Share your epiphanies.
November 20, 2005 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Share your epiphanies.

I am interested in hearing about people's religious epiphanies -- 'eureka' moments, moments of realization in their life that involve religion and spirituality.

I'm specifically interested in not only those moments that involve adoption of a religion (going from atheism or agnosticism to Christianity, for example), but also those that involve conversion (from Christianity to Wicca, for example) or those that involve only eschewing religion (going from Islam to atheism, for example).

If you don't have an epiphany to share that involves religion, I would still be interested in hearing about a moment in your life where you learned something you still feel is a Great Truth, something you still carry with you and abide by as a maxim.

It probably need not be said, but please respect, at the very least in this thread if nowhere else, everyone's right to believe as they see fit.
posted by WCityMike to Religion & Philosophy (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even if I don't do anything stupid, one of these days I'm going to die, . This just sunk in recently.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:52 PM on November 20, 2005

I never thought of it as an epiphany - but I distinctly remember the moment I realized that I wasn't a Christian. My parents had never taken me to church and our celebration of Christmas/Easter was completely secular, but my parents' actual religious beliefs were never discussed. Around the age of 14, my friend and I were hanging around a laser-tag center waiting for our game to come up while a grungy-looking rock group set up on the sidewalk outside. Being budding punk rockers, we were naturally drawn to the grungy looking guys with guitars so we wandered outside and listened to them play a few minutes before becoming bored and heading back to the arcade games in the lobby. We couldn't really hear the lyrics and we weren't paying too much attention anyway.

Fast forward about 30 minutes - my friend and I are again hanging out, waiting for our ride home when the lead singer from the band approaches us. He asks, "So, did you guys hear what we were saying out there?" My friend and I say no and he counters in an accusatory tone, "Yeah, I saw you guys out there listening to us." We steadfastly stared at our shoes and the singer comes closer and asks us "Do you believe in God?" My friend, whose mother and sister took him to their Catholic church regularly, gave a bashful yes and so did I. Next, the singer asks, "And, do you believe in Jesus Christ?" Again, bushful yes's all around. Thankfully, my mom pulls up to save us from any further interrogation and we quickly jump in her car. The car ride was totally silent and I felt totally dirty. I was disgusted with that guy's approach to us and I had the same sick feeling in my gut that I get when I feel bad about telling a lie. It took a couple hours, but that was the day I decided that I was either an athiest or an agnostic and, more importantly, that I was definitely opposed to organized religion and proselytization.
posted by mullacc at 12:15 AM on November 21, 2005

Life is too goddamn short. Don't hestitate to take chances, opportunities might not present themselves ever again.
posted by anarcation at 12:15 AM on November 21, 2005

A few years ago I sat up in bed and was visited by a bright orange glowing angel, and all of a sudden I felt like I'd sorted out a lot of bullshit in my life... I actually wouldn't rule out the possibility that it was a hallucination or something, however ever since then I haven't really felt able to question the validity of god.
posted by shanevsevil at 12:16 AM on November 21, 2005

I had an epiphany late one night while reading The Plague. But in the morning I'd forgotten it. Seriously.

I should probably reread it.
posted by mookieproof at 12:50 AM on November 21, 2005

Hearing the saying that "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing."

It's a bit trivial, I know, but it's been a comfort, at times. Even taken at the most practical level.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 2:09 AM on November 21, 2005

I like this question. :)

I guess I've had a few "assisted" "epiphanies"... that is, where I didn't just miraculously happen upon what seemed to me to be "ultimate truth" all by myself, but someone else's idea catapulted me into it.

I was raised Catholic but realised at about 17 that this wasn't the path for me. That story isn't much of an epiphany, just a gradual realisation that I had always sort of been pretending to believe what I had always been told was "right" to believe.

