Lately, I’ve had a visit from a savage cold and cough. The enforced rest allows me to do things I don’t usually allow myself to do during the work week, including watching Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” yesterday evening. It has also given me a chance to have an epiphany–just in time for the feast of the Epiphany tomorrow.
In “Midnight in Paris,” an unhappy young screenwriter played by Owen Wilson (acting like Woody himself) visits Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws. Walking alone one evening, he discovers that he can travel back in time to Paris in the 20’s, every evening after the clock strikes 12. Among other heroes, he meets Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the wild and dazzling Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I bet most readers of this blog can guess the resolution (spoiler alert, as they say): it has to do with accepting the present rather than living in the past. The protagonist learns that present is unsatisfactory because real life is messy like that, the wheels don’t turn as smoothly as they do in dreams. Before I drifted off to sleep, I picked up A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I read a harrowing account of the hellish life of poor Scott Fitzgerald, who looked so glamorous in his brief cameo in the movie.
This was my epiphany: there is usually quite a story submerged under the insights we have on the path. Take the experience of letting go. In one way, it is a very simple and direct action. Whatever the mind is clinging to right now, drop it and return to an awareness of the present moment,. We all take this action of letting go of thoughts of Fitzgerald or what you had for lunch, returning to the simple, rich experience of being here and now. No matter how raw or unsatisfactory that experience may be (it’s not so much fun when you have a cough), that action of returning to or remembering ourselves usually brings a burst of a fresh, new energy and attention that attunes us to the larger world— a larger intelligence. Yet, as refreshing and energizing as this is, we don’t remember to do it all that often, and we rarely let go completely. We start to make the effort and very quickly remember an email that needs sending.
My epiphany involved realized that letting go completely is the tip of a very big ice berg, the end of a long and winding road, the resolution of a gripping drama—choose your cliché. There are moments of letting go in which a luminous, clear energy and attention appears. The formidable French teacher, Madame de Salzmann described this way: “It is an attention that will contain everything and refuse nothing, that will not take sides or demand anything. It will be without possessiveness, without avidity, but always with a sincerity that comes from the need to remain free in order to know.” This is a revolutionary state in which the act of seeing and receiving is greater than any object, any perceived outer goal. What would it take to land in such a place, to be truly impartial and nonpossessive, to see through to the real aim and meaning of our life?
In the Christian tradition, the Epiphany marks the day the wise men from the East came to pay homage to the infant Jesus. According to Matthew 2:1–12, they followed a miraculous guiding star to Bethlehem and brought gifts of “gold and frankincense and myrrh.” These three wise men or Magi saw through surface appearances to the divinity of Jesus. Their visit was seen as evidence that the Gentiles as well as the Jews would worship Jesus. “Magi,” from which the English word “magic” comes, denotes follower of Zoroaster and was associated with an ability to see through things, including the ability to read the stars and the fate that the stars foretold.
The word “epiphany” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “”manifestation” or “striking appearance,” and it refers to that sudden realization or comprehension or illumination of the larger essence or meaning of something. Usually such moments, even when they come to brilliant scientists, happen after significant labor. Often this labor involves wrong turns and humilitation which leads to humility—which derives from “humus” or earth. Often epiphanies come in moments when we are touching the earth.
After long labor and struggle, much drama, a moment comes when we let go, when we drop it all and return to the simple experience of standing on the earth. There may be a beautiful sensation of putting down the chain we usually drag through life, the chain of karma, or (to put it more modestly) the chain of caring what other people think of you, caring how things come out and if you are a success in the eyes of the world and all that. Instead of being broken by this world like poor, gifted Scott Fitzgerald, we can break free. We can step off the wheel of seeking, of greed, aversion, delusion about better times. We can stop and be still and return to ourselves, which (irony of ironies) is the same as forgetting the self and becoming one with others.
Enlightenment may turn out ot be the simple yet radical act of stopping in the tracks of our seeking and returning to ourselves—to the ground of our real being. It may turn out to involve an action of the heart more than the mind (In other cultures the mind includes the heart and the body). It involves opening to and allowing ourselves to be pierced by the whole blessed story. Sometimes, allowing ourselves to try this–just giving up and letting go and being here–we may discover that miracles never cease.
12 thoughts on “Epiphany”
I think you meant Luke Wilson, though Owen Wilson stars in Midnight in Paris.
Thank you for catching that! I fixed it.
I always loved the “feast” of the epiphiany Tracy! Years ago, I proclaimed January the month of kings…starting with the 3 Magi bestowing gifts to Jesus, celebrated on 1/6.. The KIng of Rock and Roll, ELVIS was born on 1/8 and his music is played all day on most radio stations . Then of course dear Martin Luther King celebrated on 1/18. The beginning of the gregorian calendar starts with magic! Typically our bodies would be moving slower, in the cold, the shorter days, the peace of things would bring a stillness that allows for deep stirings that would lead to great discoveries…..from there we plan our year and proceed. At least it feels that way to me…even with the cloud of the current culture all about …….
