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).

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looking for direction? ask what your 10-year-old self would do


Photo: My cousin Taylor and I being entrepreneurial with our blue lemonade and blue yogurt pies. Miss you always.

This is certainly not an original idea (are there any?), but it's one that has helped guide me many times, especially recently. Are you struggling to figure out what your passion or purpose is? Or, perhaps you have so many that it’s hard to land on any one thing long enough to gain momentum, and you don’t know how to narrow your focus?

Just ask what your 10-year-old self would enjoy doing.

In the past year or so, I was doing this before I even explicitly realized it. I sheepishly dipped my toes into the metaphysical realm, exploring crystals, energy, the Tarot, flower essences, etc. At first, I felt a little embarrassed about my interest in these areas since I tend to consider myself an educated skeptic, and also because the whole Bohemian hippie thing is really “in” right now and I didn’t want to think I’d just jump on the bandwagon of whatever is popular just to be "cool."

But the fact is, 10-year-old Valerie would have loved the shit out of all this stuff.*

And when I was 10 — sure, I had plenty of insecurities and flaws — but I was unapologetically ME. I was witty, creative, and I didn’t believe my potential was limited. I loved fairies and gemstones and anything sparkly. I loved reading and writing stories. I was a novice cellist, good at math, and obsessed with singing. I believed I was creative and had a lot to offer. I believed my body could do really cool things (like gymnastics!).

Sure, I wasn’t free of anxieties of fears. I’d worry that the boy I liked wouldn’t like me back, or that my friends liked each other more than me** — but my inner critic didn’t yet have the power to stop me from doing the things I loved.

Then, slowly, I started growing up, and little-by-little, losing that clarity of what made me come alive.

I only played the cello for a year (don’t even get me started on that; my school had limited electives and I regret not having chosen orchestra over choir), and I never followed my aspirations of acting because I didn’t start theatre by my freshman year and then told myself I was already “too late." My attempts to actually perform as a singer (outside of my bedroom or car) came in fits and starts “because no one wants just a vocalist” and I didn’t play an instrument, or genuinely care enough to learn one because my musical passion thus far has really just been singing.

In the past year, I have been more committed to my own personal growth journey than ever. I’m a voracious reader of self-development books, and spend most of my 2-hour-a-day commute listening to podcasts in that realm. One of the best pieces of wisdom that I’ve taken and applied to my own life is that, if you want clarity on how you should be living, look back and consider what you would have enjoyed doing at age 10, and there’s a good chance you’ll love doing something similar now.

Of course, it’s not advice to be followed 100% literally, as otherwise I’d be sitting around watching Ghost Writer, reading Baby-Sitter’s Club books, belting out Alanis on my karaoke machine, and eating Little Debbies all day long. On second thought, that sounds pretty great. But my husband would probably start to worry about getting the bills paid. So, it’s not about being literal, but rather, looking at the kinds of things you enjoyed back then and seeing how you could have more of them in your life now. Thus far, almost all the things I’ve loved doing more of are all things that my 10-year-old self also loved.

I’m singing in a band. I wear glittery eyeshadow and dye my hair bright colors. I wear Lisa Frank headphones (like right now). I write and tell stories and jokes. I eat ice cream almost every day. (ok that’s definitely not new) I get excited about learning about and trying new things, both practical and “magical” (anything with an air of whimsy!) I hang out with girlfriends and have a great time talking for hours on end. I go on adventures, like today when I hiked with my husband into what felt like a “hidden trail” in our neighborhood to a “secret pond” and got drenched in rain on the way home. I play games with my friends, like Dungeons & Dragons, am reminded of my favorite live-action role-play game from when I was 7 or 8 years old, and promptly find and buy it on eBay (then warn my friends they will be coming over soon to play a child’s game from 1993 with a unicorn on the box.)

I won’t delude you or myself that I do these things all the time. In fact, I’m usually pretty boring. But I have seen that the more that I intentionally challenge myself to integrate 10-year-old-Val activities into my life, the more alive and more “me” I feel. And it can apply far beyond hobbies or activities, all the way to what you want to do with your life professionally. At around 10, I was already filling out guided journals and reading Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and other books that were the equivalent of self-development for kids. By 12, I had started my own girls-only online club, Shimmer Gurl. Not far jumps to my current job, working with groups of women on their healing journey, and writing online to share my passions and expand my reach.

If you want to feel more alive in your day-to-day, or more clear on your “big picture” direction, try writing a letter from your 10-year-old self to you today, about all the thing you loved doing. Look at old photos of yourself and talk to parents, siblings, or friends who have known you since childhood. You may very well find the clarity or direction you’re looking for, and you’re damn-sure* to have fun in the meantime.

*My 10-year-old self would not have approved of the use of the words "shit" or "damn," but some things change, right?!

**I acknowledge that a lot of 10-year-olds have much bigger problems than this... but at that point in my life, the impact of an amicable divorce was about the most serious thing I had going on.


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.