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A Profound Synchronicity?

The Problem Of Higher Meaning Within Personal And Subjective Experience

As originally published in the Journal of Exceptional Experience and Psychology Vol. 1 No 2.

ABSTRACT

The study of transcendent phenomena frequently relies on the use of the personal and subjective experiences of individual informants. A recent personal synchronistic episode serves as the impetus to reevaluate the viability of such experience as a source of evidence within our study of paranormal and mystical/spiritual phenomena. Questions of personal credibility are traditionally the greatest concern when assessing the veracity of individual experience. However, it’s the meanings we assign such events that likely breed the greater apprehension and frequently taint otherwise credible reports. Mystical/spiritual interpretations are particularly problematic. By examining the terms and reasoning often employed to determine the meaning of transcendent experience we may be better placed to accurately assess the authenticity of these episodes. Through the process we may better determine if individual experience is capable of any epistemic or ontological value.

Introduction

I recently experienced a powerful synchronicity that forced me to confront two of the major problems associated with the study of transcendent phenomena: veracity and meaning. For some time I’ve found myself intellectually amenable to the notion of an ultimate consciousness underlying existence. Unfortunately, despite many years of concerted study I’ve never had a personal experience I felt unambiguously verified this conviction. Not that I haven’t had some intriguing occurrences suggesting the presence of a higher consciousness (including a classic Near Death Experience.) The problem was none of these episodes completely sidestepped what I felt to be all possible avenues of conventional explanation. Long have I envied those of rational mind who boast of some personal synchronicity, encounter, revelation, epiphany or mystical episode so self evident as to move them from faith to certainty. I’ve frequently wondered what it would take for me to be similarly persuaded. Regrettably, having been raised a rigid materialist I had to admit this would be a tall order. Not even miracles of biblical proportion would suffice. Burning bushes or parted waters appearing at the moment I begged for a sign would never pass the test. In such circumstances I’d undoubtedly find myself musing over spontaneous combustion or atypical tidal patterns. No, I’ve long concluded and repeatedly noted nothing less than a literal written message slapped right before my eyes could eliminate all doubt. And then it happened.

The Experience

I often spend Saturday mornings with a rabbi discussing mystical and occultist principles. A brilliant Kabbalist, the rabbi is also very accommodating of my empirical proclivities. This particular day we were discussing my all consuming obsession: how to recognize what he calls God and I refer to as ultimate consciousness. He noted, “All is literally God. As such, he can be found everywhere and within everything. One only needs a deep awareness of this reality.” Reverting to my area of specialty, I suggested such deep awareness be akin to what the Eastern traditions refer to as “mindfulness.” He readily agreed and we continued the discussion using my preferred choice of term. After two hours of conversation the take away was clear: the key to realizing God is mindful perception. When mindful of the presence of God, God is readily revealed. Thoroughly absorbed in this concept of mindfulness I began my long drive home. Aggressively weaving through four lanes of heavy traffic for ten miles (I’m by nature a very impatient driver) I approached a stoplight. Just before slowing I was suddenly seized with the highly counterintuitive feeling that the far right lane may be faster off the light. Barely glancing over my shoulder I recklessly shot from the far left of the road across two lanes of cars and shuddered to a stop behind a white SUV. After meekly gesturing in apology to those drivers I’d rudely cut off I turned my attention forward. And there it was right in front of me. The license plate of the SUV contained no numbers but just one word: MINDFUL.

Thoroughly astounded, I slowly began reflecting on what just occurred. Of the hierarchy of synchronicities I’d studied this seemed more incredible than Jung’s famed golden scarab incident (Jung, 1969.) The number of precisely coordinated events needed to occur in exactly the right sequence within all possibilities of time for me to encounter this meaningful, single word statement seemed astounding. That moments earlier this word had been specifically identified and reinforced as the entree for recognizing an order of higher consciousness seemed too coincidental to be random. I realized this event may have fulfilled my long established and oft repeated measure of proof required to confirm the reality of an ultimate consciousness; at the precise moment I asked about the existence of such an entity I’d have a written response slapped right in my face. I was overwhelmed with the conviction a higher awareness was revealing its existence through an intentional demonstration of meaningful connection.

