9 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Turned My World Upside-Down

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Over the years I’ve learned dozens of little tricks and insights for making life more fulfilling. They’ve added up to a significant improvement in the ease and quality of my day-to-day life. But the major breakthroughs have come from a handful of insights that completely rocked my world and redefined reality forever.

The world now seems to be a completely different one than the one I lived in about ten years ago, when I started looking into the mechanics of quality of life. It wasn’t the world (and its people) that changed really, it was how I thought of it.

Maybe you’ve had some of  the same insights. Or maybe you’re about to.

1. You are not your mind.

The first time I heard somebody say that — in the opening chapter of The Power of Now —  I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.

I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.

If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the center of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.

2. Life unfolds only in moments.

Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.

3. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.

I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom: As life gets longer, awful feels softer.

4. Most of life is imaginary.

Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.

5. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.

Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behavior. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.

6. Emotions exist to make us biased.

This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.

7. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfill their desires and to escape their suffering.

Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behavior other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skillful and helpful to others, others are unskillful and destructive, and almost all destructive behavior is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.

8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.

9. Objectivity is subjective.

Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, unsharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.

***

In my life, empowering new perspectives like these come mostly from reading what others have written. Recommended reading on these concepts:

The Power of Now

A New Earth

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Wherever You Go There You Are

Photo by h.koppdelaney



Melayahm January 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

5&7

Suffering, and hence ‘evil’, comes from fear. Fear of pain, death, loss, being without something (money, friends, love, house, status, you name it). If you look at any evil act, you will find that those who did it were afraid of something, even if they wouldn’t see it that way. Even Al Qaida fundamentalists, they are afraid of not getting into heaven, or not obeying their leaders, or appearing weak in front of others or some other thing that I have no concept of. How should we hate people who are constantly afraid? And as we all suffer, how can we hate people who are just like us?

Very nice, clear, succinct list

Cindy January 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Thank you very much. I also “Stumbled” to your site and am moved by this essay.

Raquel Williams February 19, 2013 at 12:19 am

#8 is a home-run. I agree with the gist of #9 that objectivity is a pretend concept like “normal” or “perfect”. As for #6, I think you’ve got the wrong handle on the right point. Truly, emotional states are no more ‘absolute truth’ than rational thoughts… however, emotions are experiences (and all experiences are valid because they are real, –interpretations however, are another matter): thoughts are constructions (also valid because they are real, –their functions however, are another matter). They are no more incompatible than blizzards and beer cozies: just different brain paraphernalia. It’s important to remember their purpose(s) as your brain unleashes them onto your (sub)conciousness! Great thoughts overall and best wishes.

John Mackie February 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Something that I have discovered about life is that being offended is a choice. I now find it impossible to be offended by people. say for example someone says to you that they think you lack confidence… at this stage you can get offended, but try this instead. Decide whether or not you value or respect that persons opinion. If you dont value their opinion then it’s just that, an opinion from a by stander however if you do trust their opinion (say for example it’s a parent) then you know you should perhaps change. Also think on this quote I came up with “how intelligent is the human brain?… so intelligent it just asked itself that question” – John Mackie

Kooplee February 26, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I came here trying to find how to cope with the fact that my life has no meaning and to be honest these sort of “deep thought” provoking epiphanies seem elementary and at many points wrong, can anyone who agrees with me point me in the right direction toward a solid thought provoking article.

chavez moran April 11, 2013 at 7:56 am

I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your
site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with
it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures.
Maybe you could space it out better?

Janus May 2, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Holy shit. Each one hit home with me. My discovery of your blog couldn’t have come at a better time.

Here Now Brown Cow May 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

Wow, this is a great list! 4 and 9 are what I’m trying to grasp at the moment. Doing my head in, but going to stick at it and hopefully get somewhere (or nowhere?) with it!

Jeremy June 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm

David,

I’m been studying buddhism and philosophy for a wile now and I loved this article. You eloquently, simply and in a conversational manner summed up some very complex issues into the nature or reality, the mind and human behaviour like someone casually writing a blog about their recent travels. Well done, you have a gift and I look forward to following you and reading more of your articles.

Jeremy, Sydney Australia

Donna July 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Love your thoughts, I always look for someone who can give some explanation with the limited vocabulary we are taught. I have read so therefore I have a larger repertoire of the english language. I still have trouble getting my thoughts clear enough on any subject. Let alone be ready to write them down. Good job!

