Have you ever received money that you did not expect or got a call from a loved one that you were thinking about the day before?. Interestingly. Abraham Lincoln, one of my favorite historical figures, reportedly had precursory dreams of a funeral in the white house while he was president before his assassination. He also reportedly had a dream which involved imagery of him sailing swiftly in deep waters in a ship to unknown lands the day before his assassination. This is referred to as the ” Cabinet room dream” as Lincoln had apparently talked about the dream in the Cabinet meeting before his death. These types of events are called coincidences or serendipity.
Many people have written about coincidences. Dr. Carl Jung wrote about synchronicity or meaningful co-occurring events which appear as random events at first glance, but, actually may be very meaningful to the observer. Quantum theory also talks about this fascinating concept of entanglement, which suggests that isolated particles in different areas are connected so that if an event impacted one particle, the other related particle, even if in a distant location, will be impacted also. This is rather mind boggling stuff and has been presented as possible explanation of coincidences. Dr Bernard Beitman studies the science of coincidence and serendipity. Incidents of serendipity include “happy accidents”. There are also people who interpret coincidences or synchronicity as “Divine providence”, exemplified by the sentence, “Coincidences are God’s Ways of Being Anonymous”. Sometimes the differences between coincidences or serendipity can be confusing. Therefore, this post includes reflections on serendipity, or “happy accidents” in the pandemic. I am focusing on the “happy” versus the “unhappy” as we have seen so much pain and suffering in the pandemic. We have to work harder for a positivity bias as research suggests that the human brain is wired to pick up negativity material more readily in the world. Negativity bias makes total sense for survival. Remember that when our ancestors saw a rainbow and a tiger, the focus was on the tiger and how to survive. Otherwise there is no one to enjoy the rainbow.
Serendipity of co-regulation.
The idea of co-regulation originates from Dr. Porges polyvagal theory . This includes the experience of having a socially engaged interaction between two people, such as, a deep conversation, hug with a loved one where we are heard, known and seen for who we are, including the good, ” hero or she-roe” parts, and the shadow (qualities of ourselves we are not proud of). These conversations and connections are soothing for our nervous system because it makes us feel safe, loved, known, seen and understood. Sometimes serendipity of co-regulation may include hearing a song or sermon on the radio at the right time that captures our feelings and thoughts and gives us a sense of “everything will be ok”. It calms the nervous system. Sometimes, it involves coming across a verse in the scripture or book, sign on a billboard or back of a car that leaps into the mind, body and soul and it feels like the words apply to our situation and points us in a specific direction of change in perspective or action. These are like love bubbles hitting us when we least expect it. They give us hope to endure through difficult circumstances, such as the pandemic. They lift dark moods, ease the fearful mind. There is a sense that things will be Ok and everything will end well. They sooth us as we feel heard, seen and understood by the songwriter who wrote the song or pastor who gave the sermon. They make me feel that I am not the only person on the planet who had this experience. I am not alone. They may lift us into Ventral Vagal Complex states of safety, love and compassion in the dance of the vagus nerve.
I have always been grateful for these “love bubbles” or happy accidents, such as, a call from a dear friend, hearing a comforting sermon or song, or finding a book in an unexpected place when I have been looking for it for days. However, in the era of the pandemic where good news seems rare, I am especially grateful for these “happy accidents”. Incidents of serendipity help me keep the faith that the world will get through the pandemic with a better, perhaps, different future.
Serendipity and Stories of Extraordinarily Successful People
Dr. Beitman cites the famous example of serendipity where Alexander Fleming accidentally discovers the petri dish with the enzyme which led to the development of the antibiotic, penicillin which revolutionized the medical field. I cannot imagine a world without antibiotics. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers: Stories of Success”, Gladwell interviews Bill Gates as an example of a major unusual success story. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University to pursue his interest in computer science. Gladwell argues that Bill Gates’ access to computers at the right time, his brilliance, genius and hard work led to Gates success. Very true. However, the idea that Gates mother had access to IBM Board of Directors is also intriguing and fascinating . It leans into the discussion of serendipity. Did his mother’s access to knowledge and resources also led to Gates’s success? Mary Maxwell Gates, Bill Gates’ mother, a very successful business woman also knew John Opel, then chairman of IBM through her involvement in nonprofit work. Collaboration of IBM and Microsoft played a huge role in Gates success. This connection that Gates’s mother had with the chairman of IBM demonstrates the interconnections between people’s lives which led to serendipity and success. It also beautifully demonstrates the concept of right place, right time and right person. This is so important in serendipity.
Serendipity and the Divine Source
I recognize there are many different explanations of serendipity, including quantum physics theory of entanglement. As a faith based person, I interpret them as what my student in my positive psychology class referred to it as “God shot”. Some people refer to it as “God send”. My understanding of the “God shots” or “God sent” are God’s Grace which pierces through the veil of our reality for assurance, confirmation, or signs of “peace” and Divine Love, in good times and especially in difficult situations (“when the shit is about to hit the fan”). They feel like the Universe’s hugs to keep calm and carry on. Anne Lamott, a brilliant and humorous writer on faith and life, talks about God’s Grace being the last, but, best batter in her TED Talk (12 truths I learned from life and writing). Anne Lamott also describes our prayers of help to God in desperate situations is what distinguishes God as the “Gift of Desperation”, because His help comes at times in life when we are most “teachable”.
.My experience is that “God shots” happen unexpectedly, but, at the right time, right place and for the right person. For me, it shows an orchestration of events by Divine Guidance. Serendipity can appear ordinary from the outside, such as, getting call from a dear friend. It can also be major incidents which change the trajectory of someone’s life. Whatever serendipity looks like on the outside, it means a lot to the person who derives meaning from the event.
As a faith based person, I believe that my relationship with the Divine Source is a key component of my faith. A dear friend noted that God calls us to be in relationship with Him and others. My friend came up with the coolest and most profound insight. He said that God is the Greatest Co-Regulator of people. Very true. Divine Intervention can bring a level of peace, understanding and discernment in the most turbulent storms of life.
A great example of serendipity is Divine Protection and Providence . In one of his brilliant sermons, Bishop T. D. Jakes discusses experiences of rejection can be signs of Divine Protection. Divine Protection may mean God has bigger plans for us than we dream of for ourselves. Oprah Winfrey, the mega successful entrepreneur, media personality, owner of popular magazines and television channel also discusses the idea that failure is Universe’s way of redirecting us to find our actual purpose and paths. In one of her powerful speeches, she discusses the abundance of Divine Grace and her faith that led her from her childhood in a small town in the south to her current position.
At the end of the day, each reader needs to decide what incidents of serendipity mean for himself or herself. Is serendipity a random event or blip in the cosmic radar? Is it explained by entanglement theory in quantum physics? Is it Divine Providence and Grace? As a faith based person, I believe that Divine Providence is very powerful, sometimes presents as serendipity and can be a game changer in life. Perhaps, the fascinating concept of entanglement in quantum physics is also part of Divine Design. Whatever your thoughts are about coincidences or serendipity, they certainly demonstrate interconnection between people or events that are incredibly powerful. They confirm that even in the isolation of the pandemic, we are seen, known, understood and loved by people, events, and the Divine Source. My prayer is that people continue to receive these “love bubbles” or “God shots of Divine Grace” for spiritual, and psychological strength in the pandemic. As for me, they renew my faith in the Divine Source as I view them as sacred experiences which light up my soul and make my heart sing. For that, I am deeply grateful.