The Power of Epiphany

We have access to an extraordinary well of brainpower.

I’ve been thinking about epiphanies. You know, that sudden flash of inspiration, insight or understanding that smacks you upside the head and makes you think duh, that’s so obvious. How did I not see this before?

Ever had one?

My first bona fide epiphany hit me when I was 13 years old, in the middle of my high school Latin class. (This high school was in Dunedin, New Zealand, and the curriculum was based on the traditional British education system. So my school offered Latin — plus leather straps for beating boys who misbehaved. God Save the Queen!)

Anyhoo. Despite the constant threat of punishment (corporal or otherwise), my Latin class was a particularly dysfunctional combination of a mild, meek teacher with a lazy eye that wandered independently around the room and some smart, bored kids determined to make that teacher cry. I was smart and bored, too. But I was also perpetually confused about conjugating verbs in the accusative, nominative and dative case, let alone the godforsaken ablative. So while my classmates tormented our teacher, I worked up a headache trying to correctly conjugate sentences like “The sailor loves the beautiful girl” (nauta bellam puellam amat, in case you’re interested. Which you’re not).

One day, about fifteen minutes before the end of yet another rowdy, boring and utterly confusing Latin class, my epiphany struck. Suddenly, I understood it all: Latin’s seven cases, four verb conjugations, six tenses and three genders (yes, really) all made perfect sense. Had I tried speaking this unspoken language, I would have been fluent, my accent perfectus. Would have been for all of those fifteen remaining minutes, that is. By the next class, I was, once again, a dimwit.

My teenage epiphany may have been fleeting, but I’ve never forgotten the flood of exhilaration and excitement I felt in that fluorescent-lit classroom. Since then, I’ve had a few more sudden flashes of insight. For example, years ago I realized in an instant what I’d write about for my master’s thesis while hiking in a dry riverbed in the South Island of New Zealand. Not long ago, I woke from a deep sleep with a fully formed vision of a painting I needed to make for an annual fundraiser. The idea for this very essay dropped into my head while I was meditating.

More recently, I had an epiphany that was better than all the others. Why? Because I brought it on myself. Seriously. Here’s what happened. Remember a few years back when Adam Mansbach wrote his awesome and hilarious book, Go The F*** To Sleep? You probably loved it as much as I did. The first time I read it, I was in my favorite bookstore in the middle of Japantown in San Francisco. I laughed until I cried. The experience resonated with me so much that to this day, I think about it every time I’m in Japantown. So when my hubby and I booked massages at the nearby Kabuki Spa, naturally GTFTS was on my mind.

Just for fun, I gave myself an assignment. Willow, I told myself, as you drift off into that lovely limbic state of massage bliss, don’t just go the fuck the sleep. Think of what the fuck you want to write a book about.

And I did.

When I came out of my massage room an hour later, woozy with relaxation and smelling of sweet lavender oil, I told my husband everything I’d come up with: my book’s topic, its narrative style and tone, the illustrations I envisioned, even the title. He looked at me as if I was nuts. “You thought of all that during your massage?” he asked. “I just went to sleep.”

Which is fine, too. My point is simply to remind you that we’re all walking around with direct access to a deep well of extraordinary brainpower. Whether we realize it or not, our brains are diligently working 24/7 to solve problems, uncover ingenious solutions and reveal to us ideas and possibilities we don’t even know we’re imagining.

On that note, I’m offering up a challenge. Next time you go for a walk, take a shower or close your eyes for sleep (all perfect times to kick-start creativity and insight), think of a problem or a question that’s been bugging you. Then forget about it. I’ll bet it won’t be too long — although perhaps when you least expect it — before your brain shifts into high gear and tells you just what you need to know.

Imagine that!


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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