explanation is a group of words so formed that
people generally agree to quit enquiring about a
particular subject (Bateson, 1972). I will attempt
no explanations. Instead I will tell a story.
The late R.D.
Laing, well know for his writings on schizophrenia
(and other topics), was scheduled to speak at a
gathering in February, 1963. The night before
Laing's talk, I woke and experiencd a fantasy about
speaking to a group of psychologists, sharing with
them ideas that were really important to me,
thoughts that I normally kept hidden behind my
"scientific" facade. In my waking dream, I imagined
I was sitting on a table, swinging my legs, and
saying that I consider myself an informed eclectic
in psychotherapeutic matters, that my
Judeo-Christian heritage is an influence on my
approach to therapy, and I try to follow the advice
given in the Bible. I speak with the tongues of men
and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal....Charity
suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not;
charity is not puffed up....for we know in part,
and we prophesy in part....And now abideth faith,
hope and charity, these three, but the greatest of
these is charity" (1 Cor. 13).
thinking that it would take courage -- more courage
than I had, to actually come out and say that in
front of a secular audience. Nevertheless, the
nighttime "daydream" continued. I wanted to stop
it; I wanted to sleep. But the fantasy continued
with intensity, as if I were in a fever.
myself telling the audience of psychologists about
my appreciation of the Lord's Prayer as a guide to
how to live, and I mentioned some metaphysical
interpretations of the prayer.
which appeared to be grandiose nonsense, would not
leave and allow me to sleep. While it went on, I
felt joyful and confident. I was speaking my
personal truth and I felt the words were flowing as
easily and naturally as a river. Finally, the
"lecture" ended, the fantasy faded, and sleep
returned. I was looking forward to Laing's lecture
in the morning.
I woke early
and drove to the campus. Laing spoke in the
university cafeteria, and gave what I thought was a
charming talk . I liked his Scottish accent: He
pronounced ego like something Kellogg's
would sell you for breakfast--"Egg-o." His lively,
elfin eyes, his thinness and his playfulness--his
teaching a course that convened soon after his
lecture ended, and I decided to audit it. He sat on
a table in front of about 100 listeners, swinging
his legs in a relaxed manner, as he ambled through
a talk that engaged me at a deeper level than any
other lecture I have heard. Fifteen or 20 minutes
into his presentation he asked, "How many of you
have read the Bible?" Laughter greeted this
question. "From cover to cover?" More laughter.
"Well, since it's Sunday morning . . ." Even more
laughter from the audience. These weren't the kind
of people who read the Bible or go to
he took a Bible out of his briefcase and said, "I'm
going to read some favorite passages of mine, from
the Bible." He paused. "I believe it. (What I'm
about to read to you...) That's the point."
He read First
Corinthians, chapter 13, about the virtues of
charity, as I had done in my fantasy at 3:00 a.m.
earlier that day. He read the words as if he had
written them himself, without any oratorical
pretense--a statement of belief--his own credo.
When he finished, he said, "I'd just like to make a
comment on two or three aspects of that passage . .
. ." He equated charity with caring, and said,
"It's got to be what we really care about
more than anything . . . to care about this
And as if
that were not enough to raise the issue of
synchronicity or precognition, he later offered his
thoughts about the Lord's prayer.
was astounded by the parallels between my 3:00 a.m.
fantasy and his 3:00 p.m. talk. Yet, he added much
that was new to me (not part of my fantasy) and
that I was delighted to hear. He said, "I remember
when I discovered these two things . . . about the
Lord's Prayer. I was absolutely furious at
the English translation--at what they thought they
could get away with. 'Our Father which art in
heaven . . . .' Now, it doesn't matter whether
one's mother is in heaven or . . . this is
addressing one's daddy . . . . One can talk to
one's mommy as well. 'Our Father which art in
heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come . .
. .' The word is feminine, which is translated
'Kingdom.' It would be more appropriate to say,
'Thy Queendom come.' One may be addressing one's
father, in the masculine word, but what one is
asking for is 'Thy Queendom come, on Earth . . . .'
