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Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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JULY 25, 2011 2:55PM

My Greatest Synchronicities

Rate: 26 Flag

     According to Carl Gustav Jung, a synchronicity is an event where the two worlds meet--the seen and the unseen.  It's a nexus, a "gateway," a visit to the matrix, totally inexplicable for any rational reason.  Many simply call them uncanny coincidence, deja vu, or just plain wierd and dismiss any further interpretation.  I used to be that way.

     I've had many, but will tell the story of the two I shall never forget--so far.  The first was in the 70's. I needed to shop in a market in a section of our neighborhood in the East Village, N.Y. where I rarely went especially at that time of the morning.  I was surprised to see Terrence Cooke, the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York greeting a steady stream of people entering the Lady of the Nativity Church, which was on the Bowery when it was still the Bowery and not one of the highest rent districts in the city.

    I learned it was the funeral of Dorothy Day, whose Catholic Worker Movement had begun in the neighborhood.  It was a nationwide orgnization that ran soup kitchens and other institutions for the homeless during the depression.  I once attempted to meet her at "Tivoli" their farm in upstate New York, but she wasn't there that weekend.  I'd always intended to return, but never got around to it.

     I went to the funeral.  It was incredibly moving; at the end, I was aware if I'd ever heard of a saint living during my lifetime, regardless of the religion, this was it.  No hocus pocus, no stigmata, sprinkling ash, infallable encyclicals,  visitations from the Virgin Mary, but selfless service to mankind. 

     When I went home after, the phone rang.  It was my father, who may have called me a half dozen times during his lifetime.  I said, "I just came from the funeral of a woman you may have heard of."

     "Who was that?"

     "Dorothy Day."

     "Oh, Aunt Dorothy, she's gone?"

     "Aunt Dorothy?  Are we related?"

     "No, not exactly, but that's what we used to call her.  She stayed at the house in Detroit when she was in town.  The folks (meaning his parents) used to know her well.  We called her Aunt Dorothy."

     "I never heard that story."

     "You never asked."

     I grew up in this house as had my father.  I asked him another question.  "What bedroom did she use?"

     "The guest room."

      "Which room was that?"

      "The one right under your bedroom.  She was there lots of times.  Sometimes she stayed for weeks, mostly during the 1930's when she was setting up the soup kitchens in Detroit. She was really a wonderful woman--a real saint."

      I told him the rest of the story.  He thought it was strange, but nothing unusual.  I was flabberghasted.

       The second synchronicity happened many years later.  I'm a practicing Zen Buddhist.  My wife and I were married by a Zen monk.  She'd go with me to the Zendo on Sunday every once in awhile and always sit in the same place--two cushions in front of me on the left. 

      Joan was a big fan of Jane Fonda, the actress.  We'd go to all her movies, and she'd buy her books and tapes, even going to her book signings, which she NEVER DID WITH ANYBODY ELSE.

      About two months after my wife died, I went to my usual Sunday sit at the Village Zendo.  A woman was sitting in her spot with her back to me.  It was odd since she was almost exactly my wife's height and weight, had the same full mein of thick hair, dressed as she'd dress, and even wore the same kind of jewelry.

     When she finally turned in my direction, yes, it was Jane Fonda.  I'd never recognized the strong similarity.  On the way out, I told her the story.  Fonda was visiting NYC for a few days and never been to the Zendo before.  She was interested to hear it, but then I asked her a question.

     "What brings you here today?"

     "I heard meditation is like experiencing death and I'm researching death for my new book."

      Maybe, another way to see synchronicity is a story you could never make up no matter how hard you tried.  Yeah, that's it, nothing more.


     There's an epilogue.  Many years later, I went to visit the "old house" in Detroit with my daughter to show her where her family lived for three generations.  (The house has since been destroyed as so much of the rest of that sad city.)  

     We were taking pictures from the car when a woman came running down the steps.  "What you doing here?" she asked.

      I told her it had been the family home.  "Can I ask you a question?" she asked.


      "Were there any holy people in this house?"

       "Yes, I think there could have been," I answered.  "A lot of them."

       "I thought so," she answered and disappeared back up the steps that we knew so well.  Did I mention that my grandfather used to compile testimony to recommend "saints" from Southern Michigan to the Vatican?



