Monday, July 14, 2008

Synchronicity, yogic cats, and the art of happiness

Hello blog. I've missed you.

So the past two weeks have been a flurry of activity... positive, beneficial activity that I have largely enjoyed, but still, I've been too busy to blog or do much of anything other than skitter breathlessly from one event to the next... which I guess is a nice problem to have and sort of not typical in the Life of the Moff.
So. Here I am.

I'm continuing to unearth cassettes from my vast collection... I still haven't found a permanent place for them after The Move, which is good because it means I'm still noticing them. Earlier, I was listening to this fantastic collection of songs for baritone and piano by Gabriel Faure and wondering WHY I'd forgotten about them. Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor resulted in this:

Scratchy, my little yogi-cat, assuming shivasana.

Guess he likes Vivaldi.

Before that, I was laying on my couch with my (nerd) copy of (nerd) The Portable Jung (nerd). The reason for this is that I've been doing a lot of random chatting/pontificating about synchronicity lately, when pretty much everything I knew about the concept I got from the liner notes of The Police's Greatest Hits. Not that said liner notes didn't edumicate me, but you know, not enough to keep talking about it. I want to minimize as much as possible the frequency of conversations In Which I Sound Like An Ass.

So. The bottom line from my reading is that Jung's synchronicity is, as would be expected, quite a bit more empirically based and scientific sounding than either The Police's "Synchronicity" or "Synchronicity II" or Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. Jung's shortened definition of synchronicity is "meaningful coincidences". In the essay included in my little volume, Jung doesn't go into any attempt to explain the causes of these meaningful coincidences, but does a fine job of describing and cataloging these events. One of the cooler examples he gave was one that Jung himself experienced, where a very stiff, intellectual patient was describing a dream she'd had the night before in which someone gifted her with a golden scarab (large beetle). Right as she was describing this, Jung heard a knocking against his window and turned to see a large beetle trying to get in the window. He opened the window, palmed the beetle, and presented it to the patient, saying "Here is your scarab." Which wigged her out sufficiently that she stopped being an insufferable know-it-all and actually started to open up a little.

(Pause to acknowledge my stereo and the stunning beauty of "Pavane" from Peter Warlock's "Capriol" as played by Christopher Parkening. mmmm-MMMMMM)

k., so Jung never says "God" or anything like it, but he does make a very interesting observation. He goes into some detail about a particularly significant scientific study involving a pack of 25 cards divided into groups of 5 "suits." All 25 cards were arranged randomly and folks were asked to guess the order of the cards. Some people were able to guess a statistically very improbable number of cards correctly, and one person even guessed ALL 25 correctly. The experiment was repeated with the subjects 4000 miles away from the location of the cards, and also with the subjects guessing the order of the cards at some future time. In all cases, the number of times that certain people were correct about the card order defied statistical probability.

In his discussion of the study, Jung mentions a phenomenon noted by the experimenter, that the results of the experiment seemed directly correlative to the mood of the subject:

"An initial mood of faith and optimism makes for good results. Skepticism and resistance have the opposite effect, that is, they create an unfavourable disposition."

Wow. So if people thought that they were going to guess the cards correctly, they did. Wow.

This immediately brought to my mind the portion of the Gospels where Jesus visits His hometown and is unable to perform many miracles there because of the lack of faith in the townspeople, who are saying "yeah that's the carpenter's son, what's the big deal?". He makes a comment about how a prophet will never be received well in his hometown. Although I no longer remember the exact reference for this, that passage made a big impression on me. In the mysterious dance of God's sovereignty and our free will, this passage indicates that He allows our skepticism to limit His own efficacy in meeting our needs. I've taken this as a warning to me to maintain a childlike belief in His abilities, and to forcefully reject cynicism and skepticism in the way I approach God or His work in the world. The cost of skepticism seems to be too great.

However, having Jung say that meaningful coincidences --what I tend to call answers to unspoken prayers-- occur in direct proportion with our openness to them was not what I was expecting. I know that some people would say that by the same token folks who see U.F.O.s or Elvis are probably already walking around expecting to see Little Green Men or the King and probably have The National Enquirer on speed dial... but it doesn't mean they ACTUALLY saw these things, only that they interpreted what they saw to fit their experiences. However, that's not what Jung is talking about... he's talking about the sort of things that you can't rationally explain as something else.

For example, a woman of my acquaintance had been called to testify for her (male) friend's divorce trial. It had been a nasty divorce and the man's wife had completely demonized him to their two daughters. My friend had been asked to be on standby the morning after her first round of testimony in case they needed her to come back. So she was dressed for court, waiting at home for the phone call, and decided to go pull some weeds in her garden. Two women came out of the house next to hers, which is for sale. They greeted her and struck up a conversation. As the conversation progressed, it turned out that one of the two women had just testified that morning for the same divorce case, but was a friend of the wife's. She had never met the husband, but was convinced that he was an appalling person. My friend had the opportunity to talk to this woman about her friend, and to explain that he was in fact a decent guy. Due to the utter coincidence of their meeting, this woman was very receptive to what my friend had to say. This woman has a daughter that is friends with the daughters of the divorcing couple, so there is hope that maybe another picture of their father will get to them via this very unexpected source.

Synchronicity, the Hand of God... whatever you call it, it would take quite a great leap of faith to really believe that an event like that was truly random. I personally think that God used my friend to place a seed of doubt in the minds of the ex-wife's acquaintances that will flower into a renewed relationship with his daughters.

In the same conversation that my acquaintance relayed her story, we began talking about happiness, specifically the happiness of people in Denmark. For several years now, people in Denmark have consistently rated as the happiest in the world according to an annual study conducted by researchers at the University of Leicester in UK. This stat made the press again about a month ago, I think. Apparently, the Dutch are happy because they have Very Low Expectations, which sounds kind of hilarious, but it makes sense. The whole idea of happiness v. unhappiness brought to mind relative deprivation, a concept I studied early in my masters program. It's really very simple: the higher your expectations, the more unhappy you will be when they are not met (and the more likely they are NOT to be met, all things being equal). Americans are, as a rule, not all that happy because they have very unrealistic expectations, based partly on media and advertising.

This is not rocket science, but it is important... if for no other reason than this conversation keeps coming up in my life, so I am paying attention to it. I remember reading somewhere that the key to happiness was to have a little bit of something to hope for in the future and enough to get by today. I tend to think that's true... however, I'm well aware of a) the insidiousness of the Gospel of More in our culture and b) how often my own personal unhappiness comes from having high moral/emotional/relational /intellectual/physical/material standards that are almost impossible for me and others to meet on a day to day basis.

This is also a fundamental problem in the life of the Christian. We are called to be like Christ, but we know we're going to fail... we will never be like Christ while we're still on this earth. So how do we deal with that, striving for something we know we won't attain? I guess it's by focusing not on our own ability but on Christ Himself, and trying not to expect all that much from ourselves... but even that doesn't make a lot of sense.

My general philosophy has become that I can't be like Christ, really, but I can try to be loving, because that's the baseline of the Great Commandments. Turns out I suck at loving God, others and myself, too, :^) but all I can do is keep trying... and try not to expect too much of myself, but to be open to what synchronicity might come.

ps. R.I.P. to Olive Riley, the World's Oldest Blogger, who passed away yesterday at the age of 108. Thanks for being cool enough to grace the Internet with your story.

No comments: