e·piph·a·ny: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something (from dictionary.reference.com)
I recently observed that when I have an epiphany about myself or about some great life lesson I automatically think – ‘wow, I should tattoo that on my arm so I don’t forget it.’ In truth, I would never actually get a tattoo – I would be bored with it after about five minutes – but this thought process seems to reflect my feeling that I don’t want to lose an idea that could potentially transform my life – but only if I can hang on to it forever.
However the last time I had an epiphany, I had an epiphany about my epiphanies (… what?). This epiphany was that whenever I get a particularly good insight about myself I seem to believe that this is the best of all possible revelations, and that there will never be anything more relevant to me, and my life, ever again. I seem to believe that I have reached some pinnacle of understanding, and now I just have to apply it.
In reality, however, the epiphanies that I have had in the past were simply stepping-stones in the process of my growth, and each new one has built on the previous one, developing my understanding and practice even further. The epiphanies continue to come, and I continue to learn new things about myself and about the way the world works, and the process doesn’t end. I realized that this belief that nothing else will come again as potent as this most recent epiphany is a delusion that I seem to be under, but it explains my impulse to tattoo the thing on my body. I have always thought that tattoos were a little confining, because how do you choose a symbol or image that is going to be as meaningful to you in the future as it is now? A lot of people regret ever getting a tattoo because it is an expression of an earlier version of themselves, and not necessarily in keeping with their present self. My epiphanies are the same sort of thing. I keep acting like my understanding of myself in the world is a static thing. I keep thinking that my potential has been reached, and that who I am now is not going to change significantly in the future.
In truth, I am a radically different person than I was even four years ago, and the things that were meaningful to me then don’t always have a place in my life now. The epiphanies that came to me four years ago were transformative and guiding back then, but I’m incredibly glad that I never actually tattooed them onto my body because they don’t speak to me with the same potency now. So why do I assume that my understanding, nay, my self, is so static? Why can’t I live in the reality that I am a constantly transforming and developing persona, learning from each experience and choice? Why do I not see myself as a fluid being, continually redefining myself?
Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual perception. Our essence may be one eternal truth – that is our most authentic and real self – but our ability to understand or express that reality is eternally developing. From a spiritual perspective, one of the greatest mysteries after God is the human spirit. How can I think I understand everything that needs to be understood about myself in one little epiphany? It’s going to take multiple lifetimes to even have the smallest grasp of my reality as a human being. Why should I limit or define myself by my present understanding?
From now on I’m going to pay attention to those moments of insight. I’m going to enjoy them, and cling to them in the best way I know how so they can inform my choices in that moment. But when I start to say to myself, “wow, I should tattoo this to my arm or something”, I’m going to gently remind myself that this one realization does not define me, in this moment or in the future, and that it is simply one of many tools that will guide me in the exploration of my self and my world. Ultimately that goes for any thought I have about my self. Whether positive or negative, those thoughts are temporary. I will not be the same person in a year. I will have new capacities, a new level of understanding, and will make new choices. I don’t have to let anything about this moment define me, and I don’t have to know everything about myself now. I am a work in progress, and there is no pressure to be perfect, or to have everything pulled together. I am not a static thing. I am free and unconstrained. And I can be whatever moves me in this moment.