But for the next few years I spent quite a lot of time trying to categorise myself. For a while I thought Wicca might be for me, it seems a lot like Christianity (although I don't know any Christians or Wiccans who would like me for saying that), except that to me it seemed a lot more accepting and inclusive of whatever anyone else chose to believe, which is something that's always been really important to me. I'm also pretty pagan in general when it comes down to it, nature is very important to me, and I wish we respected our environment more. I live in the city, but when I'm in the country I wonder what's keeping me in the city... there' something very spiritual about open spaces and crisp fresh air.

I guess eventually I started realising that Wicca wasn't for me either. I believed some of it, but I guess I was starting to understand that "believing some of it" isn't enough to make me Wiccan.

My "epiphany" came when I was reading a Scott Cunningham book on Wicca. He said something along the lines of "if you don't believe all of the things in this book, you're not Wiccan. But there's nothing wrong with that, it's just means you're starting your own religion".

Well, those two sentences meant that I could stop searching for a label, and could just get on with being what I was.

I believe there's a bit of truth in every religion. A friend of mine says that "life has no meaning until you add meaning to it", i think that's very true.
posted by ancamp at 2:15 AM on November 21, 2005

Catholic school, I was probably 8 or 10. Religion class. The teacher asked me to cut a hole in the shape of a star out of a sheet of paper for the next time, at a certain size. Don't remeber why I was assigned this. Did it, cool.
Next class, she sticks it in the back of a box, lights the lamp inside the box, which projects the shape of the star to the wall behind it. And goes, "See, children ? See the star ? God is among us ! God is in the box ! Gather around, look at the star on the wall, God is in the box !"

My epiphany was, "This is bullshit".
posted by XiBe at 2:49 AM on November 21, 2005

I'm an atheist. I don't know when or how I came to disbelieve religion. But I remember the epiphany that taught me to be less smug about it.

In college, I was sitting in the cafeteria with some fellow atheists, and we were all congratulating each other for being so freethinking and highly evolved. The Bible is bullshit for these reasons, etc.

Then these Christian girls from my Bio class walk up, so I ask them what their take is. "Yeah," says my fellow atheist, "how do you reconcile this to that and the other thing?"

They demurred as long as the could, but finally this girl Marisa says, "I don't really take this legalistic approach to it. I know God exists because I feel Him. He's with me in everything I do, and everywhere I look I see Him."

That was a Whoa moment for me. How can you argue that? I know I love my kids, and just because I can't prove it, doesn't make it not real. That's when I realized that for believers, their beliefs are as real as Australia. I further decided that, because I can't establish one universal reality (no one can), there are multiple realities, Marisa's, mine, yours, his, whoever's. And they are all real.

My reality is all-natural. I have never experienced anything supernatural. But if other people have, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are equally qualified to decide.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:54 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

nicely put, Methylviolet.
posted by ancamp at 3:24 AM on November 21, 2005

My answer to this question is in the Atheists, when did you lose your faith? AskMe thread. Lotsa epiphanies there.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:36 AM on November 21, 2005

Why am I an atheist? What is the barrier that stops me believing in God? After a lot of soul-searching and years of thought, I realized that "belief" is a red herring. Sure, I could give you all sorts of logical arguments against His existence. And I once thought this sort of reasoning is what lead to my atheism (and, conversely, that theists were just people who hadn't thought things through). But I now believe that reason is a smokescreen that hides the real issue: I don't FEEL God. God -- the idea of God -- leaves me totally cold.

Now, whether or not God actually exists should have no impact on my feelings. I have great feelings for fictional people: King Lear, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, Uncle Vanya, etc. Despite their unreality, I feel them. They make me laugh and cry, just like real people. But I don't feel God. God does nothing for me. When I think of God, I don't feel awe or happiness or sadness or anger or anything. I feel nothing.

And here's the kicker: I can do a thought experiment and imagine someone proving to me that God exists. And I know that (here's the epiphany)even if He does exist, I STILL wouldn't care. I mean, I would be fascinated in the same way that I'd be fascinated if it turned out there was life on Mars. But ultimately it would just become an interesting fact. I would go on and live my life the same way as before. Or I would grudgingly start following some rules to try to get into heaven. But I STILL wouldn't love God or have any strong feelings for Him one way or another.

