Compassion, Coincidence and Interconnectedness
21 April, 2023
Author: Juliet Trail, PhD, TCP Executive Director and Vice President of the Board, Virginia, USA
- – Meaningful coincidences can reinforce how interconnected and interdependent we are with other people, the environment, other beings, and life on the planet, generally.
- – Compassion – the wish to help alleviate suffering and distress in one’s self and in other beings – arises naturally when we directly experience our interconnectedness with all life.
Meaningful coincidences can help us to recognize our level of interconnectedness, with others and with the world around us. Animals, such as birds or butterflies, are often seen after the death of a loved one, for example, and can seem to be a messenger from our departed loved one, maintaining their connection to us. Chance encounters, like in our previous blog by Aeon Karris, can bring a stranger, a friend, or an acquaintance across our path in an unexpected way that leads to a significant outcome for one or both people. Insights can come through dreams or other altered states of consciousness, such as meditation, that later “come true” in the world around us – a precognitive recognition of events to come. All of these, and many more common forms of coincidences can reinforce our sense of being deeply interconnected with the world, bringing us beyond our sense of being only a separate and independent “self’ (see Beitman, 2022 for many more coincidence types and examples).
Experiencing our lives in an interconnected way can also lead to a greater sense of compassion for all beings. If the “self” is not actually a separate and isolated being, then others beings are part of what we usually think of as “me.” If another being hurts, then it is as if we, ourselves, are in pain. We can begin to wish for, and to act to help with, the alleviation of suffering or distress in other people, animals, plants and ecosystems. If the whole world is fundamentally interconnected, then how could we stand by and do nothing in the face of suffering? This is compassion, and meaningful coincidences can deepen our direct, personal experience of such compassion.
For example, during college I studied abroad in Germany for a term, and traveled one weekend to visit Prague, Czech Republic. Of all the many amazing sights there, I spent one afternoon exploring the National Museum. Afterwards, I was departing through a massive crowd of people coming up the steps to enter the museum. Suddenly, the crowd before me parted and I saw a friend from an earlier year of college approaching me, and I called out to greet her.
I was particularly excited and relieved to see her there and catch up, as she had dropped out after our first year and I had always been a bit worried about what had happened to her, not having known her well enough to have her home address. This chance encounter allowed me to confirm that she was doing okay after leaving school.
How did it happen that her life took her to Prague on the same, single weekend that I was there? And further, in the massive crowds entering and exiting the museum, how did it happen that we would pass right near one another – her entering and me exiting – at a precise moment where I could see her face in the crowd and call out to catch her attention? If either of us had altered our paths on that day by even 30 seconds, I would not have seen her and I would never have known if she had been okay after leaving school. The probability of that meeting taking place is so astronomically low that I still marvel at it.
Coincidences like this have occurred throughout my life, in unlikely places both around the world and traveling around my home community. This type of coincidence demonstrates human GPS: an ability to navigate to friends, acquaintances, loved ones, or even occasionally to a stranger who needs our help, without knowing how we knew where and when to find them. Coincidental meetings in unexpected places (and other types of meaningful coincidences) bring me intense wonder and awe: a sense that we remain connected to one another no matter where we go.
In my personal meditation practice around compassion, I also experience a profoundly moving sense that other persons and other beings are members of my immediate family, or simply extensions of myself. Experiencing a deep, felt sense of interconnectedness, leaves a lasting impact. Our hearts open with the wonder and beauty of such moments. We feel relieved of the isolation and loneliness that often plagues all humans. It’s a glimpse into a greater order that guides our lives. It may call up our own belief system—our philosophy, spirituality or religion—providing evidence that we are not abandoned or alone in this life.
Compassion, arising from meditation or through meaningful coincidences, gives us a sense of hope and meaning, that we are part of an embedded whole, deeply related to all other beings. And if we find that felt sense of it even once, we can trust that we will find meaningful connection again, and again, and again.
Learn more about my thoughts on this topic on the podcast Connecting with Coincidence with host Bernard Beitman, episode: “Linking Compassion and Coincidences,” with Juliet Trail, PhD.
Beitman, B.D. (2022) Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions
Neff, Kristen and Germer, Chris. (2019.) Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: a Guide for Professionals.
Ricard, Mattieu. (2016). Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. New York, Boston, London: Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company.