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The Anatomy of an Epiphany

4 Steps You Can Take to Prepare for a Life-Changing Revelation

I have been touring around to different cities for book signings and talks for Epiphany and have been getting very interesting feedback, questions and more stories about these dynamic, life-changing moments we call “epiphanies.” By definition, an epiphany is “a moment of sudden or great revelation.” Therefore, an epiphany in itself does not necessarily change your life. But whenever people answer the question I'm always asking them, “What is your greatest epiphany in life?” they always seem to go to events that actually made a profound and powerful difference. When I interview people, I'm objective, and I listen: I don't go in necessarily expecting a dramatic life-changing experience. But over and over again, that's what I end up hearing. Every single person I have interviewed who had an epiphany said it led to great positive change. After 100s of interviews, I've discerned a pattern of four characteristics that accompany life-changing epiphanies.

4 Characteristics of Life-Changing Epiphanies

1. LISTENING. Whether they were calmly contemplating the sky, meditating or praying, clinging to hope in a crisis, desperate to heal, or searching for an answer, people were listening and paying attention to signs and what was going on around them. I say “listening” rather than “looking” because many of the epiphanies, especially the more miraculous ones, almost all had to do with hearing a voice, either of another person, an inner voice or one from a Higher Power.

2. BELIEF. When people had an epiphany, they never doubted for one instant that whatever happened was real for them. They had absolute faith and trust in their experience and themselves, knowing the action they were taking because of their epiphany was right for them, regardless of what anyone else thought.

3. ACTION. Every single person whose epiphany positively changed his or her life took action on their belief in this epiphany and what they felt was true for them. Each of them took the first step toward whatever the epiphany compelled them to do, even if they had no idea what would happen after that.

4. SERENDIPITY. After people began to take action on their epiphanies, circumstances seemed to fall into place so that they could take the next step. It is as if the world conspires to support your decisions and actions, to confirm that you are on the right track. Many of the people I talked to felt the hand of God or some other mysterious, benevolent force in their lives after their epiphanies.

Can We Induce A Life-Changing Epiphany?

People keep asking me “How can I have an epiphany? Can you induce them?” From everything I have read and heard, we cannot really induce these personal, life-changing moments. They are, in essence, mysterious. There is some research out there that I found about “aha moments,” but it's not at all extensive. Scientists are pinpointing the area of the brain that is active when these realizations occur, but they have not been able to induce the personal, life-changing moments in the lab to truly study them scientifically. In fact, one of the constants uniting the epiphanies I have learned about is that they are experienced as somehow mysterious, seemingly uncaused—and as a result, those who undergo them treat them with reverence.

Though we can't necessarily provoke or force epiphanies, because of the four conditions that accompany life-changing epiphanies, I do believe we can prepare and be open to these moments of revelation.

4 Steps to Prepare for Epiphanies

1.) Find ways to quiet the mind and live in the state of “listening” where they occur. If you aren't listening and paying attention, it is much harder to notice and honor these moments when they come.

Some people think that epiphanies only happen when you're going through a crisis, a time when we are compelled to be more acutely aware of our life and its meaning. But that doesn’t have to be the case. We can live our everyday lives in a state of attentive listening, whether that be through meditation, prayer, walking, being in nature or whatever works for us to get us in the place of mindfulness and a quiet state.

2.) We also can cultivate faith and belief in ourselves, so when one of these moments occurs, we embrace, acknowledge, and respect it.

3.) Most importantly, once we have such an epiphany, we can take action on it. When one of these amazing gifts comes to us, the way to honor it is to put it to use. You can start with baby steps. Just move one step in the direction your epiphany is sending you. Then the second step usually reveals itself, then the third step, fourth step and pretty soon you’re running. It's at that point that amazing stuff starts to happen and serendipity is encountered - the fact that the world seems to be arranging itself to urge you on in the right direction.

4.) When you experience serendipity, make sure to notice and trust it and your intuition. If you feel good about the actions you're taking, then you’re probably on the right track.

By always remaining open to the insights that life is offering us, we could be experiencing epiphanies all the time, from very tiny ones to life-transforming ones . . . and life tends to get extremely exciting and interesting when we do.

Adapted from Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform (Harmony Books, January 2011).

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