Speaking of epiphanies (again in the Religion category), there are moments in our lives when
- we perceive something wrongly, but
- this helps us to perceive correctly something else.
Usually this happens when you think something is in a certain manner and the difference between your initial perception and the subsequent revelation seems to have a lot of consequences in terms of improving your understanding
- beyond noticing the actual difference,
- beyond the idea that presents itself as truthful and reveals your initial assumption to be mistaken.
Allow me to illustrate with an example taken from my personal experience:
I was at the seaside with my good friend, Julian, and we were enjoying life as young people do; at the same time we were blissfully ignorant of many-many other aspects of life because we’re young and ignorant (nowadays, I guess we’re just the latter).
At this point I experienced an optical illusion, a mis-perception caused by looking up for too long on a bright, beautiful day; it was a cold, cloudless spring-day, and I was watching this eagle floating above a cliff that was jutting towards the sea.
As I was watching the eagle, my eyes fell upon the cliff itself and I was not surprised to find its shadow moving across the cliff face, when I was startled by the realisation that
the eagle’s shadow, instead of being black against an illuminated green (grass) and grey (stone) background, was actually completely lit, the way you’d have if you’re shining or reflecting a light from a wrist-watch or a mirror.
I could see a bright beam of light moving across the same cliff face where the eagle’s shadow should have fallen. Naturally, this resulted into the sort of facile philosophising you can imagine:
The shadow is light and you can take it from here.
That was the initial experience which I thought very insightful at that time but I soon discovered that I was very superficial in my appraisal of
- where we were in the world,
- where I was in the world.
At this point, we heard these dogs (Dobermans) barking behind us; it dawned on us that we were in a place that was not meant to be used as a public beach, and now the question presented itself to us:
What do we do about these two Dobermans who look pretty menacingly as they’re barking and blocking our way back?
So we tried to find a different path to go back to where we came from, back to our safe world, when the dogs started running downhill towards us. During this chase, as we’re scrambling across stones and boulders covered in seaweed, I’m reflecting on the fact that this will probably be a very unequal fight with these dogs who seem so powerful and about whose ferocity I (thought I) knew a lot.
At this point I was engaged in a dialogue with myself where I recast myself as the hunted (fighting for his life)
so that when we reached this point where we couldn’t climb up any more and the dogs were upon us, I turned around to face them, just thinking “How are we going to fight?”
We didn’t have any weapons or sticks, so I could only envision a fight where we would just bite each other, basically devolving back to the animal fighting for survival. I was looking at these animals, at these dogs’ muscles and teeth, which appeared not so much as teeth as fangs, right? I looked at these creatures, which would soon be upon us, and I assumed this aggressive posture.
It is at this point that my good friend, Julian, saved us (“us” meaning “us = the humans and the dogs”) from a really bad experience by changing his perception, by remembering his true self:
He had a different dialogue running in his head, obviously, and he decided that these dogs would like to become friends with us.
You see, they just wanted to say hello to us.
So he starts talking (dialogue) with the dogs: “They just want to be friends”.
Of course, I had my doubts since we had just been running and we had been chased (it didn’t feel like a dialogue), but I remained passive as I just didn’t know what else we could do. I watched as my good friend Juli responded
- with a positive feeling of openness,
- with equal dialogue,
- with love towards these two dogs,
- who soon responded in kind.
I found myself staring in disbelief two minutes later, as Juli was sitting down next to one dog and patting it on the head with the dog looking very happy, and I was still trying to get rid of
the last simulation of fight-to-the-death, nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw dialogue that I had in my head.
Then it hit me: This was a very good instance of a self-fulfilling prophecy:
- I projected death, violence, fight, bite, kill, and it came back to me;
- Juli projected love, trust, positive feelings, let’s be friends, and it came back to him, and I saw the dog licking his hand.
I realised that the intellectual in me who was so excited to discover the play-on-words between shadow and light based on a simple optical illusion was very shallow.
I found myself stunned to discover that I suffer from a psychological illusion of control and that I’m making myself my own enemy without realising it.
You can call it a soul illusion, that my soul was blacker than I would have liked to think, and this almost got reflected back to me and could have caused a very messy episode.
So I say this to all of you out there who feel that fear is just the expression of a healthy survival instinct meant to give us early warning and ensure our safety:
- Safety comes not from fearing and giving in to our negative feelings and projecting those onto Others;
- Safety comes from trusting and engaging Others in dialogues, as equal partners, as partners to be trusted.
That should be our default stance when we are not sure about what is actually happening, when nothing bad has actually occurred yet.
Do not subscribe to the idiot’s [from Greek idios “one’s own] dogma of preemptive attack, who would push himself and others around him into this drama of fighting for one’s life, when this is not a fight or a competition.
It could (in fact) depend on your mindset at that time and your conscious decisions could turn it into a dialogue of love.
- Thank god (meaning Sky-Earth) for South Americans and their spirit.
- Contrast this with the Eastern European grimness.
- And come out from all this with an epiphany, an (intuitive) understanding of how we can improve our world.