Category: Mindfulness

Synchronicity: Then and Now

Synchronicity: Then and Now

In the early twentieth century, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe causally unrelated events that appear to be meaningfully connected in some way. In my own experience, I’ve found that if you keep your senses open to synchronicity, it happens all the time. A few months ago, I even began keeping a synchronicity journal to remind myself of how extraordinary it can be.

A few of my most memorable synchronicity experiences occurred when I was trying to land a teaching job. It was a really long haul to go back to school as a recently divorced mother of two children and obtain a master’s degree and all the credentials required for the various New York State teacher certifications that would make me more marketable in a highly competitive job market. Sometimes I became discouraged and overwhelmed by the marathon and the slim odds of receiving a job offer in a supersaturated field. However, one day it occurred to me in a moment of clarity that I held a key to a door that would only open for me – because I alone had the key. I just needed to find the door. It was an empowering insight that renewed my enthusiasm. When my son came home from school that afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, “Look what I found!” And then, with great excitement, he presented me with a very old key that he considered quite the treasure.

And so did I! My eyes must have bulged out of my head when I saw physical confirmation of my insight. The old-fashioned key remains on my meditation alter to this day.

That is synchronicity.

As I got closer to approaching that metaphorical door, I was contacted by two school districts for interviews. One was a second interview with the district I really wanted to work in – the district I attended from kindergarten through high school graduation and in which my children were enrolled at the time. I did my student teaching and all my substitute teaching there, and it felt like the logical place for me. The other was a much smaller, agricultural district a couple towns away, with which I had no prior experience or contacts. About a week before the interviews, I received in the mail a publication from my religious order, and on the back cover was a poem about how sometimes the things we want so badly might end up having a bitter taste, and perhaps we are better off without them for reasons we may never know. I had a feeling after reading it that it spoke to my situation, although I tried to convince myself otherwise. At the time, I worked part-time as a library shelver and sometimes played a little game while walking through the stacks: I’d open a random book to a random page and read it. The next time I was at work, amazingly, on the page I opened to, my eyes fell upon the name of the second, smaller school district, with a different spelling but the same pronunciation! Now, what are the odds of that happening when you open any random book in a large library to a random page?

To make a long story short, I was not offered the job in the district that was my top choice. And I felt devastated. However, the next day, I had an interview with the smaller district and was offered the job – and felt jubilant. I considered the synchronicities as indicators that this was simply how it was meant to be.

Fast-forwarding more than five years, I’ll share the two most recent experiences that occurred this past week.

This summer, I began a massive cleaning and restructuring of our house. It’s time to lighten our load and change things around – get the chi flowing and make room for new energy to flow in. I was going through some old magazines and decided to get rid of most of them. On the way to the recycle bin, a magazine fell open to a page with an ad for a book that caught my eye. It was a new release (at the time) called One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreat by a Zen teacher named Jane Dobisz. Without reading anything more about it or ever coming across it previously – and despite not being a Zen practitioner – I knew intuitively that I needed to read that book and ordered it immediately. And it turns out it is exactly what I need right now and is shedding so much light on my current situation. It’s absolutely perfect. I have been longing to go on a lengthy retreat somewhere although it is not the right time to do so, and I am able to experience it vicariously through the author. In the off-the-cuff definition I offered above of synchronicity, perhaps this doesn’t seem to fit because it (seeing the ad for the book) was just one event. However, there were a few other details that would take too long to explain but made it seem clearly synchronistic. I recognized the book ad instantly as an answer I was seeking, without having to think about it at all. Intuition bypassed the conceptual mind, and I just knew.

I find that there is a certain feel to synchronicities. You can choose to ignore them or to follow them. In my experience, I have found that it is a marvelous adventure to follow them. They often lead to more synchronicity, a trail of new possibilities and enhanced energy and creativity. I regard synchronicity much the same as I regard dreams. I don’t know whether they are generated internally or externally, but it’s the noticing and intuitive knowing about them that is meaningful to me. If you decide to take a walk and look for things that are a certain color – let’s say, purple – then purple objects will begin to jump out and register more in your field of awareness. The same thing happens when you play I-Spy. Maybe synchronicity operates along those lines. Or perhaps in Jungian terms, it is the connecting principle of the collective unconscious, bridging our inner and outer experiences, uniting mind and matter.