People have suggested to me that I could get past this barrier by going thought the motions. Just go to church and pray and worship, even if you don't feel anything at all. Eventually, the feelings will come. This doesn't make sense to me. I work in the theatre as an actor and director. I can spend weeks going through the ritual of playing Hamlet, but when the show closes, I won't feel like Hamlet (some actors do -- I don't).

I don't know how one generates feelings. I don't think it's possible. It's like telling a gay man that if he'll just get married and live with a woman for years, he'll eventually become attracted to her. He won't. He's gay. Heck. It's like telling a straight man that if he just marries and lives with a girl that he is totally unattracted to -- for whom he feels no love -- that he will eventually become attracted to her and fall in love with her.

I guess I only understand (and have only ever felt) romantic love and friendship-based love (which feels very similar to romantic love to me). I don't really understand and can't really imagine any other kind of love. I suspect this means there's something wrong with me. I suspect people are naturally religious, and that my type of atheist -- atheist to the core -- is somehow brain damaged. Or perhaps I am a genetic mutation.

This is interesting, because thought I don't consider it all that important, I DO still think belief in God is illogical. So I've come to the conclusion that it's NATURAL and HEALTHY to believe a lie. And why shouldn't this be true? Why should knowing the truth necessarily be good for you?


I also had an artistic Epiphany: at the time, I was studying theatre in college. But I kept thinking about quitting. I knew I wanted to tell stories, but why in the theatre? I couldn't figure out what theatre had to offer that was special. It seemed like a less-powerful form of film.

People would tell me that the special thing about theatre was that it involved live actors -- that there was this give-and-take between actor and audience. True, and maybe fulfilling to an actor, but I wanted to be a director. I wouldn't get to partake in this communion, and so it didn't seem special enough. I began to think seriously about becoming a movie director.

Then I saw Andre Gregory's production of "Uncle Vanya" (which eventually became the film, "Vanya on 42nd Street.") He had been rehearsing it for five years when I saw it, and it was amazing. It was the best Vanya I'd ever seen, even though he produced it as a rehearsal (actors just wearing their street clothes, beat-up furniture for sets, etc.). The actors seemed to completely become their characters and their relationships felt more real than real life.

You had to be invited to attend, and it had been a total fluke that I'd gotten to see it at all (a friend of a friend had been invited and got sick -- I wound up taking her place). But I went back the next night and begged to be allowed to see it again. Andre Gregory took pity on me and let me in. And what I saw changed my life.

The show was utterly different. The actors were so comfortable in their roles that they were improvising like crazy. They weren't changing the script, but they were emphasizing totally different words, giving their lines new meanings. And they were moving to different places at different times.

One moment I'll never forget: in the play, Sonya begs Astrov to quit drinking. He agrees and swears he will never drink again. And, the first night I saw it, he kept his word. At the very end of the play, Chekhov has him drink a small glass of Vodka, but up until that point, he didn't touch a drop. The second night I saw it, he promised her he'd quit drinking and then -- about three minutes later -- while they were still talking, he reached for the bottle and casually poured himself another drink. The actress playing Sonya saw it, reacted to it (not with lines -- there were no lines in the play for her to use for this -- but with her face), and it colored their relationship for the rest of the play. I realized that both of these interpretations were true to Chekhov's story. The actors knew the story so well that they could slip from one true version to another.

Now I knew the difference between theatre and film. As obvious as it is, I realized that once something has been filmed, it is always the same. But in the theatre, a story can change every night. As a lover of stories, I realized that I BELONGED in the theatre. I BELONGED in a place where you could explore every avenue of a story.

And I realized what my job was as a director. My job has two parts. Part one is to know the play so well that I can explain to the actors what moments MUST be played the same way every time (or "King Lear" ceases to be "King Lear"), and I must ruthlessly compel the actors to stick to these moments (as director, I am the guardian of the story). I call these moments signposts. In between these signposts, I must push the actors to improvise -- to play every possible variation. As the story's guardian, I owe it the right to be fully explored.

