Tuesday, November 14, 2006

This Magic Moment ...

Today's word is "epiphany."

There are several meanings for this one -- primary and specific is the religious revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, in the book of Matthew.

A bit more generally, epiphany is a manifestation of a spiritual or supernatural being.

The third meaning is more general still -- it is a sudden and usually unexpected realization or insight, the "Aha!" moment
when you get something. It's the forehead-slapping, oh-wow! how could I have missed seeing this? second. You come to Jesus, or you come to realize something in a visceral way that, in the moment, is very tangible. Like the sound of a seatbelt latch snicking into place, something clicks! and you are locked in.

Sometimes these moments can be huge. Cosmic consciousness, connection to the divine, a pattern recognition that stretches across your personal universe and alters your life, maybe the lives of everybody around you. Of that moment, you know who you are, what you need to do, and how to do it, and your place in the scheme of things. Nearly every religion I've spent any time studying has this concept, and there are a lot of names for it, nirvana, samadhi, zen, beholding the Divine, attaining bliss, the cosmic thunderbolt, the finger of God, the kundalini risen ...

Most people don't get a lot of those moments. If you get one in a lifetime, you might consider yourself blessed. Or maybe like Cassandra, cursed. But whichever, you won't be the same afterward. The fire anneals and re-tempers you, and you come out different.

The smaller epiphanies, the ones that come as you struggle to understand something, be it emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically, are more frequent, less overwhelming, but, as I am discovering, something you can cultivate.

On the one hand, these moments aren't dependable -- you don't know when they'll happen.
On the other hand, they are dependable -- if you work at it, they are going to happen sooner or later. At least in my experience.

On a typical day, most of my time is spent doing the things most working people do -- I get up, get dressed, go to work. In my case, I don't have to get very dressed, and commuting to work involves walking down the hall to my office, but still.

There are several things I do on a typical day that I try to do well: I write, I do pentjak silat, I practice the guitar. (I also interact with my dogs, sometimes hike to the local Safeway, or the post office, and do other errands. And put it all away when my wife comes home from work to be with her. And there are kids and grandkids and other activities, too.)

Of late, I have had several small -- or maybe not so small -- epiphanies. They are not the end of the journey, but they are mileposts along the path.

One day in silat class, it came home to me that I knew enough of the art to use it. Not mastered, far from it, but during one of those fumbling attempts to add a new piece, I realized that the reason I couldn't do what I wanted in that moment was that I was thinking and not doing. Of course, that's the nature of learning in a class -- a new thing can't be internalized the same way a repeated move can. It blossomed in me that, if I wasn't following directions to do-it-this-way, that if I were turned loose and told just do whatever I felt like as the attacker came at me, that I could clean the guy's clock, no problem at all. I had the moves to do it, and they'd be there when I needed them. Simple.

It's not as if I hadn't thought I could before, and it's not as though I won't someday have another Aha! moment that will be different, but that little flash changed the way I felt and moved. Of a second, I was better at it, and I knew it. Right down to my toes.

Same thing happened whilst practicing the guitar. I picked up a new piece of music recently. It wasn't a complex composition, but as I started to play it, it came to me that I could do this, and I could make it sound good. That didn't mean I wouldn't have to work just as hard getting my fingers to go where they were supposed to go as before, but that, in the end, I knew that if I kept it up, I'd learn it, and after a certain amount of time, I'd have it.

These kinds of moments used to happen fairly often in my writing, not as much any more. I think maybe I'm as good as I am apt to get, though now and then, some small bit will flower on the page and I'll grin at it. Of course, I've been writing a lot longer than I have been doing silat or playing the guitar, and there are roads I've been down often enough so I know the scenery. Maybe if I take a different path, I'll see new things.

And my point about all this?

These magic moments are the product of work. They come because you are doing what is necessary to learn something. The timing isn't predictable, but the realization that you can and most like will internalize concepts or movements or feelings as long as you keep plugging away is, for me, a major one. And that one path to the magic is the old Nike TV commerical:

Just do it.

And if you just do it long enough, you will eventually get it.

And there you go. Today's epiphany.