Along with my unwillingness to use a Diva Cup or commit to Yoga, my positive take on city life is perhaps the major dividing line between myself and my hardcore hippie friends. They can’t believe I’ve lived and thrived in NYC or one of its boroughs (most recently its 6th borough, Jersey City) since 1999. How could someone as sensitive as me find stillness and peace in such an energetic whirlwind? Didn’t I long to be in nature?
For these well-meaning folks, some of whom are off-the-grid forest or farm dwellers and others who are hoping to be, the modern city represents everything wrong with our existence. It’s the buzzing, bleeping reality of just how far we’ve succeeded in commodifying everyone and everything and cutting ourselves off from the rich biodiversity of free and thriving ecosystems.
I’m not saying that we aren’t living dangerously out of balance with the Earth. The impending doom of rising ocean levels and super storms reported by climate science tells the story clearly enough for anyone with the ears to hear it. But what if it’s not how and where we live but the way we measure time that needs to change? Is it possible that a transformation in the way we experience time and a heightened awareness of meaningful coincidences, or, synchronicity, can open us up to the natural world that is always there, regardless of how few trees are growing on our block? Instead of living at the mercy of a mechanized time system built upon the idea of quantifying our labor (Time is Money) could we base our lives upon a system that treated time as art?
The word “synchronicity” was first coined by Carl Jung to who defined it as a non-causal connection principle. He gives the famous example of a patient of his at an impasse in her treatment, who told him about a dream in which she received a piece of golden jewelry in the shape of a scarab beetle. Just as she was explaining this dream, there was a tapping on the window pane behind Jung’s desk. He opened the window and in flew a large beetle, which he promptly caught and handed to the patient.
As is evident from this example, synchronicity is not something that makes logical sense: the experience of synchronicity (or sync, as I call it) is weird and wonderful and usually makes us laugh out of amazement. Synchronicity gives us a sudden glimpse, as it did for Jung’s patient, of an order working through the apparent chaos of the everyday, in which our observations of our surroundings have an effect on what occurs.
In other words, the universe isn’t just happening all around us; we are taking an active role in co-creating what happens through our awareness. Whether it’s a number that keeps repeating or an actor who keeps “popping up” whenever we watch a movie or TV, synchronicity is a little bit of magic that makes us stop and take note of the possibility of there being more to reality than meets the eye. It reveals connections between everyone and everything, including the connection between ourselves and the planet, regardless of whether we live in a forest or at an intersection.
The connection between living in synch with natural time and humanity’s evolution into a more peaceful and creative way of being was elucidated by the late philosopher Jose Arguelles. Arguelles was both admired and derided for his attempt to replace our current Gregorian calendar with a 13 moon-28 Day calendar. Arguelles believed that by more closely following natural time we’d be in greater attunement with the planet, eventually evolving to the point that we could communicate with the earth in the same way that we communicate with our own bodies–through a giant, planetary nervous system he called the noosphere. One of the major signs of the noosphere coming on line would be a sharp increase in reports of synchronicity, in which seemingly disparate things, people and events would be revealed as having an underlying connection.
While I’m not advocating that we throw out our calendars and clocks, I can confirm that being more aware of synchronicity has proven to be hugely healing for me. When we step out of mechanized time, even for just a little while, and enter a state of natural time that I call “sync awareness,” the experience of universal oneness makes itself known to us regardless of whether we’re in Sedona Canyon or a Starbucks.
One of the reasons I find sync awareness to be such a powerful tool is that it’s something you can do anywhere and without prolonged study, unlike other consciousness expanding activities such as yoga and meditation, which can take years to master.
Sync awareness is simply about developing an appreciation for the so-called “in between” moments, such as when we’re waiting on line or taking a taxi to a party. In these moments, we can really tune in to how perfect everything is if we let go of the old assumptions taught to us by society’s belief that time equals money: namely that there is such a thing as “wasted” or “lost” time. A traffic jam is the perfect occasion to pay attention to the subtle connections between things we happen to perceive: In doing so, we may be able to let go of the anger and stress of “having to be somewhere” as we realize we’re always exactly where we need to be at any given moment.
