By now you should be experiencing a few different things. You may find that you are using words you normally would not have used; you may be feeling different, positive feelings. One of my favourite explanations is by Dr. Saul Levine in his book, “Our Emotional Footprint”:
What do you think when someone suddenly changes his or her ideas about life and upends their usual ways of living, schooling, work and family? Many people assume this couldn’t possibly happen to a normal person, that it's a tell-tale sign of “a nut or a knave”.
While it’s true that this could be a sign of a psychological disorder, what if you know that the individual involved is entirely sane? In that case, the radical transformation might be called an “epiphany”, a dramatically new insight into the meaning of his life. This usually occurs after an intense emotional experience in which a person has a revelation, which brings totally new attitudes and perceptions.
This abrupt change is not planned or foreseen by the individual though it might have been yearned for, and is of course unexpected by anyone close to him.
That ‘new state of being’ feels like an “a-ha!” experience, as in “Now I understand!” There is a new clarity to ‘the way things really are!’ The comment, “It was a revelation to me!” often accompanies the new insights.
Revelations and epiphanies occur in a variety of circumstances. They have been experienced after a major catastrophe which one miraculously survived, or after recovering from a diagnosis where death had been predicted. Sometimes they occur during the grieving after a profoundly tragic loss of a loved one. They can occur when one is alone in a prolonged period of silent meditation. Following or during a powerful shared group experience, there may be a communally-inspired epiphany, as in a religious awakening or in an intense retreat.
One experiences an overwhelming feeling of “illumination,” and is propelled into profound happiness, even ecstasy, or tears of joy. Words used to describe these new feelings include “ineffable,” or “noetic,” or “other-worldly.”
When one describes these emotional states and the profound insights about life, listeners’ responses vary: Some people are genuinely impressed, their curiosity piqued, their interests aroused, sometimes with envy. Others will be cynical or even derisive, questioning the truth of the experience or the insights (or even the sanity!)
I have seen people leave their schools, careers and even families because of intense personal transformations. They might join intense ideological groups (religious cults, political movements, mystical communes), or take off on long trips to “find themselves,” or suddenly choose new careers or lifestyles. The changes can be startling: People who had been cantankerous and misanthropic, became kind and warm after an “awakening;” others who had long been intolerant, became supportive to sworn enemies; people involved in long family feuds reconciled into amicability.
But, here are two facts to bear in mind:
1) Dramatic epiphanies do occur in the lives of normal people from all backgrounds and at all ages. Even those with rigid beliefs and rituals can have epiphanies leading to radically new attitudes and behaviours. While core personalities persist, others are struck by the “makeovers” of those they knew.
2) Most often these revelations and epiphanies are short-lived. This is not to disparage the authenticity of the feelings and insights, but merely to state a fact: After a period of months (usually) there is a reduction in ardour and passion, a longing for past familiarities, and a return to the way things were.
The transformations caused by emotional epiphanies don’t simply come “out of the blue”. They are usually the culmination of thoughts that have been brewing and roiling in individuals’ minds and souls over months and years. Those most susceptible to being transformed by epiphanies have usually been dissatisfied with the nature of their lives. Like the rest of us, they are searching for added meaning to their daily existence.
Our lives are odysseys - lifelong quests for some significant purpose and meaning, beyond our everyday routines and materialism.
Bottom line: Epiphanies are usually authentic experiences (except when they’re not).
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Resources: Photo by Giacomo Berardi on Unsplash
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