Chaos, Collapse, and Synchronicity
From imploding economies to hurricanes and tsunamis, from astounding corruption to war and terrorism, from catastrophic climate change to thermonuclear weapons in the Middle East, the clichés of doom that lately populate the course of human events is more than enough to tilt a sane citizen into apocalyptic anxiety. I am certain that I paint too broad a stroke on it, but I'm nonetheless going to venture to say that worrying about civilizational collapse is like worrying about whether or not one's relationship will end in a painful breakup. I don't mind admitting that I've spent some time worrying about both of these things -- indeed, one of them even came to pass -- and I can testify that no amount of worry could have prepared me for the agony -- and the ecstasy -- that eventually came of it.
As it happened, I was in the midst of writing my second novel, Nine Kinds of Naked, a novel which presumed to explore the theme of synchronicity. I really don't remember how or why, but I had dared myself to write Nine Kinds of Naked without a plan and only according to the synchronicity of my daily experience. This turned out to be a terrifying endeavor, and one that I was entirely unprepared to meet. I remember complaining aloud one day, voicing my frustration that this wasn't working, that I was trying to write about synchronicity rather than allowing the story to simply proceed by its own design. I had read every book on the topic, taking careful notes the way my graduate training had habituated me to do, and there I was writing the book as an exhausted intellectual rather than as an inspired artist. I found myself writing about a phenomenon that I only dimly recalled from years earlier in my life, not something that I was experiencing in the present moment. I felt like I was failing my project.
Then my relationship of eleven years abruptly ended.
I only mention this very personal detail of my life at all because of what happened to me afterwards: I was propelled into a six-month period of unparalleled and nearly nonstop synchronicity that continued to reverberate for another full year and upon which I'm still surfing the shockwave. I'm not speaking here about the typical tripe: seeing your former lover's initials on a license plate or hearing another lovesick pop song every time you click on the radio. Cripes and jeezus gawd, there was plenty of that, but if those wan synchronicities are supposed to be the thumbprints of Providence in the margins of my life, then Providence has grown much too tame. I'm speaking here of the truly uncanny, the highly improbable, the perpetual co-incidence of my life intersecting perfectly with the lives of everyone around me. Shortly after my split, suffering with grief one summer day on my porch, a rare car passed my house, windows open, broadcasting the gaudy voice of a radio commercial advertising I know not what: "It's a big change," the radio yapped in passing. "Heal naturally." And that's the most insignificant example I can remember.
In my research on synchronicity, I had learned that it is most likely to emerge during and after ego-shattering experiences. These include near-death experiences, the death of loved ones, the end (or the beginning) of love relationships, shamanic / visionary experiences, travel, and so forth. Psychology typically deems this a form of dissociation in response to psychological trauma, and this is probably correct. After all, when I measure it against my own experience -- in which the entire world and my very presence within it seemed indistinguishable from a dream -- that defines dissociation, certainly. And yet, this explanation by itself left me feeling deeply dissatisfied, implying as it did a dismissal of my experience. And the experience of synchronicity is profoundly personal. It relies upon your subjectivity and the meanings you bring to your life. Because of this, it is irrelevant to debate whether or not it's real in the sense of what we might vainly refer to as objective reality. There's an unavoidable arrogance in presuming to evaluate not merely the truth of someone else's experience, but actually the truth of the meaning of someone else's experience. In the latter case, it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone but the person involved.
In any event, my understanding eventually relented to a view in which synchronicity is the face of a deeper level of interconnectivity. This dovetails with Eastern notions of non-duality, the mystical perception that unity is the underlying reality, that individual consciousness is actually the necessary illusion of distinction, the dark side of the Tao, so to speak, that which hears the tree falling in the woods. In this view, then, whenever the structures of one's mind are shaken, the mind opens into a wider perception of reality that is hallmarked by synchronicity, understood here as a dissolution of the boundary between the interior and the exterior worlds. Fundamentally, the ego is the illusion that you exist separate from everything else, it is that which walls you off from the flow of undivided unity. Whenever these walls collapse, the flow of undivided unity rushes into your life, and synchronicity is the face of this perception.
So, dear and patient readers, my quodlibet is this: Although my breakup catalyzed what an external observer may at first grunt judge to be a breakdown, from my point of view the only breakdown was the delusion that I was in control of my life. All the walls -- of identity, ambition, and security, of any illusion that I knew who I was, or where I was, or that I had any clue at all what was happening in life -- all of this collapsed like an obsolete civilization and permitted eternity to course through me as never before. Insofar as apocalypse derives from the Greek apokalyptein, meaning "to unveil," this was some version of my personal apocalypse, and since apocalypse is the etymological antonym of hell, which derives from the Latin helan, meaning "to veil," the only thing to mourn was the liberation from my own illusions. In a similar fashion, this is what we're facing when we worry about the collapse of our social structures. Despite our roads and skylines, despite our bridges and our borders, despite our military-industrial complexes and hyper-corrupt transnational corporations, society does not actually exist anywhere but the human mind. As a mental construct, society provides us with a shared illusion of meaning, purpose, and order, and it stabilizes our existence thereby, but paraphrasing Terence McKenna, society is not our friend. At best it is what Aldous Huxley referred to as a reducing valve to our perception, and at worst it is what Robert Anton Wilson called "the devil's masquerade," a Luciferian diversion from the truth of existence.
And the truth, or something resembling it, is that if you walk outside right now, hold your hand up to the sky, and pinch a millimeter of heaven between your thumb and forefinger, the truth is that if you were to focus the Hubble space telescope on that random sector of sky between your thumb and forefinger, that one dot on the overwhelming vault of heaven, you would discover billions of galaxies. This is the cathedral of eternity in which we find ourselves, and this magnificent insignificance is what we do not see when we imagine that we are -- or that we could ever be -- in control of this juggernaut that is barreling down the shuddering tracks of history.
As McKenna also intones on one of my favorite Shpongle tracks: Nothing is wrong, everything is on track. And indeed it was, for as it turned out, my matrimonial cataclysm was just the apocalyptic knock I needed to inspire the novel some part of me had dared myself to fathom. I gave up, I surrendered, and it was only then that Nine Kinds of Naked could proceed according its own synchronicity. There was a tremendous relief in this giving up of control, in surrendering to some chaotic process infinitely larger than myself, in realizing not only that I am not in control of my life, but also that I don't have to be.
So here we yawn at millennium's dawn: Bugles are blasting and the walls of civilization are crumbling, chaos is seeping through the cracks and crawling out of the shadows, survivalist monkeys are buying guns and the ice caps are melting besides as chaos gazes unfazed at the clamor of humanity sounding for all the universe like the echo of a distant wind chime. That which we thought was stable, safe, and secure is not, that which we sacrificed so much for is failing, that which told us who we are is collapsing like a psychedelic kaleidoscope. And as our social structures collapse, humanity -- barbaric, beautiful humanity -- will rediscover the awesome divinity that inhabits the core of our consciousness as one by one we give up control because society may not be our friend but chaos is our mother and our mother is an order unfathomable, a layer of complexity much deeper than the dim and flimsy arrogance of ego can admit to itself. Welcome our selves to the cathedral of eternity, the dimension in which we step out of that steaming pile of ego which passes for human consciousness and at last surrender into a higher order of experience in which our interconnectivity one to another becomes blindingly obvious, and we see, and we know, and we remember, that there is so much more happening in life than we have ever been led to believe.
May your days dare delight with your dreams~