We’ve all experienced them: those flashes of recognition in which we suddenly perceive something familiar in an entirely new light. Simply by being open, sensitive, and receptive, we can make these epiphanies–usually understood to be rare phenomena–nearly everyday events. And experiencing them on a regular basis need not by any means cheapen their significance.
There is probably nothing quite like a mindfulness meditation practice to place us in the receptive mental state that leads to these deeply life-affirming realizations. Meditation turns down the noise in one’s mind, allowing these wonderful experiences to occur frequently and with clarity.
Probably the most significant epiphany I’ve experienced recently is the deep realization of the fact that we are literally made of the remnants of exploded stars. When stars die, they explode, sending out in all directions the elements that make life possible. The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, the electrons that form thoughts in our brains; these all once resided within the stars. Carl Sagan used to refer to this as our being “made of star stuff.” Such a beautiful and profoundly poetic idea– that we are indeed one with the universe at a molecular level!
This epiphany leads naturally to another: that we are all part of the web of nature; that everything is interconnected. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn gave his monastic order the name The Order of Interbeing; he explains the concept as follows:
“In Buddhism the most important precept of all is to live in awareness, to know what is going on…to be aware of what we do, what we are, each minute. When we are totally mindful—in direct contact with reality, not just images of reality—we realize that all phenomena are interdependent…endlessly interwoven.”
You and I are parts of exploded stars as well as parts of one another. There is no such thing as a completely independent self– all selves are composed of non-self elements. When we come to understand the oneness and interwoven nature of all things, compassion for other selves becomes as natural as breathing. Concern for the environment grows out of the deep realization that we are the environment, and the environment is us. If we poison it, we poison ourselves. When we nurture it, we nurture ourselves, and all other selves as well.
Living in a state of ongoing mindfulness, which is the natural, everyday outworking of our meditation practice, produces these flashes of insight in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane. They can come while we are preparing food, washing dishes, caring for our families, doing our work, and enjoying our free time. Everyday epiphanies are what I am most grateful for in this, the season of gratitude.