I haven’t been able to go through the whole blog posts but did catch my attention on the part about love as an emotion or something way bigger than that. Thoughts on evil and good! Yin and Yang. The Sun has no shadows. Darkness casts shadows. Remember what Jesus kept telling his disciples. “Keep awake” he went on to warn them that the devil is lurking and to keep awake as the “Devil walks about seeking to devour someone”. The question is “How are we devoured by evil”? What did the apostle Paul mean when he talked about the struggle between doing what was right and the opposite always won! We struggle every moment to stay in the moment. When we look away for a second we could loose it…we are distracted by everything in the physcial. We are taught in this consciousness to look to the physcial to solve all our suffering. Love permeates all of that-if we stay in the arc – the flow of consciousness – ride on the wave instead of under it. That means we awaken to our true nature and once we are there we still have to stay awake – distractions are lurking at every corner seeking to destroy that ‘moment’. Being still like a tree- just being- not planning or discussing thinking or doing just – being still! Learn how to incorporate that into every moment and things slow down until you can see the air moving air prana~ You can truly see that every individual on this planet is YOU! I am that I AM No good or evil just void and in that void the disconnect sends us reeling, spinning, toppling, hanging on for the ride, instead of taking control of the wheel and direction of the wisdom we have naturally. Each and every individual is the universe expressing itself in all forms. We salute each and every all differences in everyone. From the murderer to the thief to the politician. We are naturally flavored with the ability to stay young in mind and body, to heal ourselves with our inner doctor, to accumulate what we want as well as what we need. To balance ourselves with the energy from the sun and moon. Live long Namaste ~

Mike G July 12, 2013 at 9:43 am

Hello, and thank you for the interesting post. A lot of what you said is really thought provoking which I can always appreciate. I’m commenting solely to just address that I feel your emotional bias seemed to sway towards atheism. I’m not here to say that that has taken away from your validity in advice or perspective. I just feel as though your wording is definitely in favor of that subjectivity. I’d like to offer my perspective, especially on #8 which is directly regarding beliefs which you state, “Beliefs are nothing to be proud of”. In essence the statement is blasphemous, but I’d like to evaluate the accuracy that the statement does have. Humans are limited in our observational abilities. No matter how much we do know, or seek to know, there will always be that which we can’t observe. Beliefs are inevitable, tying in with #9 on your statement of life’s subjectivity. Your wording then, that we shouldn’t be proud of beliefs is slightly insinuating that beliefs are too be ashamed of. In that case, it is flawed considering we are all humanly incapable of knowing ultimate certainty. An example where you could be proud of your beliefs would be this article in itself. You have experienced your subjective life, learned things that you “believe” to be true, and share them with others in the form of statements. If someone then related to these statements and bettered their lives because of it, you can then be proud of your beliefs or what you find applicable in your life. It holds true to say that consistency in a belief is a reliable one which isn’t held by “closing doors”, but by furthering the interest of yourself and others. Thanks for reading

David July 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I am not an atheist.

“Beliefs are nothing to be proud of” is not the same as “beliefs are bad,” or “beliefs are something to be ashamed of.” I was commenting on the common implication that strength of belief implies some sort of wisdom or strength of character, when it probably is a better indicator that one is stubborn or closed-minded.

Micaela Climer July 14, 2013 at 7:57 am

magnificent pictures tammy….

Yotan July 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Headstands.

Joshua August 7, 2013 at 1:40 am

Hello, I enjoyed reading. I wanted to comment on what you’ve said here.

#1 Your mind is part of your soul and you are observing it with your spirit. Man is made up of body, soul and spirit. *You* are doing the observing because you are a complex unity.

Thoughts proceed involuntarily when there is a lack of awareness of the underlying processes driving them, emotional, spiritual or otherwise. A repressed experience of abuse, for instance, will drive a whole array of mental and emotional processes which in turn create involuntary thought patterns.

#2 We should not worry about past or future, but we wouldn’t know how to deal with the moment either. We cannot comprehend what we are looking at without knowing what truth is.

#3 Your quality of life is determined by your spiritual condition, and the default for man is that it is irrevocably broken.

#4 The thoughts you are thinking have deep roots; don’t dismiss them as white noise. Explore them and see what you find.

#5 Suffering is a feature of this world, that much is true. However, your conclusions don’t necessarily follow from that premise. The real cause of suffering is a broken spiritual condition which is not under our control.

#6 You can’t suppress your emotions or rationalize them away because they are part of who and what you are. Your emotions come from your soul. You actually deceive yourself when you think you have suppressed them or have them under control (or that you’ve “outgrown” them) because then you fail to see them still subtely influencing everything you do.

I will also note that love transcends feelings.

#7 No matter how you slice it, when you eliminate good and evil you are left with nihilism, and nihilism can be used to justify any kind of behavior. If any behavior can be justified, no behavior if preferred. If no behavior is preferred, then killing babies is exactly the same as feeding them.

#8 Do you believe that?

#9 A schizophrenic has the same perspective and they need to be told what is real. How do you know that your real life is any more trustworthy than what a schizophrenic sees?

True or false?: There are only two ways to know truth; either you are omnipotent, or an omnipotent being reveals truth to you.

If false, please explain what another method of knowing truth is, and how you accessed it?

I am claiming the second option; it was revealed to me by an omnipotent being (God) that He exists and that Jesus Christ is His Son. God bless.

Beccy August 8, 2013 at 9:26 am

I wonder how to communicate some of these things to a child. Mine is only 8 but some of these could probably help him cope more, suffer less.

Akasha August 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I wonder how you could communicate these epiphanies to yourself? Don’t worry about your child. He is as fine as you are.

Eddie August 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I am with you in your revelations.

I do have some issue, especially with the idea that we have evolved to suffer. We suffer because we have not evolved!

