An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but we can also use it to describe those musical experiences which have instantly given us an understanding of the heart, of our fullest potential.
Another term for epiphany would be bodhodaya, from Sanskrit bodha ‘wisdom’ and udaya ‘rising’. Buddha, sitting under the Bodhi tree, had his epiphany of Nirvana. The Zen term kensho also describes this moment, referring to the feeling attendant on realizing the answer to a koan.
The Christian feast day of Epiphany celebrates the coming of the 3 Magi, whose lives were utterly changed by what they witnessed in the infant Jesus.
As musicians, we have all had these moments where our lives have been changed forever: an enthralling performance with a great artist, a sudden realization in the practice room, or an especially powerful moment with a great teacher. Our lives have been shaped and guided by these moments, and we strive for more.
Epiphanies come from a depth of prior knowledge and experience, and don’t come easily. When our minds are still and our hearts are open, musical epiphanies can come more readily, giving us a clarity of understanding that is far more powerful than any book learning could ever offer.
In this new year, I encourage you to look back over 2016 and salvage those musical moments that have pointed to your highest potential as a musician and human. Leave the rest—the mistakes, the failures—buried in the past.
Take those musical epiphanies and use them as seeds to plant in your new year. Bring the calmness of mind and openness of heart into each of your practice sessions.
Epiphanies can’t be forced, but you CAN create the space for them to happen.
Create the space by taking time to be quiet. Take time to get off the dopamine addiction of our phones. Spend time in nature, or simply in silence.
May 2017 be a year of deeper experience for us all, bringing the hope, courage, and energy needed to overcome all obstacles that keep us from expressing our fullest potential.