Last week I described my year-end process of reflection. I loved the stories readers left in the comment section. As you’ll see below, they influenced my process.
One reader, Gwen Stamm, spurred a question in my mind. Is there a word that could combine both the idea of play and discipline, two superficially opposite ideas? I pondered . . . .
Then my husband Stuart sent me an article The New York Times called How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity.
As I read the article, I began to feel some familiar symptoms. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, describes the moment of arrival of a new idea this way: “The hairs on the back of my neck stood up for an instant, and I felt a little sick, a little dizzy.”
This is it, I thought. Here comes the gift I’ve been waiting for all December and knew would arrive just in time.
I’ve long been a fan of this word and of the experience I thought it named. But the article deepened my understanding of the term, its history, and its application to my life now. Like most people today, I’ve used this term to mean a lucky coincidence. But when the word first arose, in 1754, it meant having a special skill for observation. In that way SERENDIPITY is not about luck but about cultivating an ability to NOTICE.
When we are consciously looking for CONNECTIONS, my word for 2014, we find them more often. Even mistakes and blind alleys can lead us into the light when we expect SERENDIPITY. An information science researcher at the University of Missouri, Dr. Sandra Erdelez, says that when it comes to intentional observation, three groups exist: the non-encounterers, the occasional encounterers, and the super-encounterers.
The super-encounterers want to know how to cultivate the art of finding what they’re not seeking!
They are like the three wise men seeking the baby Jesus in the story Christians celebrate on this day, January 6 as Epiphany. (The fact that I started to write this post before I knew it would be published on Epiphany just gave me one of those little electric thrills.)
Epiphany in Christian faith is the story of the first revelation of the Christ child to the gentiles. It also has a literary and psychological history as a feeling. This feeling, sometimes described as a breakthrough, or Eureka! moment, is rare. It often follows a long search. James Joyce, especially in Dubliners, probably did more than anyone to secularize the word epiphany. The term, however, continues to carry a spiritual meaning because it requires a leap from known to unknown rather than a logical extension of facts.
Since I chose this word on January 3, I’ve already had several epiphanies. Friends who have heard what I plan to do in 2016 (the subject of my next blog post) have used the word SERENDIPITY to describe how their quest and mine relate to each other. One of them has proposed a collaboration based on the name of my next writing project.
Oh wait, I didn’t tell you about my next writing project yet. The time must not yet be ripe. Until then, I expect to find more things I’m not seeking. 🙂
I know many of you have written or will write about your word. Please include a link to your post if you have. Did you experience any SERENDIPITY in your quest for a theme word? Do tell!