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On Epiphany


Welcome to my blog, where you'll find substantive, well-researched articles that blend neuroscience, philosophy, poetry, personal reflection, and the latest life coaching tools in service of helping people engage their full potential. 


On Epiphany

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Today is my birthday, and it's also the day of Epiphany, according to Christian tradition, when the three wise men, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, visited Jesus, revealing to the gentiles the physical manifestation of God, of the divine incarnate. 

The word epiphany is derived from the Greek word ἐπιφάνεια, or epipháneia, meaning "manifestation" or "appearance." In classical Greek it was used to describe the appearance of dawn, an enemy in war, and especially the manifestation of a deity to a worshiper.

In contemporary secular usage, an epiphany is defined as "a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event), usually simple and striking; or an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure of a revealing scene or moment." 

I've always loved the coincidence of my birthday and the day of Epiphany, as the leaping-into-light feeling of "aha!" is perhaps my most favorite feeling of all. That we equate the experience of epiphany with the divine, with an absolute clarity that is in and of itself an assurance of inviolable belonging, of not only apprehending a vital truth but embodying that truth, makes delightful sense to me: when we feel the click of sudden insight we feel, as the cliched cartoon image suggests, the brain as lightbulb, as a source of illumination, as that which cuts through confusion, snaps us awake, and—importantly—connects us to an energetic current of life that I've come to understand as, simply, creativity: that life-force, that love-source, that swells our bodies with its urge to be made manifest, made tangible; that lifts our hands into building, that drives our minds to compose and compute and choreograph; that kicks our feet into dancing, unfurls us in loving, and pulls us into and through the rudderless abyss of what is not yet known (ocean depths, outer space, another's heart) in search of that outer edge where the vast other becomes familiar (the curious eyes of the octopi, water on Mars, his vulnerability) and we are reminded afresh of our essential in-tactness, our rightness in the world, not by curling in and away but by questing through and beyond, containing through the spark of connection that which seems, from afar, to mark a severing, a kind of cosmic Do Not Enter.

The experience of epiphany is, more than anything, an act of radical belonging: in its midst we learn that confusion is a symptom of over-steeping in the known, a failure of curiosity. We discover that true freedom—that sudden sensation of clear-seeing—is achieved not through isolation, not by stepping-away and seeing anew, but by climbing into the palm of what beckons from beyond and finding we've always lived there. 

All my life I've lived in devotion to this sensation of sudden-seeing, at times achingly so: when I was a little girl, I used to stand with my head thrown back as far as I could, looking up at the ceiling. I'd longingly scan the little slopes and nooks, wanting so hard to flip the house upside down so that I could make of these details small slides and cozy forts, a playground out of a world at once omnipresent and inaccessible. 

As a teenager and young adult this hunger for re-seeing became at times nearly unbearable as I realized that my experience of the world is always mediated by my perspective of it, and that perspective is necessarily subjective. I was sometimes possessed by an almost obsessive wish to leap out of my own brain and body into that of another: what would it feel like to see the world through his eyes? To feel the sensation of living through her body? At times, I felt trapped, cut off from the full feast of what it is to be alive by the very vehicle of my own existence: I recall vividly the acute agitation I'd feel in the most extreme of these times, how my arms seemed to ripple with millions of tiny bug-like beings scurrying beneath my skin, desperate for air, a way out. 

Maybe you're wondering about my sanity, and maybe I do have the capacity, even desire, to ride the sometimes dangerous edge of what's known, what can be known, what ought to be known, risking pain in the pursuit of what Whitman once called "mad contact" with life. But I don't know how to otherwise exist, and I'm not sure I want to, because the reward of epiphany-seeking is, so far as I know as I enter my 51st year, an ever-deepening capacity for mining the fullness of life—for feeling a sometimes uncontainable joy just by running my fingers through morning-wet grass; for being swallowed by grief so unrelenting that I've no choice but to be cleansed by my tears; for discovering new reaches of ecstasy and pleasure by way of my body's keen knowing; for choosing to love where I used to default to resentment and blame; for learning to see what I've learned to avoid.

I am, of course, still a student in all of these ways, but what I now know for sure--and didn't used to—is that there is always, as long as we're conscious, possibility ahead, even in the depths of our bleakest times. No matter our age, our circumstance, our struggles, we possess an innate need to know what we don't, and to re-see what we do.

This desire, this primal curiosity, is, I believe, our saving grace as a species; what will, if intentionally tapped and nurtured, evolve us into greater empathies, unlikely allegiances, transformative healing, true forgiveness, and ethical innovation.  

Tapping this curiosity, feeding it, celebrating and honing it—this is my life's work, what lifts me up in delight and sometimes leaves me balled-up in tears. So, thank you; thank you for making this work possible by reading and sharing my writing, coming to my retreats, entrusting me as your coach, being my students, and teaching me how to live more fully by striving to do so yourself. 

With much love, and wishes for a year of spangled-seeing and true belonging,



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