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Staggering. And maybe synchronicity is also part of a zen learning diagram.
Wow, very powerful. I'm sorry about your wife. Rated!
I have had a number of these event. One interesting thing about them is that they are totally out of one's control. Second, is that strange feeling that comes over you when you have one. I think they come as an invitation to change, spiritually or emotionally...Thanks for sharing..

You're right. They're shocking. Totally at odds with things you may have thought before, they can entirely change ones attitude and in many ways are not unlike a dream.
I write this with a full heart: I love this story. I love that it happened to you. I love that you wrote it. I love you.
Sadly, the collective unconsciousness will never find this post. I surely hope the editors do.
I totally understand this. Some people, I believe are more open to this than others. I am often standing in the middle of many things which then come together, through no effort of my own. Sometimes I know what the next words will be, the next move.

We kept seeing a house being advertised when we were thinking of looking for a house. We liked the look of it, but it had no basement and we dismissed it for that reason. Then a series of events took us to it, to see it. We made an offer that night which was accepted. The home we lived in was sold in a day. Later, after many months, we learned that this home which was now ours was built on the farmland of our ancestors. We had no idea. All I can say is that I drew a picture of the home before we started seeing the ads for it. I saw it in a dream. When I came in the afternoon to see the home with our children and 'nanny', as my husband suggested I do as he was at work, a strange event took place.

I was standing in the bathroom looking through a window I had seen in my dream. I looked out and the sky was eerily the same, the time of year, the trees I was looking at. In the dream it was more of a distance, like across a field, but the same colors, sun orientation in sky and sense of time of year.

I felt I looked out across my own land.

When my husband arrived it was dark out. The man who built the house walked him around explaining everything he had done, showed him the outside with a flashlight. We bought the home that night. We never even had an inspection. My husband recognized it from my drawing, and in fact reminded me again of it.

I should write more about this I guess and fill in the subtle details. Good post, thanks for sharing.

Ow, a good one. Thanks. Once one becomes aware of what a synchronicity is and doesn't dismiss the idea I think it changes their thinking.
I love, love, love this.. thanks so much for writing it..
"I sing you to me, Mrs. Boss." Nalluh says in the movie Australia. I believe in this too. Open minds can do many things. Once awareness sets in, the gate is opened.
To my readers:

Thank you so much for your personal emails and comments, but please, if you have a synchronicity story, please share it. That's what makes this media special, and who knows what will happen?
Not sure if this counts for one, but it's an awfully odd coincidence. My niece was born with a heart condition, at the time I was in my own hellish time of life and only knew that she had been ill and it involved her heart. I had decided to go back to school, and a friend mentioned a new program her friend was opening at a great hospital near me, was I interested. Not even having any idea what it was all about and no medical experience, I started to go to school for ultrasound. Just before finishing I won a scholarship to attend the pediatric hospital in Philly, and was eventually offered a position. I then found out my niece had a very rare heart condition, one that was only repaired in Philadelphia and Boston at that time and that I would be one of the few people who would understand what she had, and be able to scan her heart. I am now credentialed and established in this field and it's difficult when she comes for her appointments for me to find anyone but me to do her cardiac ultrasound. I now teach and lecture on a national level on these diseases. I had no idea where this all would lead, and I feel so lucky and privileged to be part of her healthcare team, and she can rely on someone understanding her rare and complex congenital heart lesion. People always ask if I got into my career because of her, I have to say no... it was just a strange coincidence.
My synchronicities have all been trivial -- trivial but interesting nonetheless.

One day I was walking into the local grocery/department store. Shortly after entering the store I found a dollar bill on the floor. I picked it up and looked around, but no one was nearby and I put the dollar in my pocket.

Then I realized that I left my shopping list in the car. I walked back to the car, got the list, and went back to the store.

When I was about 50 feet inside the store, I heard a fragment of a conversation about 15 feet to my left. A man was talking to a boy, presumably father to son. What I heard was " . . . but I'm sure I gave you enough money."

I walked over to the boy and said "did you lose a dollar bill?" The boy said "yes, I did." I said "I found it," handed him the bill, and walked away.