In the throes of my excitement I quickly thought about how and with whom I might share this revelation. Truth be told, when it comes to matters of ultimate consciousness I’ve always been a rather pitiful backbencher. For years my contribution to the discussion was limited to crunching the experiences and theories of others. Now things had changed. At last I had an experience of my own to bring to the table. However, within moments my enthusiasm gave way to trepidation. I quickly flashed to other stories I’d heard about those who’d seen or heard a “sign.” I wondered how other rational, discriminating minds would process my tale. Would I humiliatingly be consigned to the ranks of those who’d heard the “Truth” within the sputtering of a Greyhound bus as it pulled off I-10 outside Chipley, Florida or glimpsed the face of God on the side of a Frosted Flake, the knot of a tree or in an oil slick? The possibility of relentless ridicule suggested quiet circumspection may be the best response. This episode was rapidly forcing me to address one of the greatest problems confronting our understanding of transcendent phenomena: the nature and meaning of personal or subjective experiences.

Traditional Concerns and Reactions

Studying the realm of paranormal or mystical/spiritual issues has always been complicated by our strong reliance on personal and subjective experiences. Let’ face it, personal experience as evidence of metaphysical phenomena is a tough sell. How do we persuade others, or even ourselves, of the reality of things beyond normal perception? What constitutes proof of something reason or intuition tells us may be possible but eludes objective verification? Can inner experience ever be credibly employed as evidence of the unseen? Such questions have rightfully dogged the pursuit of higher knowledge since the dawn of our curiosity. Obviously many areas of study deal with problems of credibility. However, such issues are particularly relevant when addressing those personal or subjective events frequently offered in evidence for the existence of paranormal or mystical/spiritual phenomena. We’re all predisposed to a wealth of genuine and potentially revelatory sensations, experiences, intuitions and feelings. Of these, many relate to higher and more profound existential issues that delve to the essence of our being. Unfortunately, the canon of material science demands anything within the scope of experience lying beyond the empirical belongs at best to the realm of the unknowable or at worst the unreal. But even should we hurdle the credibility problem of personal evidence as it relates to the greater issues of existence a more daunting challenge awaits: how accurately have we assessed the meaning of our experience?

Soon after my profound incident old habits began kicking in. My strong preconditioning to deny the unseen regardless of how evident it’s effects is formidable. A few days later I was again searching for ways to ground this episode within more materially explainable circumstances. I began the arduous attempt of gauging the odds of any particular vehicle being at one particular location at any particular moment. Only when completely entangled within a knot of equations factoring the number of cars within the tri-county area against the number of miles of road, the estimated average miles per vehicular trip against the number of seconds within the day did I realize to what lengths I was reaching to negate the obvious. It was then a more perplexing possibility dawned. Perhaps my difficulty in accepting this event was driven by a more insidious fear. Contrary to my stated intentions, maybe deep within the recesses of my psyche I didn’t want to find evidence of any higher consciousness. To do so would demand a radical change in existential perspective I might have trouble accommodating. Though many believe the desire for meaning and purpose within our lives makes us all too eager to accept the notion of a higher consciousness I suspect the opposite is more likely the case; people tend to deny the possibility of transcendent influences because it’s easier to endure existential uncertainty than brook the presence of an actual unknown. Personal demons notwithstanding, this episode effectively demonstrates the two headed quandary of studying transcendent events; veracity of evidence and accuracy of meaning.

Problems of Experience as Evidence: Credibility

Perceptions beyond our shared material reality pose special problems. We must trust and accept the descriptions and interpretations of such experiences from human sources whose litany of possible mistakes and motivations is virtually endless. Predictably, the greatest source of distrust lies within the community of material scientists. However, even psychologists are often quick to marginalize and pathologize the insights drawn from lucid dreams, meditation, out of body experiences, hallucinations and other sources of subjective awareness (Beyer, 2013.) Curiously, anomalous events experienced by many people simultaneously frequently fare little better (Cunningham, 2011; Fontana, 2005.) Rarely can such evidence be corralled and shuffled off for isolated scientific testing and objective evaluation. Even on those rare occasions when the exceptional strays into the material world and is snared in the nets of our instrumentation (cameras, audio recorders, sensors, etc.) the tendency to reach for explanations more consistent with our traditional sensibilities and knowledge can go far beyond the realm of reasonable skepticism. Often certain perceptions or objective events rationally crying for unconventional interpretation are quickly reinterpreted and recast into familiar patterns of explanation or consigned to the realm of coincidence. This reluctance is not confined to rigid researchers and august institutions. Frequently it’s the subjects of such anomalous experiences themselves who strive to convince themselves of their own delusion or the insignificance of events. As my experience suggests, on certain issues we’re much more comfortable not knowing to the extent of our capabilities. We prefer the security of the familiar regardless of how deafening the shouts of the unusual. As Winston Churchill poignantly noted, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue.”

