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In my experience, meaningful transformation always starts with some type of epiphany—a realization that suddenly puts life in a new perspective and informs what you need to do from this point forward.
I’ve always been fascinated by these moments, when something suddenly makes sense in a way it didn’t before and change seems much more possible.
With this in mind, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Elise Ballard’s book Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform.
“Inspiring, thought-provoking, and eye-opening, Epiphany shares deeply intimate stories of people from all walks of life, from public figures like Maya Angelou, Deepak Chopra, Ali MacGraw, and Barry Manilow, to personal acquaintances and lifelong friends, to new contacts made in the most unexpected and serendipitous of circumstances.”
Since this is a long interview, I’m going to jump right in! But first…
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1. How do you define the word “epiphany”?
In the dictionary, the simplest definition is “a moment of great or sudden revelation.” Since I am asking about people’s greatest epiphanies in life—the biggest ones, the ones that have had the greatest impact—I say an epiphany is “a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes your life in some way.”
But when I’ve asked people for their definitions, people define it a myriad of beautiful and accurate ways, such as an opening; a realization; a portal to the Divine; a moment that changes the lens through which you view your life; a clarifying direction; and I love Maya Angelou’s definition: “the occurrence when the mind, the body, the heart and the soul focus together and see an old thing in a new way.”
2. How did you choose the people to include in your book?
The basic common denominator for everyone that I reached out to interview was that I admired them for whatever reason.
This was because I began to understand that these epiphanies contain some of our greatest wisdom and if I could know the epiphanies of people I admired, I would probably be getting some amazing insights and wisdom to utilize in my life and to share with others.
So I interviewed friends of mine; colleagues I’d worked with; people I just met along the way of life and found interesting; people referred by friends, colleagues, people I’d interviewed or had been suggested to me via my website; and then some people I simply cold-called for an interview because I admired what they were doing out in the world and either they had touched my life directly or are making a great impact in my opinion.
3. Many of the stories in your book are quite personal in nature—yours included. Do you feel that vulnerability is essential if we hope to learn from each other?
Interesting question. Is it essential? Probably. If you want to learn from each other in deep ways, that is. I think you can learn from one another if you’re not completely vulnerable, but it’s most powerful if you are willing to be vulnerable and open yourself up to what was really true and tell your stories.
There is tremendous strength in it, and we learn in the deepest, most visceral ways when we can be open and vulnerable with one another. The strength of that willingness and act of love really allows us to relate on a very human level.
It allows us to truly feel and understand and be strong, open, and inspired and it also helps us to not feel so alone. If you are willing to be vulnerable and tell your story, others can be inspired by knowing, “If they can do/survive/feel/say that, I can too.”
Andrea Buchanan expresses this beautifully in her epiphany when she says, “If you can tell your story, you will heal yourself, and you’ll help others do the same.” And it’s true. Usually our epiphany stories are deeply personal, intimate stories, and we’re definitely willing to be vulnerable when we tell them.
4. Was there any one epiphany that taught you something you didn’t know about yourself or the world?
There were so many! (If not all of them in one way or another, and I’m not just saying that.) I think that one of the ones that had the greatest impact on me personally was Kristin Neff’s about self-compassion. I’m not sure I had ever really thought about self-compassion before.
The way she said it in that moment, I had an epiphany, which is the way this works a lot of the time. You hear someone else’s epiphany and then it gives you one. She said something like, “I realized I would never talk to a friend half as harshly as I talk to myself and thought, what am I doing? Stop it.”
I realized that was exactly what I had been doing—berating myself mercilessly inside. I could relate to the idea of talking to myself as I would a friend, and Kristin was right, I would NEVER speak to a friend half as harshly as I would talk to myself. In the same situations, I know I would actually speak lovingly to a friend and mean it.
So what happened was I started catching myself when I’d berate myself and stop, and then talk to myself the way I would talk to a friend in the same situation. It has transformed my life on a very interesting level that I didn’t even know needed to be transformed because I didn’t know it existed!
For some reason I don’t think I ever understood self-compassion or even had any idea what it was. The way Kristin described it just made perfect sense to me and changed me on the spot. I’ve been aware of it and practicing it (or at least diligently attempting to practice it) ever since.
5. Did any of the epiphanies surprise you, based on what you knew about the thought leaders who shared them?
Yes. Almost every single epiphany story I heard surprised in some way.
The epiphanies of Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, and Deepak Chopra surprised me in their absolute simplicity and the clarity in which they recounted them. I expected some incredible, dramatic stories considering they have all led somewhat dramatic lives and yet while their epiphany was dramatic for them, the actual moments were often quite quiet and intimate.