Julia Carter October 11, 2013 at 12:13 am

Thank you very much for this well written article. It perfectly describes what has happened to me in the last couple of years. I have had a series of realizations that have come to me seemingly out of the blue and like a bolt of lightning and they stay with me completely unchanged. My thoughts and old patterns sometimes get in the way but those thoughts don’t have the same power over me as they used to. It is incredibly liberating and I find that I love everyone, even people that I have spent a lifetime resenting for what I thought were really good reasons. :) The best part is that I have stopped taking myself so seriously and live more joyously every day.

Curious Chap October 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Hi david. I was wondering what book was the source of your insight? Thanks :)

Bryan November 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

Hi David, I just read this from the “expanded consciousness” blog site. I thought it was brilliant and insightful so I wanted to see more from the author, but didn’t realize it was from you (I’m already big fan of your work btw). You’re a unique person, keep up the good work!!

Michael Eisbrener November 7, 2013 at 7:41 am

You end with the beginning! ‘Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, unsharable viewpoint.’ For me the worst part is I can only describe it, barely, after the experience… another experience and if I am not careful an infinite loop of standing still. The future as possibility exists too. The more time I spend on her, the more of us there are to bring a world that works for everyone, with no one left out and no one left behind, into reality today.

Elliot November 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

David, When you talk about beliefs, do you also mean religious beliefs? Should humans abandon their religions?

Daniel Goers November 8, 2013 at 10:17 am

I have been recently exploring the philosophies behind consciousness and being your true self. I am trying to understand the concepts of the human mind and beyond. This is a general overview of what I have realized. “When a being is aware of their own consciousness, your true self has the power to make the choices that paint your life.” Does this make sense? Thanks in advance to any responses!

Kees Blok November 11, 2013 at 6:13 am

Dear David,

Thank you so much for writing this AMAZING blogpost!
I have a question regarding human suffering. What do you think is the cause and solution to all problems? Beause I didn’t realy catch that one.

Kind Regards,
Kees.

Simon November 25, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I have had all these epiphanies already. So now Im feeling very wise. But i have also learnt that that feeling usually means i am being stupid.

CrazedLeper November 29, 2013 at 8:55 am

Author has clarity.

Momo December 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Clear seeing. Thanks for sharing.

Laren December 29, 2013 at 12:17 am

David,
I would like to give you a copy of my book “The Power of Perception”.
You can read about it here and contact me.

http://www.larengreyumphlett.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/Power-Perception-Laren-Grey-Umphlett-ebook/dp/B00EXTZX7E/

Bobby Masri January 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Number 8 is a little unbelievable.

Melanie January 25, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Hi David x
Great article – I have shared some of the epiphanies you describe here and they’ve made a huge difference to my happiness and to everything really.
Here’s another one…
I realized that Love is inside me. I used to think that I needed someone else – someone very special – to make me feel that expanded state of bliss and happiness called love. But then I realized that you can feel it inside yourself any time you want to. You just have to look. We think we need someone else to help us feel that, so when we find someone who seems to give it to us, we cling desperately to them. We pretend to be someone else to please them. We start making demands. We start thinking we need something from them to make us happy. I realized I was trying to control my husband and how he lives and even what he thinks – that’s not love! When I realized I don’t need anything from him, it left me free to love and be loved in a much more open, relaxed and deeper way.
Love
Melanie
x

george puharich February 9, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Well reasoned out…goes along what I’ve been thinking all along (I’m 63) especially the stubbornness of those who are “proud of their beliefs”, I think they are called zealots and there are a lot of them running around (and running the world).
Perhaps the next evolution in Darwin’s theory will be when we as a race can let go of our “proud beliefs”…but I think that may be a long way off, yet.
Still, we must carry on – one thought and one person at a time.

web page April 20, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an email.
I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

Dayna Barnes May 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Your post got another bump from Upworthy today, which is how I found your blog. You have managed to succinctly bundle my most dearly-held personal musings on the operations of humanity here in one convenient place. I bet you’d be an amazing coffee-table partner. Great article and nice that you have sometimes replied to comments, too.

Robert June 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm

This is CRAP! There are real evil people, and they are the inluencers in this world, this world created by many generations of them. Until the impoverished come together and “white wash” this world, life will continue to suck.

Citizen Pariah June 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Unlike most list articles this one is truly unique, well thought out and concise. I would like to publish it on my site with full credits. Is this permissible?

Thanks,

amandapandayolanda June 26, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this type of awareness with the rest of the world, you would be suprised how many people you enlighten when you take the time to break down some ideas for people and pop it online.

You should (if you havent already) have a read of ‘The art of happiness in a troubled world’ by the Dalai Lama!

Lots of love and well-wishes!
Amanda

Lou June 30, 2014 at 6:34 am

This article is amazing. It truly is. Thank you for posting it.

But, there is one small concept that fails a crucial test.

You say that ‘Objectivity is Subjectivity.’

We can test this comment with a simple question: is that objectively true, or just subjectively true?

I would change your position to read, “Objectivity is likely 90+% subjective…depending on the subject and their relationship to time (tapping into the concepts of ‘now-ness’ and ‘moments’).

But, the rest of it seems golden from where I sit. (Subjectivity)

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