Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe “meaningful coincidences,” the coming together of inner and outer events that are not themselves causally connected. For Jung, the meaning attributed to these events—the connection of one’s mind to material reality—is a function of the unconscious psyche, which is inextricably united with the phenomenal world. Jung saw these connections present in dreams, symbols, and universal archetypes across all cultures.
When the mind forms an abnormal relationship with the material world, the connection can be ascribed to both mysticism and madness. What is obviously a spiritual experience to one may be an apparent psychotic feature to another. The Bible, for instance, depicts numerous accounts of powerful synchronicities and altered states of perception. Moses saw a burning bush and was overwhelmed with the presence of God. To automatically say Moses was mad is to dismiss the spiritual significance of his vision and the meaning made from such an experience.
For me, synchronicity hits close to home. When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and much of my experiences were along the lines of synchronicity. I didn’t hallucinate, and there were no angels or voices of God. However, I felt a distinct shift in consciousness, like I was tapping into a spiritual plane of existence I had never known before. Over the years, it was very difficult to accept my diagnosis, because I was so certain that my condition was spiritual.
It just so happens that one major characteristic of madness is also a prominent feature of mystical experience: the ability to make connections between inner thoughts and outer circumstances that the rest of the world finds irrelevant. As someone who has had experiences with mystical psychosis, I can say very confidently that this is a point of both great liberation and complete confusion. It took me many years to allow enough space for both spiritual insight and psychological disorder.
Many of us grow up our whole lives believing that God or Spirit or enlightenment may include some supernatural comprehension. We have to be clear which is present in order to pursue true health. Am I tapping into a higher consciousness, or am I losing my mind? The answers are not always clear. Joseph Campbell famously said, “The schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” This could be a reference to synchronicity in some cases.
Synchronicity could be one of the psychological constructs that help us connect what we think is a difference between the soul and the psyche. Maybe people aren’t totally sick or completely spiritual. There could be a common ground, a middle path—space for both. The mystic could simply be higher functioning and adapting to more subtle nuances of similar phenomena as someone enduring unmanageable delusions.
I believe both have been true for me. I have been delusional, and I have experienced synchronicities, and the two need not be mutually exclusive. In our current clinical models, there is hardly any room for spiritual truth. What some know to be greater spiritual comprehension is being belittled and even rejected in those who are enduring sudden and incomprehensible insight. Our ability to "wake up" spiritually requires fewer dichotomies, less this-or-that, and more complexity. Hopefully, we are given the chance to recognize health as a spectrum, one in which we are all in the dynamic process of coming home to ourselves, mental illness or not.