I will admit I was almost a little bit disappointed when I first heard them. But then when I went back and worked with the epiphanies, I realized the absolute power in them.
I also wasn’t expecting Alison Armstrong’s background story she talks about AT ALL. Newman’s story starts when she’s 11 and she had her first epiphany related to birds, which I wasn’t expecting and seemed totally random at first. I had no idea about her background in ornithology and actually learned a ton about birds of prey like hawks, falcons and eagles just from our interview!
I also thought Andrew Ko’s was interesting in that he directly talks about his experience being Korean-American and since he was born and raised in America, I guess when he said he had an epiphany to share, I didn’t think it would be something about his heritage. It’s an interesting look into the immigrant experience that I’d never been exposed to firsthand. I’ve never heard an epiphany like his before or since actually.
I also thought it was interesting in the cases of Diane Warren, Cory Booker, Rabbi Shmuley and Florence Horne (my eldest contributor at 91 years of age) that their greatest epiphanies happened when they were 7, 12, 13 and 10 respectively. It doesn’t matter what age you are—the wisdom from an epiphany can guide you at any age!
6. You say there are four “patterns” that are present in all epiphanies—what are these four things?
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. They were open to these moments. I say “listening” because many of the epiphanies, especially the more miraculous ones, almost all had to do with hearing a voice, either an inner voice or one from a Higher Power.
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.
Action. Every single person whose epiphany positively changed his or her life took action. All 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.
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 (not all) of the people I talked to felt the hand of God or some other mysterious, benevolent force in their lives after their epiphanies. Someone recently told me that he felt this 4th thing could also be called “Receive.” And I agree with this.
Serendipity starts to happen and then everyone whose epiphany changed their life was open to receive it—they were aware of it when it happened, were grateful for it, and kept looking for more of it. And hopefully, eventually, we all start expecting it and then listening, believing, acting, receiving all become a normal part of our lives, a way of living, and epiphanies are something that we are having and acting upon all the time without them having to come from a huge crisis or disruption in our lives.
7. What do you think are the biggest barriers that keep us from having epiphanies, and how can we overcome them?
Not listening. Not quieting the mind ever so you can’t “hear” or pay attention to what is going on inside you or in the world around you. To overcome this one, you need to find ways to quiet your mind. Do whatever works for you to do this, whether it be meditation, prayer, walking, writing, driving, swimming, yoga, whatever.
Find ways to quiet your mind and start paying attention to your heart and mind and to others and the environment around you. Really start to listen in life—to yourself, to others, to the world.
Another barrier is when an epiphany occurs, some of us have the tendency to not believe in it. Not trusting. Thinking you’re crazy or that it’s stupid. Or believing someone else who tells you that. By definition, an epiphany is a moment of sudden or great revelation, so you can have an epiphany but it won’t change your life unless you take action on it.
By not taking action on what you feel compelled to do is a huge barrier to realizing the potential of the epiphanies. Then I think you must notice and appreciate and learn to expect serendipity come into play once you’ve started taking action.
I’ve heard it and seen it happen for others and experienced it for myself over and over and over again. The more you’re aware of and appreciating serendipity, the more you’ll have it.
I think another thing that happens is that people gloss over these moments. They have an epiphany and then they forget about it. We need to honor these moments and think about them and talk about them. I’ve found they contain some of our greatest wisdom, so they’re important, not only to us but to others— especially our loved ones so I encourage people to share them.
I think the more you’re looking at them and talking about them and are listening, believing, taking action and noticing and appreciating serendipity, the more epiphanies you have and the more exciting and fun life gets.
8. What is the main message you hope readers take away from your book?
We all can and do have epiphanies—no matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what your age is, no matter what your beliefs are. When we listen to them, are aware of them, believe in them and take action on them, not only will incredible serendipitous experiences start to occur, but miracles can happen.
I want people to know they can cultivate within themselves and in their lives an environment to have epiphanies by developing ways to quiet the mind to listen and pay attention and develop belief in themselves so they can take action on their epiphanies, because whether we all like it or not, we are all putting ripples out into the world.
When we can live our lives in flow and in tune with our inner voices and epiphanies, not only can we change our lives for the better, but we can and will effect change around us that will then ripple out into the world. The question is: What do you want your ripples to be?
I always say, “Believe in your moments of revelation, believe in yourself, take action, and watch the world conspire to support you. And then share your stories. Share your wisdom. Share your experience. It’s so important, for ourselves and for others, especially our loved ones.
FTC Disclosure: I receive complimentary books for reviews and interviews on tinybuddha.com, but I am not compensated for writing or obligated to write anything specific. I am an Amazon affiliate, meaning I earn a percentage of all books purchased through the links I provide on this site.