I eventually moved to New York and started a theatre company based around this idea.
posted by grumblebee at 4:36 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was brought up in a Christian home and went to a Jesuit school, but after I graduated I travelled for a year and thought I wasn't Christian, wasn't religious, the whole organised thing just didn't work for me.

Recently though, I realised that being Christian (or being religious) doesn't mean going to church and saying prayers and knowing the rosary. It means, essentially, loving god and loving the world and loving the people in it. That's it. Church and prayer and all the rules and everything are one method of living, one way of sharing and expressing your faith, but they are not the only way.

I don't go to church, don't go to confession. I don't think the wafer actually turns into Jesus' body and I don't think the pope is infallible. I've had sex before marriage and I think homosexual sex has the same capacity to be a loving and beautiful act (and the same capacity to be devalued and abused) as heterosexual sex. I don't buy a lot of what the church says and I don't feel at all close to god at church.

But here's the epiphany. God is first, love is first. The church is secondary, it's a way to approach god and to know god. If you don't like that approach... fine. Don't use it. You can still be Christian, still be religious, without all of that.

I see god every day, in the people I love and the world that is dynamic and complex and beautiful. I don't think of god as a man in the clouds who makes rules, but I still believe and that is fine. There is no necessity to believe in any particular way.
posted by twirlypen at 4:58 AM on November 21, 2005

Here. One of them, anyway, and nothing to do with religion in the sense I'm inferring the poster means the word. I've been lucky.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:20 AM on November 21, 2005

Well I recently got out of a long-term relationship (not my decision) and actually when I finally cut things off, emotionally, I felt as if I was waking up from a four-year dream, and I realized a number of things.

One of them is that compassion is next to worthless without truth. Because we're human, of course, we can never be a perfect embodiment of either of them. There are all these people out there who think they can act out of their own sense of compassion and empathy and that will be enough, but if they have no respect for truth, that does little actual good. They help people who package their problems best but even those people aren't really helped, because they've packaged their problems so that no one sees or addresses the root cause.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2005

In contrast to most of the other posts here, I've had a religious epiphany in the past.
Raised Catholic, but never thought anything of it up until high school. A friend from Cross Country my sophomore year of HS committed suicide and I went through that whole "God doesn't exist" phase (or if He did, I wanted no part of it). I remember that whole week between his death and the funeral going to Communion Service; not because it had anything to do with God, but rather that the guy's brother went a lot so some of our class went kind of as a way to support him. The whole time in service, I just went through the whole, "WTF, God" statements. I was sitting at the funeral, thinking the same thoughts, quite troubled as my entire support and belief structure had been torn asunder in onw fowl swoop. Note, that before this, I never had any real faith to begin with; rather it was just a nice, comfy place to be. Kind of. Anyways, I distinctly recall being all emotional distraught and looking up at the stained glass window and all of a sudden, literally all of my burdens, problems, disbeliefs, etc were just lifted. One second, I hated the world and all it stood for; the next moment I was at complete peace, a peace which I attribute to the Holy Spirit. For the first time ever, at that moment, I actually believed in God. However, it's one of those things that unless you've gone through, probably doesn't make a whole helluva lot of sense, nor do I expect it to. This lack of expectation is one of the reasons I can't expect others to have the same religious beliefs as me. And, of course, I've had all kind of smaller epiphanies of sorts following that moment in time, including shortly afterward which only confirmed what I thought had happened.
Lastly, as I would think happens with most Christians, I still go through periods of doubt and despair in my faith. However, in the end, it's always that singular moment in time, staring at that stained glass window at the Atlanta Cathedral that draws me back to God every time. Life's just weird like that, yo.
posted by jmd82 at 7:20 AM on November 21, 2005