If you think of the odds . . . that I found the dollar bill in the first place, that I had to go back to the car, that I entered the store at the moment of the conversation, that I heard the conversation and made the connection -- the odds are astronomical.

As I said, trivial but interesting.
I so enjoyed this piece. Your life is such a work of art. Such lovely richness through and through.

I'm not sure I have any synchronicities in my life, by I have lots of San Francisco coinkydinks. We all cross paths with each other sooner or later. I had a boyfriend who was a teacher, and his best friend was a big jovial guy, also a teacher, who had one of those outsized personalities. The big guy was friends with photographer Josh Sturgis, who had photographed his daughter and who was later accused by the FBI of child porn for taking lovely nude photos of young adolescents at a nudist site with their parent's permission. My boyfriend and I broke up and I met my husband. My husband and I met the FBI agent who had accused Sturgis, but was now debunking the satanic ritual abuse panic, which my husband and I were writing about in our magazine. The big jovial guy who was my ex's best friend turned out to have been my husband's master teacher when he was studying teaching.

It turned out I had substitute taught for my husband's class a year before we really met. When I introduced my husband to be to my family, my sister recalled having seen him in performance years earlier, and she remembered his song. In San Francisco, we are all entwined around each other like a bed of snakes.
I never think to remark upon synchronicity. Your fascinating account will have me reviewing certain moments in my own life.
Ben, those are great and amazing stories! You should check with AtHomePilgrim to see if the various houses in Detroit related to his family were near yours! My grandmother also lived in Detroit for a while in the early part of the 20th century but I don't have the old address.

I have had numerous synchronicities with several other Open Salon members that were discovered along the way during the past three years here. They have been posted as stories here on OS.
I found these stories powerful, and yet, not surprising. I stopped believing in "coincidences" a long time ago. Those so called "coincidences" have meaning.
I found this quote of yours interesting, "No hocus pocus, no stigmata, sprinkling ash, infallable encyclicals, visitations from the Virgin Mary, but selfless service to mankind." I've read countless stories about the Saints. Most of them are about "service to mankind." That's what makes them saints. The thing I'm also surprised about is your strong Catholic background in contrast with your disdain for it now. I don't get that.
I don't always understand the meaning behind these "synchronicities," but I've experienced them quite often. One of the ones I'll never forget happened a few years back. I had just finished watching a delightful DVD movie that had reminded me of a dear friend of mine. So, shortly after the movie, I called him (he lives across the country from me) to tell him all about it and how much it made me think of him. After listening to my enthusiastic retelling of the movie, he calmly added that the same movie was on the television set right as I was telling him all about it. I was awe struck......
I have found some seemingly to jump out at me since Lance's death. Like you I feel the boundaries of my thinking has expanded to include so many possibilities of related happenings that I never would have thought related. May we continue to be as open to them.
Thanks Commenters!

I having more fun with this one than any I can remember in a long time. I love good stories, "large and small" and hearing them told so well. I'll respond to a few:


"Coinkydinks" is a new one. Did you make this term up? Like "coincidents" but with "dinks" as in people you "dink." I love it and as usual feel a strong familiarity with your views. My bet is we may have crossed paths in a way that hasn't been discovered yet.

Patricia K:

I think I've had this discussion with you before. I don't have "disdain" for the faith I was born into. I don't how you see that in this post in particular. I clearly have reasons why I no longer practice the faith and I've posted a lot on the subject.

I'm not a friend of orthodoxy and dogma in any faith. In fact, I think it signifies the death of faith and sets it up for abuse by the hierarchy. Have you read any of my posts on Fundamentalist Christianity, "Literalism," Jewish and Muslim fanaticism, proselyitizing atheists, the believers in "scientism" who debunk faith or ideology in general?

I haven't made a lot of friends because of these posts, but they are there--nonetheless.

I suspect you're projecting since you've set yourself up as a defender and keep coming back to it. I respect your choice and hope you respect mine. When I say: "this is my view," that's all that it is. I wish I could be as creative about it as Southpark, but that's why they get the big bucks.

You may want to take a look at William James research into Catholic saints in THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. It could provide you with a marvelous intellectual opportunity.
I feel closest to the universe when these kinds of things happen to me. Mine are usually on a much less grand scale, but magical nontheless. Loved this.