I loved that film for the many reasons you mentioned… Lately I feel so present, like I left by burden of baggage somewhere… No doubt I will find that luggage but in the mean time it is “nice to be here”, contented with my very life which is about to change… Tomorrow I am leaving for Geneva Switzerland where my cousin, whom I have not seen in 30years will meet me at the airport and take me to his home in Thoriry France… a solo journey, a pilgrimage of adventure and reconnecting.and discovery…Leaving home when one is connected to their life and loved ones is the only time to leave home, such a good place to be standing(as opposed to disconnected or discontented.
May your cough and cold fade away and have you up and about,.In the meantime your writings are delightful and insightful, enjoy the movies.
bon au revoir,
Judy have a wonderful, wonderful adventure! I will be thinking of you!
I’ve not read any of your blogs before but I’ve no doubt that I would like to read some more after this . Thanks it captured me.
Thank you. Please do read more, and let me know what you think.
Thank you for your beautiful and insightful words. I have experienced moments where I am so thoroughly exhausted, I have had no choice but to let go and other moments when I am so thoroughly in the moment that I unconsciously let go. For myself, there are different paths to letting go. One path can require such herculean effort that there comes a moment when the legs can step no further and letting go is release. While another path is so joyous that letting go is just losing ego to the moment.
Truthfully, I like most the letting go that comes from joy. When letting go is the result of great suffering, it can feel like the illusory warmth that a dying person on a cold mountain feels. I know the release that comes after suffering leads to greater compassion and deeper self-knowledge but I still wish that life was bliss.
I think of Jim Morrison,
“I tell you this;
No eternal reward will
Forgive us now for
Wasting the dawn…”
Thank you for reading and replying, Elizabeth. I’m afraid I don’t agree that letting go after suffering is an illusory warmth, a hallucination like freezing people feel. In fact, I think that letting go after effort is a great bliss.
I am certainly behind on my blog readings, it must have been the trip to Italy that caused me to fall so far behind. ;-)
Our trip was certainly striking in appearance and full of many manifestations and epiphanies along the way, great visions and vistas certainly. Christmas there was wonderful, lacking the commercialism we find so much of in North American, a sacred celebration, with nativities displayed nearly at every corner.
Our mutual friend, Luke Storm, recently shared this quote, and it is worth sharing again now.
“Were Christ born a thousand times in Bethlehem, and not in thee, thou art lost eternally.” – Angelus Silesius
The stories of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are stories that point us towards giving birth to God’s infinite compassion, God’s love at work within the world, and to saying yes to this compassion.
If I may, I’d like to share the following, in thanksgiving to the community you have helped to create here and for Parabola, and the many blessings it offers to all of us. Simply because it touches on how interconnected we with one another through all our relationships, through writing and reading, and blogging away. Through words, word by word, thought by thought, we are brought into relationship with one another, and these relationships are a manifestations of God’s love working within the world, helping us to grow.
Oh, and in closing, I’d still like something from you as well to share with others on the Saint Julian site.
The trip to Italy for Christmas sounds wonderful….celebratory and free from the commercial push. Something new to aspire to! And thank you for sharing your post. I agree that in our mutual writings and postings we manifest a special kind of community, aspiring (like Christmas in Italy) to something generous and meaningful.
Hi Tracy, you wrote:
“The word “epiphany” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “”manifestation” or “striking appearance,” and it refers to that sudden realization or comprehension or illumination of the larger essence or meaning of something. Usually such moments, even when they come to brilliant scientists, happen after significant labor. Often this labor involves wrong turns and humiliation which leads to humility—which derives from “humus” or earth. Often epiphanies come in moments when we are touching the earth.”
I remember having an epiphany, if it can be called that, during a recognition of the meaning of Christmas.
First the idea of the virgin birth is really incredible. I believe Mary and Joseph were products of an esoteric school which is why Joseph’s lineage is important. Mary apparently was such a woman that was not tainted on the inside as is our norm. There was a purity of emotion that could receive the life force that enabled the virgin birth.
Apparently the wise men knew that astrologically the time was right to allow for the arising of Jesus’ physical form free of original sin since Mary was so pure. They were astute enough to comprehend the purpose and life of Jesus even as a baby.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh honor Jesus “being” and purpose. Gold represents eventually becoming king, (apex of man’s conscious evolution). Frankincense is associated with priests and temples. It represents Jesus esoteric tradition that not only allows his development but reveals the path to others. Myrrh is associated with embalming corpses.
The conscious quality of Jesus’ death is what will allow for re-birth and the essential purpose of Christianity to be actualized: the transformation of one level of being into another. Myrrh honors the necessity of this death.
My epiphany was realizing my insignificance. Like Socrates, I know nothing. I was Mr. Dingbat in front of it and completely oblivious of the depth of reality the birth of Jesus is an expression of. The epiphany could only be sustained for a short time
Thank you, Nick. There is a deeper reality, I know that much. We skim along on the surface most of the time. But sometimes we have an inkling.