When I was 22, I read a book about Dada and the Situationist International. There was this one moment in this one afternoon where it all hit me at once: that to a large extent, I get to choose my life and the meaning I make from it, rather than accepting things (even very basic words and objects) the way my peers or parents or larger society imagined them. So this same afternoon, I walked around my apartment just looking around in amazement, looking at everything that I had and everything that was my life, and realizing that all of it was up for critical evaluation and discussion and then I turned all of my furniture upside down such that all of its functions could be examined and then I strung string in a spiderweb all across the bathroom and my bedroom, such that every movement had to be considered (needless to say, my roommates did not appreciate my revelation as much as I did).

posted by unknowncommand at 7:36 AM on November 21, 2005

Ranging from the life-changing to the trivial -- you decide which is which:

- God doesn't exist.
- Life after death doesn't exist.
- There is no such thing as a soul.
- "Life" is a process, not a thing.

- People believe what they want to believe.

- The purpose of life is to be happy -- but good luck figuring out what that will take for you!

- Time doesn't "exist", per se -- it's merely a convenient benchmark for comparing change.

- The things you own end up owning you.
(Okay, Tyler Durden gave me that one, but it resonated...)

- If you learn just two scales, major and minor, you can figure out all chords without memorizing those stupid guitar charts.
- Most pop music is based on the minor pentatonic scale.
posted by LordSludge at 8:44 AM on November 21, 2005

Here's my ultimate life revelation: If I don't respect somebody personally, and they don't respect me, then FUCK ALL to their opinions.

The day I realized this was the day I got out of depression.
posted by baphomet at 9:03 AM on November 21, 2005

I read Zen is Boring one day earlier this year and thought "wait, if I find meditation sometimes boring (and I do), maybe I'm doing something right after all."

If you really take a look at your ordinary boring life, you'll discover something truly wonderful. Our regular old pointless lives are incredibly joyful -- amazingly, astoundingly, relentlessly, mercilessly joyful.
posted by deliriouscool at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2005

When I was pretty young, I remember being yelled at by my mom for something or other, and going to the living room and sitting under an end table to be alone.

While there, I started praying... a habit I had developed as a kid because I believed in god, despite not really being brought up as religious at all (we never went to church or temple as a family, etc).

After I was done, I thought "what did I really just do?" and I started thinking about all the questions I had about god and religion.

For the next 10 minutes, I had this total movie montage moment where I remembered all the questions I had asked, and the bogus answers I got -- any question that was challenging was answered with "because god made it that way", or "because god has a plan", or "only god knows the answer to that".

It was after this montage ran through my head that I decisively and immediately ceased to believe in a god, and viewed religion as a nice myth or collection of stories that keeps some people happy, but just wasn't for me, because I needed logic and answers, and refused to leave anything to the category of "unknowable".
posted by twiggy at 9:50 AM on November 21, 2005

The following things have led me to moments of sudden righteous understanding and/or awe, in no particular order:

- thinking too much about the nature of thought
- falling in love
- meditation, approximately zen style (I sat under a tree for many days, eventually it worked)
- wondering about the general implications of particle physics (try to always keep in mind the likely nature of the stuff we're all made of.)
- psychedelic drugs (have their limitations, but LSD was interesting)
- reading the principia discordia (long time ago, it struck a chord)
- coming close to death (on five separate occasions!)
- experiencing death (that one was a bit weird.)
- reading some sermon by Meister Eckhart (finally, Christianity made sense!)
- wondering "is there a God?" (I went to church for years, as a child, before it occurred to me to think of God as possibly existing or not)
- meditating on the kabbalah while cross-country skiing (I delved into the inner workings of my psyche)
- first time I really listened to Mozart (symphony no. 41)
- hiking along the shore of my favourite body of water, which is always a spiritual experience.
- walking out on the ice in the winter, a long way, very cold, for no reason, with no plan, until I was too tired to go on, then looking back at the city in the distance.