Historically, this trouble of accepting the reality of the unseen is almost exclusively a condition of modern technological societies. Most of the planets traditional cultures have little problem sanctioning the existence and influence of transcendent forces (Eliade, 1964; Geertz, 1973.) To their sensibilities the physical world coexists with a wide variety of exceptional and mystical entities with which we perpetually interrelate. Any material concerns aside, most reports of encounters with the supernatural are readily accommodated. In such cultures metaphysical forces are considered active agents within the events of physical life. They are endowed with an oversized influence in all elements of daily existence including matters of individual health, family prosperity, agricultural success, intercommunity relations and all issues of the soul and spirit (Eliade, 1964; Harner, 1990; Kalweit, 1987.) Such widespread acceptance by traditional peoples of the supernatural and easy attribution of its powers within the physical realm has been a longstanding irritant to many modern researchers who frequently find themselves unable to reconcile this behavior with their own paradigm. As the anthropologist Edith Turner noted,

Mainline anthropologists have studiedly ignored the central matter of this kind of information-central in the peoples own view- and only used the material as if it were metaphor or symbol, not reality, commenting that such and such “metaphor” is congruent with the function, structure or psychological mindset of the society. Clearly this is a laudable effort as far as it goes. But the neglect of the central material savors of our own bête noire, intellectual imperialism. (Turner, 1993, p. 10.)

All aspirations to the contrary, we products of the modern age don’t live in very spiritually nurturing circumstances. The cultural entrenchment of a scientific paradigm based on the existence of enduring sensible objects only considers physical phenomena as admissible evidence. This limitation is further compounded by the propensity to force most instances of the unusual into existing structures of understanding. Such rigidity, warranted or not, begs certain critical questions: can any phenomena existing outside the realm of empirical perception ever be considered substantive or influential? Is it possible to make any progress towards understanding the higher issues of existence given our compunction for excluding evidence solely the product of unverifiable human experience or that deviates from current understanding? Can there ever be any epistemic or ontological value in personal or subjective experience?

The initial problem associated with the assessment of subjective or anecdotal experience is obviously one of credibility. How much trust can we place in the integrity of any informant? Is their perception of events clear and evident? Do they possess the necessary detachment to critically evaluate the authenticity of their own impressions? How precisely do they communicate what they experience? And of greatest importance, how astute is their determination of the meaning or implications of what they experience? This last question is where the bar really rises. Let’s revisit my synchronicity. Few may have questioned the authenticity of this experience had I presented it as an interesting coincidence. However, once I endowed this episode with any higher or grander ontological meaning the credibility of the event became subject to a much different and more stringent degree of scrutiny. Unusual events happen all the time. It’s when transcendent meanings are attached that problems sprout within our own minds and those of others. I believe we will find meaning to be far more problematic than veracity.

Problems of Experience as Evidence: Meaning

None would deny the reality or significance of subjective experience. Feelings and intuitions play a vital role within all our lives. However, what are we to make of impressions or experiences outside the realm of custom, routine and habit that seem to point to possible issues of metaphysical phenomena or a higher/spiritual order? What do such experiences prove or demonstrate? Gaining any type of transcendent insight is what those in our field live for. Unfortunately, too often confusion regarding the meaning of our experience irreparably taints the credibility of its occurrence. The terms unknown, paranormal and mystical/spiritual may seem a mere matter of semantics for many grappling with the significance of an anomalous experience. However, within the field of transpersonal studies these are crucial distinctions; distinctions often more important in determining the admissibility of any experience than those of witness credibility.

The critical question is to what does our anomalous experience relate? Commonly such claims fall into one of two categories: unknown aspects of reality (paranormal) or evidence of ultimate consciousness or intention (mystical/spiritual.) Paranormal events such as psi phenomena, astral projection, ghosts/spirits and extraterrestrial creatures are frequently the focus of anomalous experiences. Should such phenomena be authentic they currently reside outside the realm of conventional scientific understanding. However, this doesn’t preclude them from eventually being understood through scientific means. As entities or events within time and space their very existence demands and accommodates some type of physical explanation.