They just turned it around and called it
recessed for 10 minutes, Laing again quoted from
the Bible, this time from the works of
Solomon--Ecclesiastes. "There is an evil among all
things that are done under the sun . . . . Also,
the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and
madness is in their heart while they live . . ."
much, I could not help thinking of all the sorrow
Laing had taken on, dealing with those who are
labeled schizophrenic, their families, and those
whom he apparently regarded as his enemies--the
unsympathetic professional "helpers" who treat
their patients as if they were not human--whom he
apparently regarded as his enemies.
from Ecclesiastes went on, the message being that
there is much evil in the world; therefore,
"go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy
wine with a merry heart. Live joyfully with the
wife that thou lovest, all the days of thy vanity,
which he hath given thee under the sun" (Eccles.
continued, saying, "There's something about the
mind behind that, the spirit behind that, that is
not depressed by it. 'The heart of the sons of men
is full of evil, and madness is in their hearts
while they live. Therefore, rejoice.'"
The world is
full of greed, vanity, misunderstanding and
indifference--full of evil; but don't lose heart,
rather, eat with joy, drink with a merry heart,
"for God now accepteth thy works" (Eccles. 9:3, 7).
astounded . I felt immediately lighter. The passage
from Ecclesiastes was exemplified by Laing, by his
joy, his artful and effective resolve, and his
celebration of life in the face of the misery that
he dealt with in his professional role. I felt as
if every other professor, author and speaker I had
ever heard was half-dead compared to Laing. I
empathised with him, and felt that this passage
from Ecclesiastes, like the one from Corinthians,
was a guiding light.
I loved his
playfulness, his courage, his sincerity, his lack
of fear, his willingness to be himself and to be
seen plainly, without pretence.
is why I could not wait to hear him speak, but
heard him, in my mind, at 3:00 a.m. the morning
before I first saw him. (This is not an
explanation; it is rhetorical whimsy, or whimsical
I listened to
Laing, every lecture, for the month that he was on
the West Coast in 1983. Before he left, I hugged
him goodbye, and when he left I missed him.
I bought his
book, The Voice of Experience (Laing, 1982), and
found something in it that bears on the temptation
to try to explain the synchronistic elements of
cannot expect to grasp that which holds us in
its grasp . . . . The most ordinary events of
the ordinary human world are beyond us. We can
see that our single destinies intertwine and
interpenetrate, that others figure in our dreams
and dramas as we play our unrecognizable parts
in the dreams and dramas of those with whom our
lives intermingle. (p. 66)
It was not
Laing's Christianity, per se, that I loved, for he
might as well have been a Buddhist or a Jew for all
that. What appealed to me was his spirituality, his
transpersonal approach, his willingness to promote
the values of a spiritual sense of life over the
current belief in the sufficiency of the scientific
method. Many people today make a religion, in
effect, of "hard science." But this religion of
science--"scientism"--does not provide the sense of
connection, the basis for stewardship of the
planet, which is so needed.
speaks with the tongues of angels, but it lacks a
sense of value. It is, in fact, value-free. It
lacks charity; it lacks love. Hard science is like
sounding brass. Our world needs charity (from the
Latin caritas--caring, to hold dear).
thinking and spiritual awareness are not
contradictory opposites. They can be employed in
such a way as to complement and supplement one
another. They do not overlap or compete. What we
need is a sense of the meaningfulness of our
existence, and a realization of our responsibility
for caring for the bounty that is in us and around
us on this Earth.
As I was
looking up the quotation from First Corinthians and
thinking about possible additions to this essay, I
came across the following passage, which precedes
the famous chapter 13:
by one Spirit are we all ... one body, whether
we be Jews or Gentiles . . . and have been all
made to drink into one Spirit . . . there should
be no schism in the body, but . . . the members
should have the same care, one for another. And
whether one member suffer, all the members
suffer with it; or one member be honored, all
the members rejoice with it . . . . Are all
prophets? . . . covet earnestly the best gifts:
and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (I
Cor. 12:13, 25, 26, 29, 31)
I like the
idea that we are all one body, one being, whether
we consider ourselves to be Jewish, Christian,
Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Kleinian,
cognitive-behaviorist, humanistic, transpersonal,
Republican, Green or whatever. Sectarian dogma may
seem to divide us, but our common spirituality
I also like
the idea that there is something "more excellent"
than spiritual gifts such as prophecy or
precognition. Such a gift does not add to the
credit of the one who receives it. There is nothing
that anyone can do to "earn" a precognitive or
synchronistic experience. Yet there is something
each of us can do that will add to our
spiritual stature: We can care. We can hold each
other, and the Earth, dear.