All those things helped me along.
posted by sfenders at 9:59 AM on November 21, 2005

Previous question about epiphanies
posted by Sharcho at 10:30 AM on November 21, 2005

Third grade, St. Charles Borromeo school , during a school mass, realized that if the priest or my teachers or the Pope had never been dead, how could they genuinely know anything about what really happened after people died? I've been a lapsed Catholic since, and suspicious of any religion that tells people to wait for the afterlife for justice.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2005

I didn't understand my epiphany when I had it. I came out of a below ground room, up some stairs, into the daylight, and there was a tree.

My mind was clear, absolutely clear, for the time between inhale and exhale. I didn't think anything about it at the time.

What is expressible: All value and desire are illusion. Identity and self are an illusion. Happiness and sadness are illusion.

People make stuff up, they call it "identity". They pick some ideas that make them feel safe or happy, they call it "religion". They get what they want or feel they deserve, they say they are "happy".

All that you have, and all the you that there is to have it, exists only between the space of breathing out and breathing in.
posted by ewkpates at 11:13 AM on November 21, 2005

My older brother died two years ago this week and we (my parents, myself) are going to see a "medium" for the third time since his death. I don't consider myself a religious person, though I was raised catholic. Up until our first visit to the medium two years ago I also thought that anyone who claimed to be able to communicate with the deceased was an absolute crackpot.

The first visit probably changed my life the most because I left with a sense that there seems to be something that exists for us after death. She (the medium) told us things that there was no way she could know. She didn't even know OUR names before we went in and by the end she had listed just about every family member we had, as well as myriad other things which would have been impossible to know (I would have to listen to the tapes again to be reminded of all the things she was correct on. Perhaps more importantly, it didn't seem to be a guessing game of sorts where she threw out broad questions and we "filled in the blanks". She just straight up TOLD us things without probing).

I don't expect anyone to believe me unless they have experienced something like this themselves; as I was (and sometimes still am) a disbeliever myself. It is just an experience which I cannot sweep under the rug as a fluke or a con or anything of that nature because she has been so consistent over the years. It is a thrilling and highly emotional experience to which I do not have an answer.
posted by Anizev at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2005

My epiphany came, or at least crystallized, when reading the Watchmen comic book miniseries. Laugh if you must, but Rorschach said something that made me stop reading for a while, as all of my previous doubts and thoughts on reality and the absurdity of religion crystallized around this hard center:
"Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hellbound as ourselves; go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It's us. Only us."

I've had no time for religion of any stripe since.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:53 AM on November 21, 2005

Not really an epiphany but...

I was taking my kid to daycare last week on the el train. She was super-crabby and screaming her head off. I was feeling helpless in quieting her, and could feel the glares of my fellow passengers. I said a little prayer to god to help calm her down. A stop later she was calm.

I started thinking "would god intervene in something so miniscule as my kid annoying train passengers? does s/he intervene in anything?" Then I started thinking "what if my prayer just helped ME to calm down, and that helped her to calm down? Is that itself an answer to the prayer?" I thought "what if prayer does nothing else buy make the person saying it feel reassured? That's some kind of power in and of itself, right?"

Karl Marx said religion is the opiate of the masses. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. If someone's life would otherwise be hopeless or desolate, but they believe with their whole heart that they will go to heaven, then how can they lose at death? Either they never find out they were wrong or they are brought to Heaven. It's kind of like Pascal's Wager.

I try to say thank you to god with some regularity; if s/he's not up there, it at least doesn't hurt for me to remind myself how lucky I am.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:21 PM on November 21, 2005

If someone's life would otherwise be hopeless or desolate, but they believe with their whole heart that they will go to heaven, then how can they lose...?

I agree with this 100%. When I was younger, I thought the most important thing on Earth was braving The Truth. Now I'd prefer to feel safe and happy.

