During an Ayahuasca ceremony, a participant looked across the ceremonial circle and noticed tattoos in the Maori tribe style starting to form on another participant’s face. He watched, enraptured. After the ceremony, the participant’s friend approached him and exclaimed, “I saw the weirdest thing during the ceremony! There was a woman who started getting Maori tattoos all over her face!” The participant gave his pal a startled look. How is it possible that they experienced the same hallucination? Was it just a coincidence?
It may have been. But, it’s certainly not the only time such a thing has happened during a psychedelic trip. Many have noticed that coincidences and synchronicities increase during and after psychedelic trips.
And, as evidenced by the story above, not merely in the sense that your brain is primed to increasingly recognize signs or symbols that may have had personal significance to you during a psychedelic trip. No, bizarre things happen following psychedelic experiences, as researcher Dr. Rosalind Watts explains in this interview with psychiatrist Dr. Bernard Beitman. And this happens frequently.
As I’ve previously discussed in this newsletter, some of the weirder events that happen during psychedelic sessions are thought of as transpersonal. For example, a participant of an Ayahuasca ceremony had a vision of cancerous lungs and witnessed the letters “D,” “A,” and “D” dance off the page of a musician’s songbook during the session. After the ceremony, he reconnected with his father, from whom he had been estranged, only to learn that his father had been battling a lung infection that ultimately turned out to be lung cancer.
But coincidences also seem to be the external world reflecting back to us our internal world, or our thoughts being connected to external events. Jungian psychologists often use synchronicities and coincidences to help the process of psychotherapy. The drastic increase in coincidence occurrences in psychotherapeutic settings is also well-documented. In these cases, and often in psychedelic therapy, coincidences can extend past the participants and include the therapists, too.
Consider this story as an example. Dr. Watts was involved in facilitating a DMT session for a patient. The day of the session, the DMT was delayed in arriving, so the therapists and patient had to wait a bit to begin. The patient began to grow nervous, so Dr. Watts suggested they play some music while they waited to help the patient unwind. The patient agreed and suggested a pop music artist that Dr. Watts had never heard of. They all listened to the song and then proceeded with the DMT session when the medicine finally arrived.
After the session, at the end of the day, Dr. Watts texted a friend – his name is Jon Hopkins – who produces electronic music, telling him that she had been introduced to great music that day and asking him if he had ever heard of the pop star since he makes the same type of music. Her friend replied, “That’s so funny because she messaged me today asking me if I wanted to collaborate.” Dr. Watts asked what time the pop star had texted him, he told her the time, and when she checked the transcript of the DMT session, realized that it was the exact same time they had been playing her song while waiting for the DMT!
Jungian psychoanalyst Jerome Braun has also reported that the songs, ceremonies, and plants that the Peruvian Amazonian plant medicine healers have shared with him have caused an exponential increase of synchronistic and transpersonal, or parapsychological, moments with clients (Psychedelics and Psychotherapy, p.30-31).
There are many, many more stories like these. While I could go into possible explanations for why and how coincidences increase during and after psychedelics, I won’t. The truth is that no one knows the answer, although many theories have been put forward (I recommend Dr. Bernard Beitman’s book, Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen, for research and interpretation of coincidences).
Instead, I want to focus on what coincidences offer us.
During psychedelic sessions, people often feel a sense of connectedness to themselves, other people, nature, and the world. Coincidences are important because when the psychedelic experience ends, but the coincidences continue, the patients feel a prolonged sense of connectedness. Feeling connected – to self, other people, the world around us, something greater – is vital to the mental and emotional well-being of humans, both individually and collectively (Alexander 2008; Cacioppo and Cacioppo 2018; Hari 2019; Sorajjakool et al. 2008).
More generally, even outside the context of psychedelics, coincidences elicit a sense of being connected to something greater. They are physical manifestations of invisible connections, unfolding and being revealed daily.
What’s great about coincidences is that – if you let them – they can dazzle you and move you. They can fill you with awe and wonder. In the lab, we would call this type of reaction an “emotionally salient” event, or an event that increases your heart and breathing rate, causes you to sweat, and even gives you goosebumps. In other words, they are emotionally moving.
But sometimes, in that sparkling moment of becoming aware of a coincidence, some people in Western culture might dismiss the experience and think to themselves, “Ah, that was just a coincidence. Coincidences are irrelevant and due to chance.” And just like that, they’ve killed the magic, squashed the wonder, and severed that sensation of connectedness.
Uh, why do we do this? Why do we insist on killing beautifully meaningful and magical moments for ourselves? In dedication to… what exactly? A random, dead, meaningless Universe?
Doing this makes us blind to the connections between us, the connections that are illuminated by altered states of consciousness and meaningful moments.
Funnily enough, I had a coincidence while writing this coincidence newsletter. The day I was writing this newsletter, a friend and I were speaking about spiritual leader Ram Dass. Later in the day, he texted me a Ram Dass track to listen to, and when I opened it to play it, saw that Ram Dass’s words were laid over a music track – and the music track was produced by Jon Hopkins! The same Jon Hopkins of the DMT music story. Did I brush it off as merely a coincidence? Nope. I savored the moment, sunk into that feeling of marvel, and let it inspire me.
Need more reasons to be more accepting of coincidences? Remember this: awe is therapeutic, spirituality improves health, and feeling connected is essential to human well-being – and coincidences elicit all of these. So, try having gratitude for these meaningful moments. Don’t try to explain them away. Lean into the wonder and feel the connection.
This blog was originally posted on The Brave New World of Psychedelic Sciences