Daily Archives: November 9, 2007

Synchronicity and Yorick’s Skull

In early October, at the insistence of Liz Porter, I attended the opening of the Richard Beale Exhibition at the Lockhart Gallery. I didn’t really want to go, because art openings are not my scene and the cost was $35 a ticket, but I decided to splurge for the sake of the campaign (and leave my girlfriend Amy home!). Little did I suspect how much that night would change my life.

I have known of Richard Beale for many years, have one of his prints in my home and even knocked on his door last summer to meet his Republican son-in-law, but I had really never spoken to him at any length. I wandered through the Gallery and was about to leave, when Richard was asked to say a few words. In his remarks he mentioned his interest in the writing of the brilliant German psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

This was a familiar name to me because I went through a period of fascination with Jung’s writings in my early 20s. Richard was too much surrounded by well wishers that night to approach, but when next I saw him at Mattie’s Cafe, where we are both frequent early morning visitors, I approached him to discuss our mutual interest.

When he mentioned some of Jung’s works that he had been reading, I asked him if he had read ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, Jung’s autobiography. This had been a favorite of mine and I believe I have read it two or three times over the years. Richard said he had not, so I promised to bring him my copy.

That was a promise I was not to keep. When I found the book in my library, I was shocked to see how old it appeared, with the paper on this first paperback edition published in 1965 having turned brittle and yellow. If the paper had aged so much from my last reading, what about me? As soon as I held the book in my hand I knew I must read it again before I could part with it, but how?

I certainly had no time to read a 400-page book in the final month of a hectic political campaign. I decided instead to employ Jung’s own principal of synchronicity, which he defined as “a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same sense or similar meaning.”

I have always been intrigued by the idea that there are really no coincidences, especially after Jung explained it as the basis for the wisdom of the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes. About now, you are probably wondering how long this column will go on, and I must warn you, if you are growing weak, stop now, because I am not half-way done!

Getting back to the book, I decided to keep it in my bathroom and open it to a random page every morning and read a few passages. I soon discovered that these seemingly random selections would reverberate through my day and had a way of not seeming random at all. For example, if I read about Jung’s theories on the afterlife in the morning, some person whose door I had pounded on would bring up the subject that afternoon.

These coincidences were becoming uncanny. Near the end of the campaign I had a chance encounter with my friend Herb Hawley. I mentioned that I had just put my frog signs back up, a reference to the fact that Herb had sent me a good luck stuffed frog during my last campaign for Mayor on the Boiled Frog party. He told me I should dig out the old frog and meditate on it the way Hamlet did on Yorick’s Skull.

The reference did not mean much to me, since I am not a Shakespearean scholar, but I laughed and went on my way. That night, as I often did after a full-day of campaigning I fell asleep around 7 p.m. After midnight, I woke and spend the next 3 hours working on some campaign stuff. I had turned on the TV while I worked which, uncharacteristically, had been tuned to Turner Classic Movies. I was too busy to change the channel so I half-watched an old movie as I worked.

Just when I was about to return to bed, the movie ended and it was announced that next up was Hamlet, with Sir Lawrence Olivier in the title role. I immediately knew, I would have to stay up. No, I never made it to Act V, Scene I where Hamlet holds the skull of the dead former Court Jester, Yorick, and muses,

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?”

According to Wikipedia, in this famous scene, “the contrast between Yorick as ‘a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy’ and his grim remains is a variation on the theme of earthly vanity (cf Vanitas): death being unavoidable, the things of this life are inconsequential. Hamlet meditating upon the skull of Yorick has become the most lasting embodiment of this idea.” Herb, what were you trying to tell me?

On the morning after the election, I picked up Jung’s book and read from the end of the chapter titled “Visions.” In it Jung describes his life-changing, near-death experience during an illness:

It was only after the illness that I understood how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny. In this way we forge an ego that does not break down when incomprehensible things happen; an ego that endures, that endures the truth, and that is capable of coping with the world and with fate. Then to experience defeat is also to experience victory. Nothing is disturbed –neither inwardly nor outwardly, for one’s own continuity has withstood the current of life. But that can come to pass only when one does not meddle inquisitively with the workings of fate.

Thanks Carl, William, Richard, Herb and Liz and so many more I have met in the last six months. It has truly been the greatest of my life, and that is no coincidence!