Similar to the paranormal, if there is a mystical/spiritual dimension to existence it too remains beyond the realm of the empirical. As conventionally conceived, mystical/spiritual concerns relate to the presence of an ultimate and active level of consciousness possessed of an intelligent, intentional creative capacity. Such a consciousness has been referred to in names both theistic and descriptive: the ultimate, essential consciousness, the absolute, the ground, the One, God, Godhead, Brahmin and countless other nom de voyage too numerous to note. The essence of any such entities currently eludes scientific understanding. However, though science may one day decipher the physical manifestations and processes produced by any such entity it likely could no more understand its intention and meaning than that of a geranium. Any insights of meaning (to the extent they’re available) could only emerge from sources beyond the material that may likely elude our understanding. Revelations of the mystical/spiritual are of an entirely different order than those of the paranormal; the latter are experienced phenomena, the former is the recognition of deliberate, conscious intention.

The distinctions between the paranormal and the mystical/spiritual are clear. However, too often the credibility of our experience is demeaned through an inability to accurately differentiate between these two descriptive categories. To illustrate: many discriminating and credible people claim to have seen or experienced the presence of ghosts, spirits, angels or other apparitions. Assuming such episodes to be accurately reported what meaning could they hold? We may plausibly assert such occurrences suggest the presence of an ethereal component to life beyond the physical, a level of consciousness enduring beyond the grave, the possibility of multiple levels of existence, the reality of a quality many term “soul,” a basis for reincarnation or dozens of other possibilities. What would not be suggested from any such event would be the presence of an ultimate consciousness or “grand scheme?” All of the above suggested possibilities in themselves would merely be qualities attendant with the nature of physical existence. The very presence of any such anomalous events within the material world demands they be treated as phenomena of the material world. This is not to suggest the impossibility of an ultimate consciousness directing such phenomenon but rather such an ultimate presence is unnecessary towards explaining their material existence. Any suggesting spectral activities in and of themselves to be inherently evident of any ultimate consciousness or order are arguing far beyond evidence and reason. What we have in this example is clearly a paranormal event, not a mystical/spiritual one.

The Experience Reevaluated

And what of my own “mindful” sign of higher consciousness? Given my awareness of the circumstances leading up to this event my first inclination was to opt for a mystical/spiritual label. However, after further reflection I’m no longer sure. While convinced this episode to be the result of a process of active consciousness rather than coincidence it still lacked clear indication of what specific consciousness was responsible. Could any of the qualities within such theorized thought fields as the etheric (Bohme, 1980; Citron 2012), morphogenic (Sheldrake, 2009), Akashic (Laszlo, 2004, 2008) or zero point (McTaggart, 2002; Talbot, 1991) have the ability to account for such an event? Could powers within my own unconscious desires in some way have “attracted” or “steered” such a synchronicity? Could I have “manufactured” such a reality as the philosophers of various “idealist” schools suggest? Even if this event were the result of an external higher force of consciousness how would I know such a level of consciousness was not a normal (though unknown) byproduct of the way reality functions? In other words, any such forces of higher consciousness need not necessarily be divine or ultimate in nature. In the final analysis it would seem the most I can speculate is I believe I was privy to a demonstration of the interconnected and unified nature of a conscious reality within existence. Make no mistake; to me this is no small insight. However, much to the chagrin of the rabbi who believes this a clear sign from God, to label this a mystical/spiritual event would be colossal leap of reason.

Under such parameters what would it take for any experience to be labeled mystical/spiritual? Are such interpretations indeed possible? Obviously, any entity or process within existence (no matter how exceptional or suggestive) can’t of itself be evidence of the mystical as its very being is indicative of a material component. Any psi phenomena, spirits, angels, reincarnations, heavens, hells, voices from the sky or any supernatural force are simply different functional aspects and qualities of existence. Even such higher orders as an intrinsic universal interconnectedness or incredible design wouldn’t reveal an ultimate consciousness. Though greatly interesting and illuminating all could very well be symptomatic of the routine manner in which existence operates. The only way ultimate consciousness can be appended or defined is by the discerning of intention. Specific phenomena must be determined the result of an underlying deliberate purpose. Any event failing to clearly demonstrate such a quality can’t be persuasively taken as indication of any mystical/spiritual entity. Those enamored by the profundity of any specific anomalous experience best realize this necessary aspect of intelligence and taper their conclusions accordingly.