Finally, I was on the river earlier this week. For the most part, it’s not the peaceful experience it has been in past years due to all of the traffic from work boats and dredging barges. The pontoon work boats tend to disregard posted speed limits and “no wake” signs and gun it up and down the river. I was paddling for about an hour, encountering considerable traffic, and as I got closer to home it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any wildlife the whole time I was on the river. No beavers. No herons. No egrets. I assumed it was because of the constant activity between the two locks this year. In my mind, I asked, “Where are you, beavers and herons?” And just then, I received an answer: A great blue heron lifted into the air from a concealed location and squawked as if responding to my question. It was so uncanny that my jaw dropped.

After fetching my camera, I went in search of the heron, who I found standing still as a statue on a log in a shallow area. I paddled ever so gingerly toward the heron in an attempt to get as close as possible because I was in need of “heron medicine.” I was able to get quite near and observed the heron so closely that it felt as if we were one being. I entered “heron consciousness,” a state of intense presence and patience. It is a state of mind free from distractions; even the intense heat and bright sun didn’t make an impression on me (which is highly unusual). But at the same time, I was highly alert, with a laser-sharp focus. Aware but not distracted. When you are in “heron mind,” you know instinctively what to do and when it is time to move on.

I was so in tune with the heron that I could tell by a subtle movement that it was about to take off. I have been wanting to photograph a heron lifting off for years but never have been quick enough; it always happens so suddenly. But this time, I was ready!

So I ended up with a satisfying photo, but that’s not all. Having entered “heron mind,” something clicked inside me, and I knew that the deep presence is the element I need to bring into my teaching for the next year. As the curriculum becomes narrower, more demanding, and more tightly scripted, deep, authentic presence might be the key ingredient to help me navigate through the year with as much grace and integrity as possible. I ordered prints of both of the heron pictures to place on the cover of my planning notebook so I can stay in touch with heron energy throughout the year. Last year it was water lilies and the slogan, “Bloom where you are planted.” This year it is heron energy and “Be here now.” 

When I read a chapter in One Hundred Days of Solitude about Zen koans, I thought of the question that has been on my mind all summer and the dualistic way I’ve been approaching it: Should I do this or something different? Suddenly, it became a koan to me – a question with no logical answer, designed to liberate you from thinking – and I saw in my mind the answer in the form of the action and energy of being present. Seems the answer is not a yes or no – an either-or – but rather, enlightened action that bypasses yes or no altogether. Deep presence that cuts through the opposing possibilities to something…deeper.

I truly believe that if you are alert, truly present, and able to embrace the “now” rather than resist it or be distracted by too much thinking, you will find your way and end up where you need to be. The journey is the destination, and every moment makes a difference. Either you will find meaning and joy in your current situation, or your zest will lead you in another direction and open new doors.

Guidance and possibilities are everywhere, always, and it’s interesting to take note of what resonates!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lost in the Woods

Lost in the Woods

Yesterday I took a walk in the woods, and it turned into a teaching tale relevant to these uncertain times and questions I ponder on a daily basis.

To begin with, I had to turn around after a few minutes because the shallow snow was crusty, hard, and slippery. I realized that I needed to better equip myself before going any further, especially since there were many hills and lots of uneven terrain to navigate. I returned to the house to get some ski poles (thinking that’s the best I could do), but my husband provided me with some crampons and a walking stick instead, which were far more effective.

Properly equipped, I returned to the forest.

After climbing a steep hill, there is an area on the trail in which the sun beckons brightly, drawing me toward it.

Sunlight illuminates the path, and I can’t resist walking in the direction of the light. I love that part of the trail. It makes me think of the importance of following our highest light as we navigate our life’s journey.

A little further along the path, there is a chair, which gives the feeling of a presence of some sort. It feels like a gatekeeper.

