by Michael J. Hallowell

Everyone experiences coincidences in their lives.

Some years ago I attended a conference on the paranormal in Exeter, and, just before I got up to speak, I discovered that the man sitting next to me had, until quite recently, lived only a quarter of a mile away from my own home. Neither of us had met previously.

Several weeks ago I was told of another strange coincidence. A colleague of mine was at an exhibition at Newcastle, and was approached by a lady who needed some information. My colleague gave the lady my name and said, "I can also give you his telephone number, but I'm afraid I can't give you his address".

"You don't have to", replied the lady. "He's my next-door neighbour".

And so I was.

Of course, coincidences like this occur often, and there is nothing inherently strange in them. Most readers will be aware of the old adage that if you give enough monkeys enough time and enough typewriters, eventually one of them will type out the entire works of Shakespeare.

But not all coincidences can be explained in this way. A colleague of mine who specialises in studying the phenomenon of synchronicity - the notion that life is filled with meaningful patterns which often repeat themselves - once said to me, "Some coincidences are just too much of a coincidence to be coincidental".

What did he mean? Simply this; that, from time to time, a "coincidence" occurs which is so extraordinary that it is difficult not to think that there must be some unseen intelligence guiding things behind the scenes.

Let me give you an example. Two men met in an English bar in Spain. They were both from north Yorkshire and both were called Mackins. Whilst discussing this extraordinary circumstance their conversation was overheard by the barman who told them that his surname was Mackens. Not quite the same, but almost.

Their amusement was further compounded by the fact that all three men had, during their teens, spent time working as salesmen in the used car trade.

Philosophers and researchers have struggled for centuries to explain this strange phenomenon. One theorist said that such coincidences were not only natural but inevitable.

All of nature, he said, was "built upon patterns and rhythms". Tidal ebbs and flows, seasons, daytime and night time… the list is virtually endless. Coincidences, he argued, were simply proof that the same natural forces and laws governed human life and activity. Coincidences were, he believed, simply the "patterns of life".

An interesting idea, and it may or may not be true. However, what we can say is that extraordinary coincidences add both humour and wonder to our lives.

As we go about our daily business we usually become immune to synchronicity and coincidence. Yet, if we were to consciously take note of these things, we would see that they occur with astonishing regularity.

How many times have we telephoned a friend only to hear them say, "I was just about to ring you"? How many times have we bought a birthday card for someone, only to find that the recipient has received one or even two identical cards from other people?

How many times have we wished to see a favourite film on TV, only to see it appear in the listings a day or two later?

Synchronicity probably finds its greatest expression in the lives of identical twins, who will often purchase the same item of clothing on the same day without knowing that their "other half" is doing exactly the same thing.

Synchronicity doesn't disturb me; in fact, it fascinates me and I honestly think that our world would be far less rich without it.

©Mike Hallowell, 2009

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