Conclusion

Where do such rigid requirements of an ultimate consciousness leave us? Such constrictions do nothing to exclude the possibility that higher intention is indeed possible, maybe even likely. It seems part of our essential psychology senses our existence to have a larger meaning within a premeditated grand scheme. However, I’m stymied as to how (subjectively or otherwise) this could ever be persuasively confirmed. It seems the nature of our being and constitution conspires against such clarity. Perhaps the Vedantists and Taoists (among many others) are correct when they speak of the unknowability of the ultimate. This high burden of proof for one particular conclusion doesn’t mean any are justified in categorically dismissing the reality of all anomalous subjective experience. Errors in interpretation are not of themselves errors of perception. Any responsible inquiry demands all evidence be assessed on a case by case basis independent of any attendant meaning. As we’ve seen, the severity of the scientific paradigm has not been the only obstacle to admitting the personal or subjective. Skepticism thrives within the ungrounded interpretations frequently attached to such experiences. In truth I suspect most people harbor an innate sympathy to revelatory experiences. The authenticities each of us associate with our own subjective impressions predispose many to accept the possibility of truth within the anomalous experiences of others. Pointing out the problems of asserting the existence of an ultimate consciousness is not a plea to ignore our intuitions or convictions of such a possibility. I only wish to remind others to closely examine such intuitions so otherwise valuable experiential contributions to our ontological understanding are less easily compromised.

References

Beyer, Stephen. (2013). Expanding Western Definitions of Shamanism: A conversation with Stephan Beyer, Stanley Krippner and Hillary S. Webb, Anthropology of Consciousness, Vol:24, #1.

Bohm, David, (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Citro, Massimo, (2012). The Basic Code of the Universe, The Science of the Invisible in Physics, Medicine and Spirituality. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Cunnigham, Paul. (2011). “The apparition at Medjogrje, A transpersonal perspective,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol:43, #1.

Eliade, Mircea, (1964). Shamanism Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Fontana, David, (2005). Is There an Afterlife? A comprehensive review of the evidence. New York: O Books.

Geertz, Clifford, (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books, div. Harper Collins Publishers.

Harner, Michael, (1990). The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: Harper.

Jung, C.J., (1969). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kalweit, Holger, (1987). Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men. Boston & London: Shambala.

Laszlo, Ervin, (2004). Science and the Akashic Field. Vermont: Inner Traditions.

Laszlo, Ervin, (2008). Quantum Shift in the Global Brain. Vermont: Inner Traditions.

McTaggart, Lynne, (2002). The Field, The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. New York: Harper Collins.

Talbot, Michael, (1991). The Holographic Universe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Sheldrake, Rupert, (2009). Morphic Resonance, The Nature of Formative Causation. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Turner, Edith. (1993). The Reality of Spirits: A Tabooed or Permitted Field of Study? Anthropology of Consciousness- Vol. 4, #1.

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1 Comment

  1. CommentsJohn Horn   |  Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Greetings Dr. Vigoda,

    What an amazing experience you had. Perhaps to add to your synchronicity, about a week ago while contemplating some of this year’s crop circles I began to wonder about you and whether or not you had made any further exploration into the crop circle phenomenon, and whether if so, you had posted any further thoughts on the subject to your website. I honestly cannot be certain if these thoughts occurred to me on the very day you posted this article, but it may have been. I was on vacation in Jamaica at the time and did not have an opportunity to check your website. I returned home last weekend and I have continued to think about your site, and finally last night found your new article posted only 8 days previously. I find it interesting to note that your most recent previous post here was nearly two years ago.

    I continue to find great fascination with the crop circle phenomenon despite the acknowledgement that many formations are indeed human created. The possibility exists human crop artists are responding unconsciously to the influence of an external consciousness.

    The recent crop formation at Chilcomb Down from June 6th, which shows a spiral encoding the words “NO MORE WAR” in Morse code seems to me to be paranormally created. There are short segments of standing crop in the bars which connect the dots to form dashes, which rightly should also be flattened if a mechanical device was used and the ground shots show the classical bent and expanded nodes compatible with exposure to an anomalous energy source which is hypothesized to result from rapid vaporization of the moisture in the stalks.

    All of my best to you, Sincerely, John Horn

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