Ensoulment and Synchronicity: Concepts from Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas
In his 2006 book Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Rick Tarnas suggests that the western mind has catapulted us away from a fundamental cosmos where everything was ensouled, alive, and animated by meaning and archetype. Our modern mindset is, instead, to attempt to control and manipulate our environment, making us the active subject in any interaction, and the things we see around us the passive object. Tarnas suggests “disenchantment” refers to the way the world is objectified, thereby denying subjectivity. “Objectification,” he contends, “denies to the world a subject’s capacity to intend, to signify intelligently, to express it’s meaning, to embody and communicate humanly relevant purposes and values” (p. 21). By objectifying the world around us, we enable ourselves to believe that we can manipulate and determine our own existence, giving us greater freedom and autonomy.
Seeing oneself as the only source of life and intelligence in a universe that is increasingly dead and soulless leaves us in a vacuum where we are increasingly aware. (I’m also inclined to believe it makes many of us feel more alone, alienated, and disconnected from a sense of belonging and community, contributing to a culture where the sharper and sharper contrast of me versus them causes more people to act out via shooting rampages, suicides, or violence.)
Tarnas suggests that some of this objectification stems from the first moment mankind used a tool, making him the subject and the thing he was acting upon an object. Rather than being on equal terms, then, with everything else in his world, mankind began to ascend, leading to a hierarchy which placed himself at the top of a world where all things were neutral (or dead), and could have meanings or values or uses projected on them at the will of the human. Hence, a world that was previously rich with signs and symbols and intentions all with a life and intelligence of their own was replaced with a world that is devoid of any meaning without that assigned to it by human beings. The sense of balance and equality with nature and the cosmos was lost.
Tarnas proposes that the dichotomy (or antagonism) contributes to an increasing environment of alienation—and I would add, a greater gap between self and “other.” Rather than participating in a world that has a soul of its own (known as the anima mundi in depth psychology terms) which communicates in a rich kaleidoscope of mythical, divine, and numinous being, all sense of continuity between self and the world around them is disrupted leading to a breach in the participation mystique where the direct participation of human, nature, and divine no longer is believable or possible. C.G. Jung stated, “The collective unconscious surrounds us on all sides… is more like an atmosphere in which we live than something that is found in us” (in Tarnas, p. 59). Clearly, then, the boundaries created between self and things, self and other, self and world, and things and things became so multiple and diverse that we find ourselves divided from self and from the unconscious—and therefore losing a sense of meaning.
Tarnas also covers the concept of synchronicity in some detail, referring to it much as Jung did as “coincidences in which two or more independent events having no apparent causal connection nevertheless seem to form a meaningful pattern” (p. 50). Tarnas goes on to state “the dramatic coincidence of meaning between an inner state and a simultaneous external event seemed to bring forth in the individual a healing movement toward psychological wholeness, mediated by the unexpected integration of inner and outer realities.” He relates that events like these frequently lead to a new personal orientation where the world is suddenly seen as being rife with meaning and intentions beyond simple human projection: there seems to be, in short, a significant and intelligent order to what previously seemed like chaos.
Tarnas stresses that Jung held the belief that synchronicities served a similar function to dreams and psychological symptoms that essentially served to counteract the one-sidedness of the psyche and turn the person toward the unconscious and therefore toward greater wholeness—that is, individuation. In other words, we can benefit from a synchronistic event by allowing it to challenge and redirect our own conscious attitude. By observing more of the aliveness and autonomy of the world around us, we begin to allow synchronicities to occur. What would happen if you took a moment now to look around and notice what’s speaking to you in your environment, wherever you are?