“Small things start us in new way of thinking.”

— V.S. Naipaul

Many of us associate the word “epiphany” with church sermons during the Christmas holidays or with the three wise men following a star, as in the Feast of the Epiphany.

The meaning of “epiphany” only began expanding from strictly religious to the secular in the 19th century. Now, in our 21st century, we accept many definitions of “epiphany,” including “illuminating discovery, moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes a person in one way or another.”

Even an event that seems insignificant at the time can inspire an epiphany, creating a chain reaction of change. That change can and should better our lives in some way.

One definition of “epiphany” is, “The sudden perception of the essential nature of yourself, of others, of reality.” That’s the definition that makes the most sense to me. It is the “Aha!” moment in our lives that pulls back the curtains and opens windows to a panoramic view. Novelists and mystery writers use moments of epiphany to show the turning point in a character’s life, to show a marked change of opinion or even to conclude the story.

Can epiphanies happen in real life to real people? They can and they do. There is even a body of research into the nebulous aspects of epiphanies. It seems to me that a true life-changing epiphany cannot be experienced unless one is at least open to a change of mind or a change of heart. We all tell ourselves stories. These stories or narratives that run through our minds like a home movie are our perceptions of our world, of ourselves and our own reality. They are constructed from our experience.

In this matter, I can
only speak for myself, relate my own experience. For many years of my adult life, through the early years of marriage and motherhood, I told myself the story of my inadequacy and unimportance.

For whatever reason, I had been brought up to believe that my skills and abilities were meager, my ideas, thoughts and opinions were of little importance to anyone.

Children usually accept themselves at the valuation of their parents. For so many years I accepted this evaluation and told myself the story of my inadequacies. Then one day, for no special reason that I recall, I had that “Aha!” moment. I saw clearly my strengths, intelligence, my talents and abilities. Somehow a light was turned on in a dark room, and the image of myself in that new light was not the one I had carried for so long.

Although the inner revelation, that “Aha!” moment when I saw myself as a strong, worthy person, was almost instantaneous, it took a long time to grow into that image, to integrate and incorporate the true nature of who I was. The story I told myself from that day on was quite different from the one I had been telling for so many years.

Epiphanies are serendipitous. They cannot be summoned or foreseen. We go along living with a set of beliefs about the world. Then suddenly, something changes that reality. It can be something we read or hear or experience. It can be something that comes from a deep longing or deep thinking. It can be an epiphany that changes our lives for the better.

For some years, this framed quote from Ballard has had a place on my desk: “Believe in your epiphanies. Believe in yourself. Take action and watch the world support you.”

It seems like good advice to follow.