I wish I could believe. I really do.
posted by grumblebee at 12:38 PM on November 21, 2005

The weekend I finally "got" Godel's incompleteness thingy. That's a trip. Also, the Soviet constructivist Lev Vygotsky: mad props.
posted by meehawl at 1:34 PM on November 21, 2005

hmm, I remember another one: the moment when I realized that I had for years been an unconscious atheist. Some sort of Hare Krishna dude accosted me in the street, and asked what sort of religious stuff I believed. I said that I never really thought about it. He replied "But surely you must understand that there has to be more to the universe than this!" Than what? "Than this material world, full of creatures living and dying." (he gestured around to indicate the whole world) Well no, why should there be anything more than that? Where would it be? "Don't you feel that there has to be a more fundamental reality, beyond your senses?" Not really, no. And at that moment I realized that I was an Atheist. (I grew out of it eventually.)
posted by sfenders at 3:25 PM on November 21, 2005

I had a long conversation with a friend one night, trying to figure out why people like religion so much. In the end, we arrived at one conclusion; people like religion because it gives them an excuse to be crazy.

People live repressed, stressed-out lives and are looking for catharasis. Religion gives people a chance to act out their irrationality in a safe environment. People can do all sorts of irrational things in the name of religion, and have it still be acceptable in the name of religious zeal.

Here's a thought experiment to illustrate my point :

Imagine any really religious person that you've ever known. Think of all the weird things they had to do to comply with their religious rules. Now imagine that there was no religion - imagine that they were only doing those things for their own satisfaction. You would think they were insane, right?

People like having to comply by arbitrary rules. They like participating in rituals. They like being able to access their irrational side by perfoming a set of specific actions. However, for some of us, that particular mojo doesn't work, and we're left to figure things out for ourselves.
posted by afroblanca at 11:36 PM on November 21, 2005

My epiphany is very, very sad. Or at least I think it is.

The last time I was truly, desperately depressed, I was up late (couldn't sleep), crying, talking to myself/no one. Then I realized: when people are depressed and they want to kill themselves, it's hard to get the final burst of will to go through with it. But what does it, in the end, is a burst of love - love for themselves, that they deserve a release from their suffering. I found that beautiful and tragic all at once.

Granted I don't think this is really true for *everyone* or anything, and I could be completely wrong. But realizing it did something for me. I reiterated to myself why I could never go through with it - I couldn't get that little bit at the end, the feeling that I deserved relief from pain. Maybe I was just throwing myself an extra-pitiful pity party that night (I'm really good at that when the conditions are ripe), but I felt again that my role was to endure, grim-faced, with gritted teeth, the rest of my life. It was terribly heartbreaking to me.

But seriously, I feel a lot better now. I enjoy my life, and periodically I'll have a day that just feels so right. Simple stuff, like a really happy visit with my daughter, realizing how fortunate I am to have good health, a rich intellectual life, a family who love me, a reliable car, and freedom from want... I just feel like a princess, so fortunate to be who I am and where I am now. I just feel totally contented with the world, and full of wonder at how amazing it all is, how lucky I am to be alive at this time.

These moments come now and then - I can't predict them or cause them or anything. But when they do, part of the beauty is that it's so... quiet, so subtle. No fanfare, no lights, nothing special going on. The very lack of specialness makes it more special to me on the meta-level.

Part of what spending huge swaths of my life depressed and wishing for death has done to me is made me really easy to please, life-satisfaction-wise. Any day that it doesn't feel awful to be alive, I take as a gift.
posted by beth at 1:27 AM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Do drugs count?

I was never a big druggie and always leery of them. In college, my friends were taking acid and snorting blow and I was too chicken to join. But one night, I tried some mushrooms with them. It was a long strange trip, but lying in the grass, really watching the grass and seeing the grass, then looking at the night shadows on an illuminated wall for a really long time, I had what I would call an epiphany: everything, but everything, can be visually interesting. It was something that came to me and that I never lost - an ability to look at something even pedestrian or uncomplicated, a blank wall even, and find it beautiful and interesting. Even blank walls have textures and shadows. It's like a new way of seeing. When I later took up photography and painting, I think it helped immeasurably.
The fact that something in my brain clearly changed permanently as a result of those mushrooms I believe validates my fear of drugs, however. That was a good change and I was lucky. But luck doesn't last. I only took shrooms one other time and was disappointed, and stayed the hell away from LSD.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:57 AM on November 22, 2005

Yes, Beth -- yes. That.