Almost immediately after passing this point, I lost the trail. I walked for a couple minutes on what I thought was a trail, but it turned out to be a dead end. Although I had lost the path, I still had my bearings and knew which direction the road was, and the stream. These were the perimeters of the forest. I knew which direction not to go and which direction I needed to travel; the problem was, I had run into obstacles in the form of heavy brush. And I was not in the mood to bushwhack (which in this case felt like forcing my agenda on the forest).

I became frustrated and perturbed that the trail wasn’t more clearly marked. I even called my husband and told him exactly what I thought of his trail maintenance. He tried to describe the way to me, but what he said didn’t make any sense. I kept turning around and going down different paths that resulted in dead ends, again and again. I still knew where I was in relation to the important markers and perimeters and had a clear sense of which directions were completely off course and must be avoided. I could see where I wanted to be but couldn’t figure out how to get there.

Then I recalled a few lines from one of my favorite poems, “Lost” by David Wagoner:

Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.

So I chilled. I became quiet and calm and entered the stillness, the soul of the forest. Almost instantly, the swaying pines started calling to me, making a whispering, rustling sound that they probably had been making all along, but that I couldn’t hear when I was so focused on the rantings of my small self that insists on separating itself from all else.

And then – just like that – I knew the way. It was an intuitive knowing. I found my way downhill to the tall, swaying trees with ease. From the start, it had been my intention to photograph this area.

There was a heart in the negative space where the treetops came together.

After putting away my camera, I began walking and once again could not find the trail. It was nowhere to be seen. I had missed the markers and even forgotten to look for them.

I became still and receptive again and noticed some animal tracks, filled with certainty that they would lead me back home even though I saw no signs of humans having traveled this way. I followed them, and they did.

While following the tracks, I didn’t know what kind of animal left them, although I felt it was one that could be vicious. When I got home and flipped through a track identification book with my husband, the fisher tracks caught my eye, and later a wilderness expert helped me to positively identify them as such. I was curious about the symbolism of the fisher, did a little research, and learned that the fisher is portrayed as a brave hero in Woodland (Native American) Indian legends.

The moment I stepped out of the forest, I realized that I had left my walking stick in the area of the tall pines. I had promised my husband that I wouldn’t leave it in the woods, so I felt I needed to go back and make good on that promise. I called him on his cell phone, and he was in the woods looking for me. We met under the tall pines and found the walking stick. He pointed out the markers and explained that he made the trails to be confusing on purpose. Having had this experience, I’m quite certain that next time I won’t get so lost in this area.

This morning, I was involved in a conversation about how challenging it is to raise teenagers in this day and age and how neither I nor the other person claims to have the answers. It could have been a conversation about the teaching profession and the crisis in our public schools or any number of social or personal issues with which we grapple. And then I thought of my experience in the woods, which became a powerful metaphor. (Actually, just as in dreams, there are lots of metaphors contained within the experience!)

Getting frustrated because the trail isn’t well marked.  (But it was designed that way on purpose!)

Becoming still and finding guidance.

Following the way of the brave hero. 

There’s also the idea of being properly equipped (with knowledge). When we come to the limits of our knowledge, that’s where intuition takes over. And I think that the integration of knowledge, experience, and intuition gives birth to wisdom.

I think we need to realize that we can’t find answers by sticking to “the shoulds” or believing there’s one single path (i.e. conventional wisdom, the way we were raised, scientific research, the “experts,” religion). But if we can become still and present in the moment – and be receptive and aware – we’ll know what to do. The answers will come; they seek us even as we seek them. It might mean taking a completely different route. But intuitively, we find our way.

I believe that such guidance is abundant and readily available to us if we become receptive to it – if we tune in to that channel. However, it does not come to us when we are in an egoic, reactive state because we are shutting it out. It’s a matter of tuning the dial of our awareness.

Though it may be tempting to take the shortcut and do what others tell or expect us to do, life becomes so much richer when we open ourselves to the peace and possibilities of the present moment, where new ideas are born. If we are willing to live an authentic, creative, courageous life, we discover that there ultimately are no clear cut answers, no one true way. However, we can keep our bearings with love as our compass.

These are confusing times, and the answers may be unclear when we remain inside our chattering minds and think too much about the obstacles in our way. But perhaps there is some peace in knowing that I’m here in the woods with you. You are not alone.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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