Last week I was sitting at my desk writing when I happened to come across an interesting article. Okay, so I wasn't exactly writing. I was surfing the Internet. But I read an article about the life of Robert Pershing Wadlow, the tallest man in history. At age 13, he was 7'4", the world's tallest Boy Scout. At the time of his death, in 1940, he stood 8'11" tall. He was only 22.
I don't really know why this story interested me, apart from the sheer amazement of it. But seeing the old photo of this young man, towering over his own father, and knowing how young he was when he died, I was struck by what a lonely young man he must have been. It would have been incredibly difficult for him to make friends his own age and even harder to have a romantic relationship.
Later that same day, after I'd stopped fooling around on the Internet and actually got some work done, I sat down to read a novel I'd recently begun about a boy who struggles to grow up as an only child, and finds solace and hope of escape through his belief that he will one day become recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records. I picked up reading where I'd left off and when I turned the page, the boy in the novel tells us that he has just finished reading an article about Robert Pershing Wadlow, the tallest man in history.
Now, I had never heard of Wadlow before that day and I thought this was an amazing coincidence. But this was not the first time this kind of thing had happened to me. I will often be thinking about something and then turn on the radio to hear a commercial about the very same thing. But what does it mean?
According to Carl Jung, such events are not mere coincidences at all, but what he called synchronicity or meaningful coincidence. ‘Synchronicity,' said Jung, ‘is the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer.'
So what that means, then, is that synchronous events are meaningful when they have meaning for you. If I were to see an acorn on the ground and later read a newspaper article about acorns, that wouldn't mean much to me. I don't even like acorns. But sometimes coincidences require a little thought and reflection before the meaning becomes clear. And maybe that is why they appear in our lives. They are so amazing, and seem so unbelievable, they grab our attention. We are taken away from the rush of everyday life and are stopped in our tracks, and left to consider the meaning of these events. And if we do stop and think, we come to realise that these strange happenings can tell us something important about our lives and ourselves.
I can't help wondering whether highly sensitive people are more likely to experience such coincidences simply because we are more sensitive to and aware of what's going on around us. Jung went on to say that synchronicity is more likely to occur when we are in a state of heightened emotional and mental awareness, which is the state that HSPs seem to be in most of the time. Personally, I enjoy being in a state of awareness and open to my surroundings. It may be overstimulating at times, but I've learned to steer clear of obvious stressors that are too much for me. Being open and aware lets me see a whole new world and interpret that world in a way that enriches my own understanding of it and of myself. Synchronicity can not only teach us, but comfort us, providing reassurance of feelings or ideas we felt to be true, or pointing us in the direction we need to go, when we may not have been sure of the way.
As for the meaning of my seemingly random run-in with Robert Pershing Wadlow, I think it did have meaning for me. I was struck by this young man's sense of loneliness. And the boy in the novel was grappling with his loneliness as well. Perhaps there was a message in there for me, hovering, as always, just beneath the surface. Perhaps these stories were alerting me to my own sense of loneliness, arising, no doubt, from too many hours at my desk. Writing can be lonely. But a little synchronicity seemed to be the nudge I needed to turn off the computer and get out and mingle. Thanks to Carl Jung and Robert Wadlow, I'm feeling part of society again. And who knows what strange coincidences will point me in a new direction tomorrow. I'm just glad I'm sensitive enough to see them.