- Coincidence sensitivity is related to self-referential thinking, high emotion, a religious outlook, and searching for life meaning.
- Present-moment-centered experience elevates mood.
- Mindfulness meditation increases the potential for the self-observer to meaningfully connect events.
People vary widely in their coincidence sensitivity, the frequency with which they experience coincidences. They range from rarely to frequently seeing them with most people in between the two extremes. Several personality factors appear to contribute to this variability. Heinström and Sormunen studied individual differences in serendipitously seeking information. They found that the variability of accidental discovery was related to negative experiences with information chaos and to positive affective-behavioral experiences of discovery. They hypothesized that a lack of control of chaotic information flow could lead to a sense that the acquisition of useful information is governed by chance rather than conscious efforts. Activity, social connectedness, and positive emotionality, on the other hand, seem to increase the likelihood of discovering interesting information.(1)
As reported in a previous post on this blog, the data gathered by my research team suggests that coincidence sensitivity is related to self-referential thinking (interpreting events outside of oneself as potentially relating to one’s self), high emotion, and having a religious outlook on life. A subsequent study added trusting one’s own intuition and a search for meaning.(2)
The contributions of mindfulness
Mindfulness offers a deliberate method for increasing coincidence sensitivity. Mindfulness meditation provides a means of training the mind to maintain a state of purposeful, open, present-moment-centered awareness for sustained periods of time. Meditation practices, of which mindfulness meditation is one type, help us to regulate our attention in ways that can influence and transform the quality of our experience, in the service of realizing the full range of human potential in relation to the self, to others, and to the world around us.
In the mindful meditative state, the meditator trains an inner observer who can be aware of – but not necessarily react to – arising sensations, emotions, thoughts, or events either within or outside of the self. This self-observer can watch the activity of the mind (thoughts and/or emotions) and of the body (physical sensations), allowing phenomena to pass into and out of conscious awareness. The self-observer can consider and reflect on what is being experienced, prior to any need to respond to it in some way. We can consciously perceive and allow both pleasant and unpleasant experiences to arise and persist, with greater openness and equanimity.
To notice a coincidence involves simultaneously holding in mind two or more separate events. As they are being held in awareness, the self-observer can examine the various meanings of the paired events, including their similarity, probability, emotional charge, personal significance, and possible explanation.(3) There can be an element of humor, delight, and discovery that emerges when we experience coincidences. It is a present-moment-centered experience that elevates our mood, consistent with the finding that present-focused awareness, in general, leads to more positive emotions and mood states. (Killingsworth and Gilbert.)
Implications of mindfulness for coincidence sensitivity
The recognition of coincidences is facilitated by a keen present-moment awareness as well as the cultivation of one’s self-observer, who can perceive when a thought or question within one’s own mind is reflected by events outside of one’s self. Such a co-inciding of inner and outer events often marks coincidence, serendipity, and synchronicity. In a complementary fashion, mindfulness meditation cultivates a present-moment awareness, an inner observer, and a resulting ability to consciously attend to events unfolding both within the mind and around us. Mindfulness can in this way strengthen our attention on the present and our inner self-observer, increasing our coincidence sensitivity. Future research might focus on this connection by directly studying the coincidence sensitivity of mindful meditators (and other contemplative practitioners), to further explore the linkages between coincidence and mindfulness.
Juliet Trail, Ph.D. contributed to this post.
1. Jannica Heinström and Eero Sormunen. (2020) Serendipity as chaos or discovery – exploring the role of personality and sense of coherence. Proceedings of ISIC: the information behaviour conference, Pretoria, South Africa, 28th September to 1st October, VOL. 25 NO. 4, DECEMBER, 2020
2 Coleman, Stephanie; and Beitman, Bernard (2009). “Characterizing High-frequency Coincidence Detectors.” Psychiatric Annals, Vol 39(5), 271-279.
3. Beitman, Bernard. Charting Chance: The Patterns of Coincidences. . Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions [In Press)
4. Killingsworth, M. A., and D. T. Gilbert. 2010 (Nov.). “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Science. Vol. 330, Issue 6006, pp. 932. DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439 DOI: https://doi.org/10.47989/irisic2001