randomness, synchronicity, & the law of attraction

randomness, synchronicity, & the law of attraction

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

could spirituality ever actually *hurt* recovery?

“I didn’t eat breakfast, but it wasn’t restricting behavior because I was having a spiritual experience. God told me that he was sustaining me, so I didn’t need to eat.”

When a former client said this in a group, the other women didn’t know how to respond. From their vantage points (and certainly mine), this was clearly disordered eating and thinking. Though her peers tried to gently ask more questions to better understand where she was coming from, this client was just not in a place where she was ready to give up her eating disorder. She frequently quoted scripture and said she was always very connected to her faith and spirituality, and yet, had blinders on regarding the reality of her disorder and how it was affecting the parts of her life that mattered the most.

Spirituality is often a highly valuable component of recovery. In any kind of 12-step program, acknowledging and turning your life over to a higher power of your choosing (steps two and three) is a foundational element of working the steps. Of course, a person’s chosen higher power may be less spiritual and more about “Good Orderly Direction,” but spirituality of some sort is highly common. Even aside from the 12-step model, spirituality can offer strength and hope to people during the most difficult times in their lives. The most frequent benefits my clients identify about connecting to spirituality in recovery are:

  • Helps me know that I’m not alone, and that I am already enough
  • Connects me to a sense of hope that everything will work out okay
  • Reminds me of the fact that I’m not in control, and that the control my ED gives me is an illusion — so I can surrender to recovery even when it’s hard

To read the rest of the post, including 2 ways that misuse of spirituality can be harmful to recovery, head on over to Recovery Warriors. 

You might also be interested in my post on what it means to "be spiritual." 


Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.