I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
and have not charity, I am become as sounding
brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have
the gift of prophecy, and understand all
mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have
all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and
have not charity, I am nothing. And though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor . . . and
have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity
envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not
puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but
rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things,
believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but
whether there be prophecies, they shall fail;
whether there be tongues, they shall cease;
whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish
away. For we know in part, and prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then
that which is in part shall be done away. When I
was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as
a child, I thought as a child: but when I became
a man, I put away childish things. For now we
see through a glass, darkly; but then face to
face; now I know in part; but then shall I know
even as also I am known. And now abideth faith,
hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of
these is charity. (1 Cor. 13)
What will it
profit us if we develop convincing theories to
explain (or if we personally develop the ability to
manifest) precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance,
psychokinesis, or any other spiritual gift (or
siddha, or psi or ESP), if, in the meantime, the
Earth is overpopulated and polluted to the point of
I ask myself
this, and then I find some part of me answering:
These gifts may be useful in dealing with the
present crisis--the present opportunity.
On These Things, a little book of selections
from the Edgar Cayce readings, which I gave to
Laing as a gift, I starred one passage:
glad you have the opportunity to be alive at
this time, and to be a part of that preparation
for the coming influences of a spiritual nature
that must rule the world. These are indicated,
and these are part of thy experience. Be happy
of it, and give thanks daily for it. (A.R.E.
I originally wrote this essay intending to emphasize the point that Bateson made, that explanations are not very useful; they are only thought-stoppers. But I have to admit that I changed my mind when I came across an article by Carolyn Keutzer (1984) in the Jouranl of Humanistic Psychology, one of which approached an "explanation" for synchronicity. It heartened me -- it made me feel more comfortable about what may have been going on between Laing and myself the morning before his talk. (It interested me to learn that Laing often was awake, and writing, or thinking, in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps he was planning his talk -- whether in a dream or in the waking state -- while I was having the fantasy that paralleled it.)
Keutzer wrote about Bell's theorem, among other topics. She maintained that Bell's theorem demonstrates an affinity between the microcosmic world of quantum mechanics and the concept of synchronicity (which is defined as a "meaningful but acausal confluence of events").
two particles--electrons or photons--of opposite
"spin" fly apart, changing the spin of one also
changes the spin of the other--even if they are
at opposite ends of the world . . . . It's as if
each particle knows instantaneously what is
happening to the other. (Keutzer, p. 85)
She quotes a
researhcer from the University of Paris (Bernard
d'Espignat) who concludes that "in some sense all
these objects constitute an invisible whole".
[this] means embracing the temporal
paradoxes of an instantaneously connected world
in which nothing can really be separated from
anything else. Bell's proof of a nonlocal
ultimate reality is thus the contemporary echo
from mathematics of the ancient mystics' claim,
"we are all one." (p. 85)
After I told
Laing about the "meaningful coincidence" between
his 3:00 p.m. lecture and my 3:00 a.m. fantasy, I
said, "The idea that there are separate people is
an illusion." His lively eyes smiled and he saluted
me, one particle to another, each of us in
the experience of a synchronistic event, instead
of feeling ourselves to be separated and
isolated entities in a vast world we feel the
connection to others and the universe at a deep
and meaningful level. That underlying connection
is the eternal Tao, and a synchronistic event is
a specific manifestation of it. (Bolen, quoted
in Keutzer, 1984, p. 90)
call it the Tao, Life, the Ground of Being, God,
the Universe, Divine Love, "the way it is," or
something else, there is no rational explanation,
no way that an event that apparently violates the
laws of space and time can be understood within the
confines of a scientific method limited by the
assumption that causes precede effects and that it
takes time for information to move through space.
Knowing that particles of matter, separated in
space, move as if they were connected, gives me
some sense of peace, some rest, around this issue.
Maybe that is what an explanation is for. It does
not really "explain" anything, but it allows us to
get on to other things-such as caring about the
beings whom we hold dear, including the being the
Native Americans refer to as our Grandmother, the
for Research and Enlightenment Press. (1981).
Think on These Things--Selections from the Edgar
Cayce Readings. Virginia Beach, Virginia:
Gregory. (1972.) Steps to an Ecology of
Mind. New York: Ballantine.
(1984). "The Power of Meaning: From Quantum
Mechanics to Synchronicity." Journal of
Humanistic Psychology, Volume 24, pp.
Laing, R. D.
(1982). The Voice of Experience. New York: