Having an "examined life" means grappling with some pretty big questions:
ow much of life is truly within our control, and how much is left to chance and luck? Are coincidences just random, or is there a deeper meaning? If even bad things “happen for a reason,” why does one child with cancer die while another has a miraculous recovery? Is it random, or is the former burdened with bad karma from a past life (or shitty luck, or parents who didn't pray as hard)?! Do people just say "things happen for a reason" because they need some kind of explanation or meaning for horrible/unfair things that happen?
Obviously, this can become a highly charged discussion, as these are topics that connect to our most fundamental beliefs about our place in the world — and often, to our deepest pains, and our religious and/or spiritual beliefs.
In writing this post, I hope to engage in meaningful discussion about these concepts and questions, whether you agree or disagree with some of the opinions I share.
Coincidence, Synchronicity, and Destiny
I have always been fascinated by coincidences. I adore the movie I Heart Huckabees, and my favorite episode of This American Life is all about great coincidence stories. I’ve experienced some gasp-worthy coincidences in my short time already, and heard tales of others’ jaw-droppingly-crazy coincidences. But just because a coincidence happens doesn’t mean there’s anything more to it, right? Well, maybe… and maybe not.
In the 1920’s, Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung was the first to coin the term “synchronicity,” which he defined as “meaningful coincidences.” To illustrate this definition, let's look at an example from Jungian contributor Marie-Louise von Franz in the book, Man and His Symbols:
"If an aircraft crashes before my eyes as I am blowing my nose, this is a coincidence of events that has no meaning. It is simply a chance occurrence of a kind that happens all the time. But if I bought a blue frock and, by mistake, the shop delivered a black one on the day one of my near relatives died, this would be a meaningful coincidence. The two events are not causally related, but they are connected by the symbolic meaning that our society gives to the color black."
Some of the more metaphysically-minded folks go so far as to say that “there’s no such thing as coincidence,” or that "all coincidences are meaningful.” To me, it seems inherent in that idea that there is some “greater plan,” fate, destiny — that “everything happens for a reason" and the synchronistic events are lining up to keep the plan on-course… and then what of free will?
Personally? I believe that meaningful coincidences can happen, but I do not believe that everything happens for a reason.
I just cannot get on board with the idea that a child being abused “happened for a reason," even if that child is provided the opportunity to work through the trauma and become a functional adult who gives back to the world and perhaps to children who have had to overcome similar adversity.
Still, for some reason I am compelled to attribute meaning to coincidence.Perhaps it’s my fascination with the mystical, the desire to believe in a little old fashioned magic, or in parallel realities (a la Sliding Doors).Read More