Being in sync awareness teaches us the profound importance of every moment, even the ones that don’t go as planned. If we look back at the bad times in our lives, for instance, the loss of a job or even the death of a loved one, we can see that while the pain we felt was certainly real, the sense of the event being an irrevocable endpoint was anything but the case. Perhaps the loss of the job sent us back to school where we found a new, more exciting career path, or where we fell in love with a person we would have never otherwise met. The death of a loved one might have had the effect of us reevaluating our own existence, or else bringing us closer to relatives we hadn’t known very well. Out of every ending blossoms a new beginning, but it’s necessary to let go from progress-driven, linear time in order to see this.
The more sync aware we become, the more we realize that each and every thought and action—regardless of how tiny and seemingly insignificant– changes the universe in ways we will never fully understand, but that are always perfect. How many great inventions and discoveries have come about because of failures and accidents? We can let go of our neurotic need for things to “work out the way they’re supposed to” and relax into the idea that they always already do, regardless of whether we can see how.
For all my sensitivity, I’m not beaten down by the city’s frenetic energy because I understand that energy to be perfect, just as I also understand our polluted atmosphere as being perfect. My awareness allows me to see the streams of cars and shouting and garbage as a part of a larger, living “post-organic” organism revealed in everything we do. Even plastics and technology are made from chemicals found in the biosphere. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should DO anything about pollution or other aspects of the overarching environmental crisis, but it changes the attitude I have regarding the nature of that change.
Instead of hating ourselves for the mess we’ve made, I believe we humans have to heal and learn to love ourselves–mistakes and all–and realize that we’re here for a reason, and everything that’s happened (including epic disasters like the Gulf oil spill and Fukushima) is a part of that reason. Human consciousness itself is a part of the Earth: our awareness, just like our bodies, IS the planet–not just something overlaid upon it. It’s as beautiful and as complicated and took as long to evolve as a field of flowers or a mountain range.
Once you get in the habit of noticing it, you quickly realize that nature is everywhere in the city. There’s the nature revealed by our dancing and love making and our pets and houseplants. It’s found in parks and snow covered trees and cats hunting in the dark windows of shuttered bodegas and in the long, bright green blades of grass that fill in the spaces between buildings.
It’s no coincidence that teacher plants such as cannabis, psilocybin and Ayahuasca are making their way deeper and deeper into our cities at this crucial point in the environmental crisis. As the dualistic divide between culture and nature breaks down, we are re-learning the lessons of plants, the elder statesmen of this planet who lived for hundreds of millions of years before we entered the picture. Instead of seeing them as dumb, green things to be manipulated to our will, we’re learning to respect the subtle and profound ways they make life possible for us. The permaculture and organic farming movements are not only about growing cleaner, healthier food; they’re about taking the lessons that plants teach us and using them in every aspect of our lives.
After a recent trip to the jungle in Peru, I found myself walking with several others late at night in Alphabet City. A sudden summer storm had us gathered under a large tree on Avenue C. As I listened to the water running through the leaves and watched the colors on the street get darker, I could really feel the connection between the concrete jungle and the actual rainforest; the vibe of everything competing, consuming, growing and twisting against one another for limited resources.
Heat and desire radiated off the apartment buildings, where people were eating food, arguing, having sex and, in some cases, hurting and even killing one another. If the cities are on some level dehumanizing, perhaps this is a difficult yet necessary step to realizing our repressed natural selves so that we learn how to adapt, as plants do, to a rapidly changing world.
Nature is not all sweetness and light and silent serenity. Nature is also about predators and prey and the infinite cycle of death and rebirth. While my hippie friends tend to talk about “saving the earth” from the ravages of human nature, the truth is that nature will go on long after we’ve made ourselves extinct, should that be the destiny we choose. What we really need is to free ourselves from the narrow viewpoint of understanding our choices according to manmade time. We are a part of something much older and wiser than the timeline we’ve constructed. We just need to unplug our alarm clocks and wake up to this.
Jennifer Palmer is the writer and narrator of “Time is Art: Synchronicity and the Collective Dream”, a feature length documentary exploring the role synchronicity has in transforming our world. Please support their campaign to raise funds to go to the Synchronicity Symposium at the Joshua Tree, where they’ve been invited to film the conference and the all-star presenters including Graham Hancock, Rupert Sheldrake and Rick Tarnas. Click here for their Indiegogo page.