I came across this term ‘slender threads’ in Jungian psychologist Robert Johnson’s compelling autobiography titled “Balancing heaven and earth”. He describes them as a kind of connective tissue linking one experience to the next through synchronistic events. He went much further in describing that he felt his own life was somehow inspired, guided, and even managed by unseen forces outside his control. He admits this may seem an audacious notion in this time. He suggested that whether we call it fate, destiny, or the hand of God, slender threads are at work bringing coherence and continuity to our lives. He says that over time they weave a remarkable tapestry.
I completely related to this concept. In hindsight I look back over my life and see what appears to be an unseen hand maneuvering circumstances to result in a certain path. Now as a more cynical friend of mine observed it could’ve just been the choices I made that made it look that way. However I believe it’s more than that. You can’t create synchronicity by will, it just happens. Whether it comes from some unexplained external force or perhaps it is an aspect of my own unconscious is still a mystery to me. But I have learned I don’t need to understand in order to appreciate. I came across a wonderful quote by psychiatrist and theologian Gerald May who suggested that “the unique reality of mystery is that mystery can be experienced, appreciated, and even lived without being understood.”
Recently I introduced this concept to my spiritual guidance group and to help illustrate it I reviewed the series of improbable threads that resulted in a senior advertising executive – a workaholic, an atheist, entirely focused on his own wants and needs to become a spiritual coach.
It began with an entirely unwelcome and unexpected opportunity at work. The background was that someone had been recruited to take on a particular job with a client who was unhappy with the existing management supervisor. It was the single largest account that the agency had and was engaged in a competitive review. The new person did not show up and there was a desperate need to fill the role and the only warm body available was me. I was asked to leave the clients that I managed which included Chevron, Pharmasave, Molson, Blackcomb Mountain and BC Tourism and turn them over to my colleague. To me it felt a bit like leaving the safety of my cruise ship and being asked to take over on the Titanic as the captain had abandoned ship. I politely declined hoping that would be that however I was on the receiving end of a severe tirade. “Your cushy life is over whether you like it or not.” Fortunately I had an obligation at the dentist that gave me a chance to lick my wounds.
At the dentist I thought of a compromise- I would agree to take over the additional account in addition to everything else I already controlled; in return I would be promoted to director of client services and they had to trust me to manage the situation. Hopefully this would safeguard me against failure and ensure my future promotion as my boss was going to retire.
Somewhat to my surprise and perhaps disappointment my foolhardy proposal was accepted and the die was cast. The good news is that I was successful at the new job, (somewhat to the surprise of the COO who told me a year later that he never really thought I was the right person for the job). The bad news was that one year later this bizarre transition had a completely unexpected consequence. The new client decided to move their head office from beautiful Vancouver to Calgary and wanted me to provide service in that city. I flatly refused to move but offered a compromise. I would spend three days of each week away from Vancouver. So I had a flat in Calgary, an office in both cities and every Tuesday afternoon I would head to the airport returning on Friday. It was a crazy way to live and had unforeseen consequences.
I will draw a veil over the events in Calgary due to a sense of shame and embarrassment. Suffice it to say that it offered fertile ground for my mid-life crisis and within two years I had quit my job, my wife and friends, booked two first class tickets around the world and went traveling for a year with my much younger girl friend.
It was an amazing if challenging experience and at some time during the trip, actually in Berne in Switzerland, we agreed that if we survived the year together we would get married. Somehow we did but it seemed touch and at times. I learned just how much a bad hairdo can impact someone. However we did not live happily ever after. The final thread was that after eighteen months of marriage she told me the relationship was over. I found myself abandoned, all my plans trashed and feeling without hope for the future. Yet as many Jungian analysts would predict this traumatic experience resulted in a complete re-evaluation of my life and the start of yet another unlikely journey that eventually resulted in me becoming a spiritual coach.
The improbable slender threads: the new hire not turning up, the acceptance of my audacious offer, the move to Calgary, the world trip then her leaving me. – all leading to a complete transformation. Was this the fulfillment of a plan or just a series of coincidences? Perhaps it saved my life. An astrologer said that my chart indicated that if I had failed to change my life I could have “left the body” in my fifties.
One of the members of my group could completely relate to this concept as she looked back on her own long life and realized that certain events concerning relationships that were completely beyond her control led to an amazing life of service to children and their families in Vancouver’s Children’s Hospital.
A few years ago I attended a conference in Petaluma, California where three teachers presented their stories. Each one of them observed on the power of this guiding force to positively effect their unfolding lives. As Jungian analyst and author James Hollis commented, “If we open to this possibility of an invisible and dynamically active world, we then live in a mystery anew, a prospect both inviting and daunting.”