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Synchronicity

By George Elder, 2/23/24


A few days after I finished my recent Posts on “The God Within,” I was watching a documentary entitled, “For All Mankind.” Produced and directed by Al Reinert, it depicts what appears to be a single trip to the moon by Apollo astronauts—even the first moonwalk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But it is actually the director’s painstaking editing of hundreds of thousands of feet of film shot by the twenty-four men who flew to the moon, of whom twelve walked the lunar surface. Reinert added interviews with these astronauts and some footage of Mission Control in Houston. Thus, “For All Mankind” is a pseudo-documentary and was not expected to do well at the box office when released in 1989.


It was a great hit! Indeed, it is captivating to observe NASA’s  extraordinary technical skill when computers were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today, the calm and efficiency with which dangerous glitches were overcome, and to see the “American spirit” of adventure proudly on display.


Toward the end of the “documentary,” we learn that Apollo 16’s descent to the moon had to be delayed by several hours because of a problem. So Houston told John Young and Charlie Duke to sleep in the lunar module after landing. Duke says (as the subtitles record):


Slept like a baby. I had one dream that was very vivid. In my dream, we were drivin’ the Rover up to the north. And you don’t really feel like you were out there. It was untouched. The serenity of it . . . had a pristine purity about it. We crossed a hill. I felt, “Gosh, I’ve been here before.” And there was a set of tracks out in front of us. So we asked Houston if we could follow the tracks, and they said yes. . . . Within an hour or so we found this vehicle. It looked just like the Rover. The two people in it—they looked like me and John—had been there for thousands of years.   


I felt a shudder in my body. Not only was this apparently the first recorded dream on the moon, it

spoke of following tracks thousands of years old—when I had just featured (twice) in my essays on “God” the Taoist advice to “let your wheels run along old ruts.”


This is what Jung calls “synchronicity.” It is the coincidence of two events—one of them psychological and the other more external—that have somehow come “together” (Gk., syn-) in “time” (chronos) meaningfully. The meaning, of course, is subjective—something that I alone felt at the time and cannot prove to someone else. But, then, my body also sensed that an important event had just occurred.


With the collaboration of the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jung labeled experiences of this kind “acausal” that should be added alongside “causality” as a way to understand human experience. He hypothesized, nevertheless, that there is a kind of cause behind synchronicity—namely, the activation of the very deep archetypal psyche. That explains the numinosity (i.e., the psychological or physical “shudder”) that accompanies such experiences. Put differently, a “god” is suddenly and unexpectedly present.  


Jung’s favorite example of this phenomenon occurred in an analytic session with a highly educated woman who “always knew better about everything.” That was her problem, although she apparently had come for help for other reasons. Jung could not get her to see that she was too “rational” for her own good. Nevertheless, while she was recounting a dream in which she was given a “golden scarab”—one of those sacred beetles we see in Egyptian art—there was a tapping at the window of Jung’s study. They both saw that an insect was trying to get into the room, so Jung opened the window and caught it in his hand. It was a scarabaeid beetle, golden-green in color:


I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results. (CW 8, par. 982)  


The telling of the dream and, at the same time, the insistance of a Swiss garden beetle was a coincidence. But their “coming together” was also meaningful. Something “sacred” burst through conventional expectations with a healing effect. The scarab, after all, is an ancient Egyptian symbol of rebirth.


So what was the meaning of my synchronistic experience? I think we should conclude that the archetypal psyche does want the “wheels” of our conscious attitude and behavior to “run along old ruts,” that we should not get too far ahead of ourselves and depart from the tried and true, even the traditional, as we progress. It is important, also, that we accept the image of a “God within” as a new interpretation of what is actually a very old truth. At the same time, my experience seems to say that space exploration itself is important and archetypally correct.


I was not prepared to hear that. In fact, while watching the documentary, I found myself criticizing all those brilliant men in Mission Control for not having a clue about the psyche, for their hubris. This tended to be Jung’s own view of space travel. He told an interviewer: “Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or to the moon than it is to penetrate one’s own being.” (McGuire, C. G. Jung Speaking, 468). Indeed, we can interpret Duke’s dream as saying that no matter how far we travel—on earth or beyond—we always come upon ourselves: “Gosh, I’ve been here before”—“they looked like me and John.” And from that we can never escape.


Perhaps I should add that Charlie Duke’s dream may have occurred stateside. There are different versions of the story; and it may be Reinert’s editing that makes the dream appear to be the first one on the moon. But archetypal imagery knows no time or place. And it is just as likely that we are being told synchronistically that we also find ourselves through space travel. The filmmaker has commented insightfully: “Going into space is, after all, one of the ways by which mankind has expanded its self-awareness.” (Criterion.com, “Essays,” July 14, 2009)


The reader will have noticed NASA’s penchant for using names from ancient Greco-Roman religion and mythology. The manned moon mission was called “Apollo,” the god of light and order; an unmanned spacecraft named “Odysseus” landed on the moon yesterday. Furthermore, the Apollo astronauts, while standing on the moon, often reported awe upon witnessing “earthrise”—when, previously, all they had seen was moonrise. This is imagery of “rebirth,” the dawning of a new perspective of who we are on earth globally and what we can become—like the rebirth image of the ancient Egyptian scarab. All of this is a clue to the unconscious presence of the archetypal psyche.  


  


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