creatively leverage periods of uncertainty. This paper is a revised and expanded version of a paper entitled ‘An exploration of meaning as emergent phenomenon in transformational experiences’ presented at ICMC2013, Greater Noida, India, 5–6 December 2013. 1 Introduction One question science has not yet adequately addressed concerns the mind-matter connection: How or where do observable physical phenomena interact with the psychic world of inner (individual/collective) experience?
  2. 2. 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]. 2 Objective 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).
  3. 3. 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, and results. 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 Geographical location Ethnicity Education Profession Jen F 21–40 Southeast USA White PhD Professor Shirley F 60–80 Northeast USA White Masters Psychiatric nurse Mary Alice F n/p Pacific Northwest 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 American PhD Nurse/writer/mythologist Kira F 41–60 Northeast USA White PhD IT/naturopath Source: Cavalli (2013)
  4. 4. An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 305 Table 1 Participant demographics (continued) Participant Gender Age Geographical location Ethnicity Education Profession Rani F 21–40 Northeast USA Indian Masters Finance and mental health Vivian F 21–40 Western USA White PhD Spiritual teacher Rerno Roth M 60–80 Northern Europe 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 bracketing purposes. 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 or removed.
  5. 5. 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 each other. 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
  6. 6. An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 307 crisis experience, many participants reported a period of deep depression. For example, Jen recalls: “…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 perceptive.” 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 going…”
  7. 7. 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 see…” 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. 5.4 Numinosity 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 human experience. 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.”
  8. 8. 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.” Rani says: “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 simultaneously. 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.’ …
  9. 9. 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!” 5.6 Meaning 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 life events. 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 today. 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 life].” 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.
  10. 10. 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 experience: “…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. 5.7 Transformation 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
  11. 11. 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.” Jen says: “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 others.” The essential structure elements may thus be depicted in somewhat different fashion in Figure 1.
  12. 12. 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
  13. 13. 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. 6 Discussion 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
  14. 14. 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 to them. 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 it was.
  15. 15. 316 C. Cavalli 7 Conclusions 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
  16. 16. An exploration of objective meaning in transformational synchronicities 317 life and death, joy and sorrow, conflict and peace. It is not nirvana, a spiritual “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), pp.257–258] References Aziz, R. (1990) C.G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity, State University of New York Press, Albany NY. Beitman, B. (2009) ‘Brains seek patterns in coincidence’, Psychiatric Annals, Vol. 39, No. 5, pp.255–264. Card, C. (1996) The Emergence of Archetypes in Present-Day Science and its Significance for a Contemporary Philosophy of Nature [online] http://www.tetras- 0Archetypes%20in%20Present.pdf (accessed 29 March 2012). Cavalli, C. (2013a) ‘An exploration of meaning as emergent phenomenon in transformational experiences’, in Sardana, G.D. and Thatchenkery, T. (Eds.): Organizational Transformation: Change Management Perspectives, Bloomsbury Publishing, New Delhi. Cavalli, C. (2013b) Synchronicity and the Emergence of Meaning, Unpublished PhD thesis, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara CA, USA. Giorgi, A. (2009) The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology: A Modified Husserlian Approach, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburg PA. Jung, C.G. and Pauli, W. (1955) The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, Pantheon Books Inc., New York NY. Romanyshyn, R.D. (2007) The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind, Spring Journal Books, New Orleans LA. Silver, R. and Updegraff, J.A. (2008) ‘Searching for and finding meaning following personal and collective traumas’, in Markman, K. et al. (Eds.): The Psychology of Meaning, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. Van Manen (1990) Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, State University of New York Press, New York NY. Von Franz, M.L. (1992) Psyche and Matter, Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.