I have often been staggered by the forces of the ordinary that cajole the human experience into cowardice. Relentless mass-mediated daydreams croon lullabies to nightmare; meat hook economic rackets hijack freedom with student loans, predatory credit, and eternal mortgages; narratives of responsibility harass the mind with financial planning, time-management, highly-effective habits; and illusions of security, insurance, and retirement prod us into proper place. Lurching through life in the midst of such clamor, is it any wonder that so many trade the tremendous for the trivial, that the ecstatic fantastic wow of existence dims into murk and shadow, flickering into fluorescence like some stepped-on plastic geranium?
But this is not to be some hand-wringing howl of quiet desperation. The walls are high, yes, the challenges are great, but today I'd like to invite an exploration of what it is that happens when this drear occasionally clears, when we see something, something that matters, something possessed not merely of meaning, but of magic? In a previous essay entitled Chaos, Collapse, and Synchronicity, I explored how synchronicity is likely to emerge during and after ego-shattering experiences. Because the ego demarcates the presumably phantasmic boundary between your consciousness and the rest of the universe, the experience of synchronicity can be understood to be the face of the perception of undivided unity. Here, I would like to venture beyond mild-mannered explanation and into wild-eyed exploration. In other words, if synchronicity is the perception of undivided unity, what is the technology of this magic?
In one of his most potent remarks, Arthur C. Clarke asserted that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Taking him at his word, then, the prickling astonishment that follows the experience of synchronicity-the sensation that something magical has just occurred-this is but an artifact of our limited technology of mind. Synchronicity is only astounding, in other words, when we persist in the delusion that we are distinct from the all and everything. Expanding consciousness beyond the limited point of view of oneself and into the unlimited point of view of undivided unity, this — as if it were so simple — this is the technology of magic.
And in case disclaimers need to be stated, I certainly have not mastered this magic. Much to the contrary, my daily failings would be the envy of any hypocrite. But I like to live out loud, and this full blast introspection is simply that. So now I want to tell you a story:
I was at a festival a year ago, and as festivals have long functioned as temporary autonomous zones where everyday boundaries are suspended, it should surprise no one to discover that synchronicity was pandemic at this festival. The festival in this case was Flipside, and I made it my business to blast around offering one-card tarot reflections to people that I met, just for fun and synchronicity. Late in the evening of the last night, I met a woman, and we talked for a few hours, and as we parted I offered her a one-card reading. She drew the Courage card, displaying a picture of a flower growing through a crack in a rock. As she was recently coming though a break-up of her own, this had a particularly poignant meaning for her, so much so, in fact, that I had an unprecedented impulse to tell her to keep the card, which she did — though upon reflection I must admit that I was single at the time and so was probably also just being a cheesedick trying to charm another meeting with a beautiful woman. But in any event, I never saw her again, and since I open my tarot deck nearly every day, I inadvertently compelled myself to contemplate the absence of courage not only from my deck, but also from my very own life.
But first, immediately after we bid each other good night, I walked toward the main road and happened across a friend of mine who was in his car leaving. The backstory is that he'd spent the night before with a woman and she'd sparked his heart and he'd hoped they'd hang out again but it was a festival after all and it just didn't flow that way. It's a common enough story, isn't it? Despite the shallow exhortations of our beer-fisted and bikini-clad media, sexual intimacy is often a tremulous endeavor with potential both for enormous healing and enormous pain. In any event, I saw him leaving and I wished him safe travels and asked him how his night went. He responded with a shake of his head, dismay and defeat palloring his expression, issues of childhood abandonment clearly having been triggered.
Myself, I was in a roaring good mood, so I slapped the hood of his car and told him to go park it and walk with me, which he did, parking about fifty yards up the road. As it turned out, however, by the time he had walked back toward me the woman whose encounter had sparked his healing crisis was wandering toward me as well from the other direction. I didn't have to do anything but step out of the way as they met where I was standing, for life is not just about me, and here I was mere servant to their synchronicity.
