Ah, the epiphany. The hallowed ground of aha! The unexpected flash of insight. A lightning bolt of wisdom straight outta who-knows-where.
It’s like a mindset orgasm. And it’s the holy grail of this (not so) humble blog.
If I could manufacture an epiphany for you, I would do it every ding dong day
Alas, I can’t just cook one up. There are no tools, processes, or black magic that can birth such a thing. That’s one reason epiphanies are priceless.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know it’s a jewel of an experience that’s always on my radar. And this week it was dropped on my place setting in several ways.
An astronaut’s peak experience may reach the heights of an epiphany, so they’re often synonymous
I’m really excited to learn more about peak experiences, and what it takes to put yourself in position to have one, when I interview Mindy Howard, founder of Inner Space Training. Her organization helps new astronauts and space tourists overcome mental and emotional challenges to reach peak experiences in space.
That interview is happening Thursday, April 28th, at 11AM PST. Mark your calendars.
More details in Monday’s newsletter (you gotta subscribe to get the extra treats I pack in there). I’ll also post them here around the same time.
Next, in the Wall Street Journal this week, six “luminaries”, including a Harvard science professor and a documentary filmmaker, were asked to say something about epiphanies. It’ll take <5 minutes to read, so I encourage you to do so. But let me bring your attention to two particular points of view.
From award-winning playwright/screenwriter Tony Kushner:
“There’s something like a hallelujah imprinted in the word epiphany. The force of these moments is part of the reason we even create a category like epiphany. They chasten you, suggesting that there are levels of meaning and comprehension available that choose human beings rather than the other way around.”
Ok. It bears repeating. Epiphanies can’t be induced.
The conditions can be right for an epiphany to occur. But you can’t order one up at the drive-thru
However. What’s interesting about this perspective is that, when you try to make sense of it all – when you’ve had the aha! and you’re standing there, with your jaw on the ground, parsing the Amazing that’s just occurred – you can also realize that this wasn’t something that happened TO you. It’s something that happened WITH you. FOR you, even.
The universe somehow recognized a fertile field, then planted its eye opening seed.
That’s pretty cool.
And from novelist Elizabeth Gilbert:
“The reason epiphanies feel so surprising is twofold. First, it’s the surprise of seeing a truth revealed. Second, it’s the deep shock of wondering why it took you so long to see it in the first place. It’s something that was there all the while.”
This is the meat-and-potatoes of epiphanies. It’s not like a veil is pulled back to reveal giants exist or we’re all made of LEGO. No.
The reward – the insight of epiphanies – is understanding
Suddenly there’s one less mystery in a world full of them. You’re a step closer to universal truth, even if that’s never fully within reach.
Awe is not necessary for an epiphany. In fact, awe can often happen after the fact. But awe has much in common with epiphanies.
For instance, psychologists discovered awe “typically includes feelings of vastness—something larger than a person’s self or experience—and accommodation—that a person expand their understanding of the world to include this new information”. “It often occurred when a person had an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world” and it “makes you re-evaluate what you actually know.”
Familiar, eh? It continues.
“Awe also encourages people to account for what they’re experiencing. When you’re feeling this emotion, “you have this strong motivation to explain what’s in front of your eyes,” says Piercarlo Valdesolo, an assistant professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College. A couple years back, he and a colleague looked at how people deal with the uncertainty inherent in awe. They found that awe seems to nudge people towards “agentic explanation”—they’re less likely to accept that something happened randomly.”
“Instead, they’ll attribute it to an agent, like a god, a supernatural force, or a person.”
Kushner may ascribe divine agency to the stroke of insight, but people still want the cause of awe to be logical and rational.
One of the best parts of awe, like epiphanies, is the after-effect, the glow
According to University of Houston assistant professor, Melanie Rudd, “awe promoted generosity. It also improved participants’ ethical decision making. A paper still under review indicates that awe makes people more humble, too.”
“We actually experience awe a lot more frequently than we think,” says Rudd. We encounter something in the big wide world, our minds opens as we look for an explanation, and as a result we open up to connecting to other people. “But if you are keeping yourself in your routine of life, it’s going to be hard to experience that feeling of accommodation,” she says. “Just going out into newness, you’re going to be more likely to run into something that’s awe-inspiring.”
And THAT, my fine friends, is why I write: to help you think differently, try something new, expand your mind, and reap the rewards.
I hope you find it awesome.