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Slightly Woo-Woo: Synchronicity and the Unconscious

Lately, I have been experiencing some very curious book-related synchronicities. I've also been reading and ruminating on the role of the unconscious in our everyday lives. I just read a book that gave a common, and easy but apt example--that it is our unconscious mind/self that keeps us alive. It maintains our practically infinite biological processes constantly, and which, when viewed in totality, would likely be an impossible task for any existant computer, let alone a conscious mind.

The idea that our unconscious self is part of our larger self, and our conscious self only a small, compartmentalized part that is managed in such a way to experience this world and this life, makes a lot of sense to me. It seems to explain many things that would otherwise be seen as magical. I'm going to relate one of the book synchronicities first, then, some thoughts on possible explanations for such experiences.

As I've written before, I read a lot, and sell books online—I have and come across a lot of books. Oftentimes, I'll remember something in a book that I would like to read again, but cannot find or remember the author's name, or title. The frustrating part is that because I am so visually inclined, I usually remember what the cover looks like in detail!

There have been two novels that I began reading probably three or four years ago, but for whatever reason, did not end up finishing before they were due back at the library. It kills me because I have this irrational OCD-style book ethic –if I begin reading a book and make it about 50 pages in, I must finish it at any cost. Losing the titles is maddening.

The other night, my husband, son and I decided to browse at Barnes and Noble after having dinner. Although I always have several of those 'lost' books in mind, before we even went in, I felt some kind of hard-to-describe-affinity for these two particular lost novels.

I was browsing in the bargain section, and a book caught my eye; a historical fiction novel called Mistress of the Art of Death. A great title, a lovely cover, and $5.95 at that. I barely glanced at the book's synopsis—I knew I'd like it. I held onto it.

Next, I found myself in the fiction section. I admit I often judge books by their covers. Not ultimately of course, but it's tied up in of the art of browsing. I picked up another lovely-covered book, entitled The Serpent's Tale.

Now, although it sounds like I may be exaggerating, or even fabricating this to make a point about the synchronous aspect of this story, I am not. As I picked the book up, I had a feeling it could be one of the books I was looking for. I have no idea why I thought this—the title did not strike a chord, nor did the cover. I remembered what the cover of my lost book looked like: A woman's medieval-garbed hand holding a letter with wax seal. This book had a woman superimposed over a foggy castle.

Paperback books are often completely different than their hardcover predecessors though, which my copy had been, so I read the synopsis on the back: an estranged queen named Eleanor becoming holed up in a tower! This might be it!

I opened it up, flipping through it, to make sure. Nothing else looked familiar. However, I noticed it is a sequel to a previous book entitled, Mistress of the Art of Death. This is the book I already had in my hand from the bargain section! Was I unconsciously aware of the author's name, and in turn, drawn to this, her other book? I certainly was not aware of it consciously.

Since the tower-prisoner was mentioned on the paperback, with a character named Eleanor, and also that this was its sequel, I read the synopsis of the bargain book. It had to be it! Flipping through it, I was positive. I saw another word, "Ward", the word "Canterbury", some things about a writing desk, a mention of an abbey. It takes place in the twelfth century. These were all elements I remembered from the book. The only discrepancy was the cover—not even close to the one I remembered. Either my memory was wrong, or it was a different edition. In either case, I was certain I had found the book.

Looking through the book in the car on the way home, I realized it had been first published in 2007. How is it possible that I had read this at least three years ago? When I got home, I typed in the keywords from Mistress of the Art of Death, that I absolutely knew were in--or themes in--the original lost book. I hadn't remembered all of them before my memory was jogged, so I would not have been able to search Google books with them previously.

I typed in some combination of the following words: ward, desk, tower, abbey, Eleanor, Canterbury. The search results immediately turned up an image of the cover of the true lost book, exactly how I remembered it. It is entitled, The Canterbury Papers. It's completely unrelated to Mistress of the Art of Death, that I purchased, and thought was the lost book. It's not part of the same series, has a different author. It just happens to contain several of the same elements and words that jogged my memory.

Getting back to the night at Barnes and Noble, as I turned away from the fiction section, I was browsing through a nearby display table. I picked up a lovely book, entitled, Days of Atonement. The review blurb on the cover sounded great, " This erudite psychological thriller will keep readers on the edge of their seats." This sounds right up my alley, so I flipped through it and looked further. It stated the author's first book was called, Critique of Criminal Reason.

That sounded so familiar ... could it be? I went to the shelf and found the book, recognized the cover, then character's name, "Hanno," and the storyline. This was the other book I had been looking for all these years! I had only read a few pages of this one originally, so I had little to search on. I figured I would probably come across it some time or another at a library sale, and recognize it by the cover.

So—what it really all comes down to is that I found a couple books I'd been looking for for several years in one night. But, the idea that I had a feeling about both of these particular books before we even entered the store is odd—I have other books in mind that I've been looking for as well. Why would I relate them in my mind? Simply because they both happen to be historical fiction? Maybe.

Could that bargain book have been some kind of tool my unconscious mind used to guide me ultimately toward the books, not via magic, or ESP, or anything unexplainable, but through hints, for knowledge that was already deep inside my memory, but forgotten?

When I originally thought about the books, before we even went into the store, could it be that I was kind of decisive on an unconscious level that I was going to get these books finally? I can honestly say that discovering the books felt like a complete surprise, with minimum effort involved. This is compared to other times, when I had decided consciously to find the books, with absolutely no success!

Another thing—I have no idea what combination of keywords I typed in at Google books, because when trying to duplicate the experience for this article, I could not bring up The Canterbury Papers using any combination of them. So, I originally typed in the exactly correct combination that brought up the book, which I cannot duplicate now, even knowing the name of the book!

Some questions: How often do our unconscious and conscious minds works together like this, seemingly without our overt participation, or our acknowledgement—all the time? If so, would becoming aware of and more purposefully participatory with such a dynamic and be fabulously empowering, or would it drive us mad? Would it even be possible, or is it an unchangeable part of our nature that we are rather divided? Is the role or existence of the unconscious itself questionable? Is it appropriate to personify it as I have? Does it matter how we think about it, or the names we attach?

We do possess evidence that there is more 'intelligence' at work, at least in our bodies. If you've ever taken even an introductory anatomy class, you know the almost miraculous number of exchanges, regulations, and processes the body automatically calculates, monitors, and carries out each moment, to keep us alive, and functioning. Whether this is reduced, defined, or dismissed simply as: nature, chemical reactions, neurons firing—it hardly matters.

There is coordination with intent, and it belongs to us. It is this overall process that I am calling part of the 'unconscious.' I referred to it as an 'intelligence,' but I don't mean to imply it is outside of ourselves—quite the opposite.

So, it's clear we are not consciously in control of our moment to moment anatomical functioning—it would be impossibility. Consider then, that this same larger self-intelligence is also a presence in our desires, interests, emotions, and so forth. Our dreams are an obvious example—this is actually the framework from whence the very modern idea of the unconscious itself manifested. With dreams, there is evidence that our unconscious self is involved with 'meaning,' then, as well as the practical. It seems logical that its influence would be directed in our outward interests, as well as our internal, biological ones.

So, coincidences and synchronicities may be actually be intelligent orchestrations after all, not by a fatherly sky god, but by ourselves—our unconscious--with unfathomable more perspective, knowledge, skill, wisdom, coordination, and motivation than our conscious minds possess. It's rather a mantra of channelers and mystics—we are not as we seem.

Sources and Notes:

Critique of Criminal Reason

The Canterbury Papers

Photo credit: 98-99, crowolf, via flickr

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