Ditto ditto ditto.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:58 AM on November 23, 2005

An interview with Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) in which he said "We all lose everything."

This, oddly enough, was exactly what I needed to read at that moment, and made me realize just how hard I was still mourning my father's death, and that it was time to let go. What can I say.
posted by jokeefe at 11:32 AM on November 27, 2005

Two spring to mind...

First: I was 6 yeasr old, and having a severe asthma attack. I was convinced that I'd die if I went to sleep. So I spent some time thinking about what would happen if I did. Having been raised by good Christian parents, I thought I knew that there was a heaven and a hell. I realized that night that I didn't know; that I didn't "feel" anything about whether heaven was real or there was an afterlife, and that in fact I had no way to know.

Second: First semester in college. I was drinking frequently for the first time -- two or three times a week, a lot for a kdi that age -- and reading a lot of Nietzsche. Taking classes that were very selectively admitted -- dealing for the first time with fellow students who really challenged me intellectually. At the same time, I was more socially active than I'd ever been. Somewhere along in there, I had an epiphany that informed a long and (I thought at the time) brilliant paper I wrote on Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. It had something to do with the undifferentiated importance of everything.

Unfortunately, I crashed pretty hard sometime right before Thanksgiving. When I went home for the holiday, I was very careful to keep to my room as much as possible and not talk too much, lest my parents realize how fucked up I was and not let me go back. I have vivid, timeless memories of lying on my back in the darkened dorm room with the door open, listening, as the guy across the hall (who was having his own problems) played "Puff, the Magic Dragon" over and over again. Somewhere in there, I forgot what the epiphany actually was.

I did carry away a lesson from that, though I can't call it an epiphany since it didn't strike me suddenly or surprisingly: That epiphanies can be dangerous things. I'd always known that, intellectually, but after that experience, I knew it first hand.
posted by lodurr at 11:06 AM on November 28, 2005

Just before she left me two nights ago, she explained how I'd broken her heart over and over again for the past two years. It was frightening how right she was, and how little I saw something that had been right in front of my face for so long.

Until now, I've never experienced loss. No one I love has ever died. No one I love has ever even gone away, really, and if they did, I didn't notice. I never knew how precious people really are. All my life, I've been wrapped up in the looks on the faces of people, the things they say to me, the instant gratification of my desire for self-affirmation. I've been concerned with being wanted, with being smiled at, with being desired, even with being loved. All this is different from loving. That's why I've never really loved: because I've been focussed on these little things, rather than the big things they indicated. I ignored human beings and concentrated on something that only looked like them.

When I met her, when we started seeing each other, this should have been clear to me. It should have been obvious: here was a human being in front of me who was incredible, who was beautiful, who was kind, and who loved me and wanted to be with me. Yet I didn't even see her; I was smart enough to want her, to try to procure her, but not smart enough to let her have me.

Little things are only important because they indicate large things. Every time she got upset, I told her-- and myself-- that I could change this, that I could make it work, by fixing the small things that hurt her: by not bringing up that one subject in front of her, by not making that face when she mentions so-and-so, by doing this and not doing that. But those things wouldn't have hurt her so much-- and I can't believe I had no idea how much they hurt her-- if they were really just those small things. They hurt her because they were actually indications, signs of one big thing: I never gave myself to her. I never fought for our love. I only put up with it because it was convenient for me.

So my epiphany is this: if you don't fight for the things you want, you'll lose them. If you don't open yourself to the people around you, you'll lose them. If you don't wake up every morning dedicated to making the world better for yourself and yourself better for the world, if you don't learn to set aside every selfish and lazy and twisted thing, you'll only lose everything you have, even the bad things you thought you wanted. Everything always changes. If you love someone, you have to fight every moment to give yourself to them.

Also, learning lessons usually costs too much. If I ever get her back, it will be a long time from now.
posted by koeselitz at 6:57 PM on November 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

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