Ben, this statement of yours, ""No hocus pocus, no stigmata, sprinkling ash, infallable encyclicals, visitations from the Virgin Mary, but selfless service to mankind," reminded me of your "dislike" of the Catholic Church. I can't help but feel slightly offended when I hear someone poke fun at some of the Church's beliefs, practices, sacramentals.....
Since Patricia just mentioned the Church, Ben, I’ll give you an almost synchronicity that has the Catholic Church as a part of the story.

Made a trip to Rome while in the Air Force in Europe (back in 1957)…one arranged by the Catholic chaplain of our Air Base. I was one of the Airmen who use to serve Mass for Father Heyburn. He had arranged while in Rome, to offer Mass at one of the side chapels of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican…and he selected me to serve the Mass. Big deal…serving Mass at the Vatican. (My Latin was as good as Cesar’s.)

Father Heyburn also had arranged for the group (we were about 25 strong) to attend a Papal audience at Castle Gondolfo, the summer residence of the Pope. All went well…we were “blessed” by the then Pope, Pius XII. Even after I left the Church and became an agnostic, I treasured the opportunity to have served Mass at St. Peter’s and to have had a Papal audience.

Move to the present day: A few years ago during a discussion with one of my aunts (one of my late mother’s sister) I told the story. I was sure they had heard it before, but apparently not. We were never close when my mother was alive, but now I see them often and take them shopping. They are aged 90 and 86 right now.

When I mentioned the audience with Pius XII during the discussion, one of my aunts “came to attention”…and I was sure some scathing comment was going to be sent my way for even mentioning the Pope so many love to hate. Instead she said, “Oh, when Momma (my maternal grandmother) was a kid, she was a close friend and playmate of Eugenio Pacelli.” (later Cardinal Pacelli, Nuncio to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and finally Pope Pius XII.)

Who would ever have thunk it? If I had known it back then, I probably woulda called up to the balcony…”Hey Pope…my grandmother useta know you as a kid!”

I’ll bet ya that woulda gone over big with Father Heyburn!

The "sprinkling ash" was actually a reference to Sai Baba, the Hindu "guru" or "living saint" who died recently. It's important in my view to seperate the smoke and mirrors from the actual acts of mercy for which the Church deserves much credit as one of the most charitable institutions in the world.

It also has a history of holding up for emulation people who were charlatans. I wonder if we can believe half of what they say about themselves. A new book has just come out about the Popes, a lifetime achievement for the author who sets the recond straight. I was thinking of it as well.

The "truth" is not a personal assault upon you for your beliefs, but I believe our beliefs should take into account the reality of the traditions to which we belong. They all have the problem. I think "God" has nothing to do with these institutions who say they represent her, but it seems necessary for many believers.

We haven't even gotten close to talking about "religion" yet in my view, or faith. These matters are really peripheral. What I like about "synchronicities" is they are experiencial and don't need approval by any "higher authority." Obviously, I'm attracted by the mystical schools, not orthodoxy.

really, u gotta live this stuff to believe it.
Very cool, Ben. Gotta love the inside track to the Vatican! But I'm still upset about Joan of Ark.
Today, desiring some fresh fruit, I was greeted at my grocer with the sight of the biggest, ripest apples I have seen in a long while. I don't know where they came from, at this time of year, but I bought two dozen. Is this what is called a synchronicity?

At any rate, it brought a line from Chesterton to mind (I've been reading a lot of Chesterton lately, he seems to fit the times):

"The strangest whim has seized me . . . After all I think I will not hang myself today."

If this is the feeling one gets with a synchronicity, then I am all for them. So long as I can leave the stuff about it being a "gateway" off to one side.
Fascinating, Carl was on to it. He was on to many things. Interesting, thought provoking post. I enjoyed it.
Beyond your story, lots of stories in the commentary here. . . Synchronicities are a common theme - particularly among writers, artists - those engaged in putting puzzle-pieces together in this world.

Okay -- synchronicities being what they are (and what we make of them) -- I was just thinking this afternoon about the comments you've left recently on my posts about Michigan. At your suggestion - thinking of checking out Hamtramick with a camera. Thanks!