Epiphany – January 6th 2014

Today it is the feast of the Epiphany. Traditionally it is thought that the three wise men, or three great kings from the East, finally arrived at an insignificant cattle shed in Bethlehem, on January 6th, to find the newborn Jesus lying in a manger.  Through their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, astrology and ancient prophesies, they had followed the great star and brought priceless gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby – symbols of wealth, healing and power. Through revelations they had realised that something profoundly important had happened for mankind and they wanted to witness it and pay homage.

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The word epiphany comes from the Greek epiphania “to show, make known or to reveal”.  It usually means a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation.  It can be used to describe scientific breakthroughs as well as religious or philosophical discoveries.  Apart from the January 6th religious Epiphany, other examples of famous epiphanies are Archimedes’ (the leading scientist of classical antiquity) discovery to determine the density of an object and Isaac Newton’s (17th century English physicist and mathematician) realisation that a falling apple and an orbiting moon are both pulled by the same gravitational force.

However – don’t think that only famous people can have an epiphany, we can all have them if we are awake to the possibility.  An epiphany can be thought of as a sudden realisation or comprehension of the larger essence or meaning of something. It is a drawing together of separate bits of information and suddenly seeing a whole new interpretation or perspective. The following story is a favourite of mine and illustrates what I mean:

After years of searching, the seeker was told to go to a cave, in which he would find a well.  “Ask the well what is Truth,” he was advised, “and the well will reveal it to you”.

Having found the well, the seeker asked that most fundamental question.  And from the depth of the well came the answer, “Go to the village crossroad: there you shall find what you are seeking”.

Full of hope and anticipation, the man ran to the crossroad, to find only three rather uninteresting shops.  One shop was selling pieces of metal, another sold wood, and thin wires were for sale in the third.  Nothing and no one there seemed to have much to do with the revelation of Truth.

Disappointed, the seeker returned to the well to demand an explanation, but he was told only, “”You will understand in the future”.  When the man protested, all he got were the echoes of his own shouts.  Indignant for having been made a fool of – or so he thought at the time – the seeker continued his wanderings in search of Truth.  As years went by, the memory of his experience at the well gradually faded until one night, while he was walking in the moonlight, the sound of sitar music caught his attention.  It was wonderful music, and it was played with great mastery and inspiration.

Profoundly moved, the truth seeker felt drawn towards the player.  He looked at the fingers dancing over the strings.  He became aware of the sitar itself.  And then suddenly he exploded in a cry of joyous recognition: the sitar was made out of wires and pieces of wood and metal, just like those he had once seen in the three stores and had thought to be without any particular significance.

At last he understood the message of the well: we already have been given everything we need; our task is to assemble and use it in the appropriate way.  Nothing is meaningful as long as we perceive only separate fragments.  But as soon as the fragments come together into a synthesis, a new entity emerges, whose nature we could not have foreseen by considering the fragments alone.

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Story of Synthesis told in “What we may be” by Pierro Ferrucci, 1982.

The process of synthesis is visible everywhere in the natural and human world – cells assemble to form organisms, letters join to form words, musical notes combine to create music. The whole is so much greater than the parts themselves.  If we let our mind only focus on the individual parts that make up the whole entity, we can get very disillusioned and can miss the point entirely; we can’t see the wood for the trees.

Many of my clients come because they experience an imbalance in their lives, a feeling of dis-ease and a sense of meaninglessness because they do not know that the individual trees are part of a vibrant wood.

“The disease of our age is a lack of purpose, lack of meaning, lack of commitment on the part of individuals…commitment is more than a decision.  It is the functioning of an individual who is searching for the directions that emerge within himself …” (Carl Rogers, 1983)

You may know the following story:

Several blind men were placed around an elephant and asked to describe what they could feel with their hands.  One told of a long, thick rope that ended near the ground and which moved around; four others told of tree trunks that were tall and strong and planted on the earth; while another described a thin bit of string with a furry bit on the end.  Each of them described only the part of the elephant that they could feel in front of them – the trunk, the legs and the tail.  How could they know that these separate bits were integral parts of a huge elephant?  They were amazed when they were allowed to walk around the animal and synthesise all the bits they could feel into knowledge of a whole, living creature.  It all made sense.

It is a powerful realisation to see that we “already have been given everything we need; our task is to assemble and use it in the appropriate way.  Nothing is meaningful as long as we perceive only separate fragments.  But as soon as the fragments come together into a synthesis, a new entity emerges, whose nature we could not have foreseen by considering the fragments alone”.

May 2014 be a year when you take stock, become aware (again) of all the separate fragments of your life – your upbringing, culture, skills, resources, talents and much more. May you rejoice in all the different parts of yourself and your life, acknowledge them, be grateful for them and bring them consciously together into a synthesis so that a new whole emerges. It is not your birth, circumstances or wealth or poverty that is important.  What really matters is the knowledge of who you really are – a realisation of your own magnificence that is beyond the sum of your parts! As a wonderful Blue Grass song states (aptly named “Elephant Revival”), “I was living in poverty because I could not see my wealth”.  This expanded self infuses the parts and gives life and meaning to the whole.  This shift in perspective then frees you to acknowledge the magnificence in everyone around you. At this level we are all interconnected and move forwards in a greater whole together.  Now that is an epiphany!

Happy New Year!