Then, at a book signing a couple of weeks later during which I read from my second novel, Nine Kinds of Naked — which revolves around the theme of synchronicity — a young college student who happened to be in the store and hear my talk approached me afterwards and told me she had never heard of synchronicity and wanted to learn more about it. I was meeting friends for dinner, but I promised her I'd permit her to interrogate me over tea sometime, and we met for tea a few days later. It was a full and stimulating conversation, her wanting me to specify the precise metaphysical mechanism by which synchronicity occurs, and me explaining about non-duality and the illusion of separateness and how we're all dreams in the mind of God and yes maybe so but maybe also mealy mysticism and ultimately what really matters is that there's a correspondence between the inner world and the outer world and if it has meaning for an individual and clarifies their confusion and lights their path then it doesn't really matter if we're all temporarily stable matrices of energetic probabilities, knots in a doily, or concentrations of consciousness in an infinite field of experience. What matters is that the co-incidence had meaning for the individual, carrying a potential psychological breakthrough. Tarot, I say, is essentially intentional synchronicity, seeking a window into one's psyche to focus a particular issue. I then proceeded to tell her about the woman I met at Flipside who pulled the Courage card and who I let have the card and how the co-incidence of the card served her — and me — so profoundly.
"Here," I say, cavalier as I pull out my tarot deck. "Lemme show you how synchronicity works."
"Hey," she interrupts. "I have that deck."
"You do?" I reply, surprised that someone who's never heard of synchronicity would have a tarot deck.
"Well not really," she concedes. "I received it as a Christmas present from my mom a couple of years ago. I actually cut the whole deck up and made a collage out of it." She pauses. "Well not the whole deck," she admits. "I kept my favorite card."
"The Growth card."
"The Growth card," I repeat, pausing as I scan my recollection of the deck. "I don't think I know the Growth card. What's on it?"
"Umm, it's a picture of a flower growing through a crack in a rock."
I cock my head, incredulous. "That's not the Growth card," I say. "That's the Courage card I was just telling you about, the card I gave away."
She's skeptical, and says she's pretty sure it was the Growth card, and so I pull out the little book that accompanies the deck, demonstrating that it was indeed the Courage card that she kept, and also demonstrating that there is no such card as the Growth card. She's amazed, as am I, and ultimately she was so impressed by the synchronicity that she went home, located her Courage card, and gifted it to me a few days later. It's all shiny and new and really stands out in my beat-up old deck, and every time the card emerges I am reminded of this sequence of events and the contemplations that followed. Did you know, for example, that courage comes from the Latin root, cor, meaning heart? Courage is locating oneself in the heart rather than the head, and the expansiveness of the heart — in contrast to the constriction of the ego — this is love, and this is the space we truly share in common. Hammered out of boundaries and convinced it is alone, the ego can only blink stupidly at the grace, the immensity, and the magic of the heart's experience.
Love, by the way, is not all hugs and backrubs. Primarily, I think, love is a prank. To borrow a theme I'm developing in my third novel: Love is a prank played on the ego by the spirit to teach the ego the one thing that it does not want to learn. In my own life, I've been scalded by love, and I've even been so tough boots as to believe that I needed to protect my heart. But as a result of my accidental contemplation of courage, I realized — or I remembered — that the heart is made of love, and love is indestructible, and only the cowardice of ego would presume that it requires protection. Actually, love is the only force capable of overcoming the ego, and so the ego would naturally like to avoid this prank, never having to learn to give up control. Courage is simply allowing this vulnerability, embracing the uncertainty, accepting that we may be hurt, yes, that it won't always be easy, and that not only can we take it, but that we actually have no idea how much we can take. In this "Age of Uncertainty," courage necessarily means being true to one's heart, stepping towards a future uncertain rather than securing oneself to a predictable past. Courage is without caution, it is passion, it is a fleeing from security and into synchronicity. A flower growing through a crack in a rock, courage abandons the familiar and secure shell which protects us — and limits us — and dares us to emerge, to grow, and to trust that life will nurture us despite its challenges.
This expansion of consciousness is necessarily the reduction of ego, and is there anything more expansive than the feeling of love? It is not uncommon for lovers to recount the synchronicities of their meeting, to recognize a strangely inevitable magic in their rendezvous, and such magic is only the beginning, a dim glimmer of a spectacular sunrise, patient as we find our courage, tender as we surrender, daring us to give, to forgive, to reside more fully in our heart, to remember that we are never alone, and ultimately to realize that we are nothing if we are not servants to one another. It is love that erodes our ramparts, that relieves us of our armor, that tames the teeth protecting our trauma, and it is love that will heal us all the moment we have the courage to face the magic.
This is what I believe more than anything, and this is what gives me hope.
May you be ever overwhelmed by how many people you love.
Image by Stefan Neagu, courtesy of Creative Commons license.