He’s a little dazed and giddy. Words free flow as energy makes his body restless in the chair. He chats in circles, sometimes connecting thoughts and other times leaving half sentences hanging in midair. I hold the space for him to find his way, thinking this is like trying to tune in a radio station on one of those old “tube” radios as it warms up.
Finally, he zeros in on a frequency.
“I’ve had an epiphany,” he says. And then, “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening to me.”
You got that right, good man. Something is happening to you. That is, this is nothing you’re doing, nothing you’re deciding. This is outside-in.
“All my wife has been asking — for years now — is to be recognized and loved. In their own way, my children, too. What was I thinking? What have I been doing? How is it possible to be so blind for so long and to think everything is just fine!”
Incredulity is the right response to an epiphany. Incredulity is the wonderful, delicious (and awkward, frightening and uncomfortable) moment when everything you think you know and think you believe slams into a Deeper Reality. A Deeper Truth. And there, suddenly, you “get” that you don’t know anything much at all.
You feel like a naked newborn, squalling helpless into the night.
It’s time to see the star again/ To ponder whether anything is changing/ To give this life a chance again/ To open up a window for the soul/ And just like this time last year/ That same star will turn and say/ Will you bring your gift to the birth of love/ Or just turn and walk away.
An epiphany is an in-breaking. No one knows why or how they happen. Or why they don’t. Or maybe epiphanies are always happening, always around us. In which case no one knows why or how they are suddenly recognized and acted upon. Or recognized and refused. Or never recognized.
Epiphany experiences are and will remain a mystery. Which is part of why epiphanies are so utterly cool when they happen to you. Or when, like me today in this office, you get to be an audience to an epiphany rippling through someone else.
For Christians, Epiphany is a liturgical feast day (Jan. 6, although the date varies in some churches), recalling and retelling the story of a star beckoning three astrologers (the Magi) to the birth of Jesus. This epiphany was a cosmic in-breaking, recognized and acted upon by “Three Wise Men.” They followed the star. They were obedient to the signs and energies inviting them forward into a new life. A new understanding of themselves and the world.
Every now and then a star shines brightly/ And hovers over a new chance to live life differently/ Born today is an outrageous possibility/ What we if were loved, and darkness was redeemed/ Maybe then we wouldn’t have to clutch and grab at things/ Maybe then we could embrace our joys and sufferings/ Do we dare believe that love created everything/ ’Tis the season to go wandering after the star.”
But epiphany experiences are not the sole property of religion or religious people. The “secular” definition doesn’t change the power of the reality: “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” (The Oxford English Dictionary)
Epiphany experiences are about birth all right — our birth! And rebirth! Again and again life presents the invitation to burn down our limiting, inauthentic, not-so-useful, not-so-lovely and sometimes really unhappy, unpleasant or even destructive ways of being in exchange for a new vision of self and the world.
A better vision.
I tell the man he reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge who, after an epiphany of three dreams, is standing in his pajamas on a snow- crusted balcony, tossing money over into the street, giggling and dumbstruck, like a man bailing water out of a foundering boat.
Like an innocent child.
Incredulity is the first response to epiphany. Gratitude should be the next. Thirdly, action! Go. Do. Redeem your past self now with every breath, word and deed.
It’s time to see the star again.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.